Fear is the Mind Killer; or, The Bene Gesserit Guide to Managing Anxiety.
Sheltering from the sandstorm of anxiety
You’re isolating yourself. It’s hard to leave the house. A trip to the grocery store feels almost impossible, so you’re using food delivery services. You break out into a cold sweat thinking about someone standing in line behind you. You feel more nervous than trying to call your first Sandworm!
In Frank Herbert’s Dune, we see young Paul Atredies wrestling with overwhelming fear in several chapters. To accomplish his goals he must learn how to master his anxiety and conquer his thoughts. Let’s take a deeper look at what’s going on, psychologically.
Struggle to escape from worry
Avoidance is the PRIMARY hallmark of PTSD, but we break this down into two parts.
Avoidance of internal things (memories, thoughts, feelings, or thinking about drinking the Water of Life) and avoidance of external things such as (leaving the house, talking about the trauma, certain themes on tv shows, planting your first thumper, etc…) Avoiding can become a full time job. Exhausting, isn’t it?!
Or maybe you’ve tried to confront some of these memories, or have conversations about your assault, accident, or feelings of powerlessness, but the people around you were invalidating. First of all, I give you SO much credit for trying. I know it’s incredibly difficult and that you’re doing the best that you can.
Your brain is trying to protect you from bad things happening again, primarily by trying to avoid any situation that feels even remotely close to your trauma. And when you avoid, this reinforces that to your brain that “The only way to stay safe is to avoid.” Sucks, right? I mean, you know logically that this doesn’t make sense, but you brain doesn’t see it that way.
The crusade against anxiety
But back to our protagonist. When Paul Atredies undergoes the Gom Jabbar Test of Humanity, he must keep his hand inside the box or be poisoned by Reverend Mother Gaius Mohiam. She creates increasing levels of pain in his mind until he is convinced that he is being destroyed. (Ever feel that way? Like you can’t manage any more pain or that if you don’t get out of that food court/movie theatre/checkout line etc… that you’ll break in half?). And yet, when Paul removes his hand, he sees that it is perfectly intact. There is no actual physical damage done.
Confronting our anxiety feels like the Gom Jabbar test. The pain can seem unbearable. Like you’re physically being hurt or that your anxiety will “make you go crazy.” In one treatment approach (Prolonged Exposure) we have ways to measure and address this discomfort. In short, it teaches us that keeping our hand inside the box and confronting the frightening (objectively safe) situations reveals that we are not actually in physical danger. So instead of leaving the movie theatre, or trying to penetrate the shield with the fast blade, you go slow. You take control back.
You might even channel your inner Litany Against Fear.
“I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
Over time, and under guided supervision, your fear will go down. Let me say that again. Your fear WILL GO DOWN. That’s simply how our brain works. When we teach our brain that there is no danger, our brain stops interpreting danger. Remember the first time your drove a car (or a spice harvester on the sands of Arrakis)? It was scary, right? You were nervous and it felt like everything was happening too fast. But the more your practiced it, the easier it got. Same premise, young Atredies. Practice builds confidence. Where the fear has gone, there will be nothing. Only you will remain.
It’s possible! You can do this! The spice must flow!