Essay Reader's Essay

Are We Addicted to Fear?

Humanity is in the midst of an evolutionary challenge. In a context of daily national and global dramas, we are being called to evolve beyond our lower, fear-based brains to embrace higher-brain capacities such as compassion and interconnection.

It comes down to this: will the fear-based, survival-focused lower brains dominate the human landscape, holding our higher brain capacities hostage? Or will our higher brains prevail, liberating our expanded capacities for co-creating the more beautiful world our hearts long for?

This challenge is being presented to humanity as the basis for our collective survival, which requires collaboration. Yet, it is a test that each of us must master individually.

We are being called to master our ability to intentionally access the higher brain’s We-Brain capacities as we work consciously and compassionately with our fears. Mastering this, it becomes possible to liberate our expansive and creative capacities for enlightened functioning such as collaborative justice, peacemaking, and joy.

This is a daunting process because the evolutionary game is rigged in the following ways:

1) We exist in a neuro-physical dilemma of having two fear-based brains- limbic and primitive- and only one higher brain. The fear-brains’ survival agenda has highest priority, and rightly so.

2) Our lives are currently dominated by the addictive daily dramas of threat, stress, and fear, hijacking us to the lower “Me-Brain.” And there is non-stop availability of fear-bait. School shootings; terrorism; Russian hacking to disrupt democracies; accelerating climate change and disruption; immigration and refugee issues; and economic, political, and environmental instabilities are just a partial list, before adding personal stress.

3) Many know how to exploit this human vulnerability of fear and need for safety, including those in positions of power. They relentlessly entice, terrorize, disguise, and seduce us into partaking of fear. They portray the stakes as high, even life-or-death. This hijacks us into regressed, reactive, self-absorbed, over-simplistic thinking.

This constant war for our brains must be won internally, even as it is being played out externally. This battle is only winnable with awareness and committed intention.

I believe that despite all this, we are being primed to win this evolutionary battle. Let’s unpack the drama that humans are currently enacting.

Dr. Paul MacLean’s Triune Brain Theory

What does living from our lower fear-based brains look like?

Our two fear-based brainsthe mammalian limbic brain and the reptilian primitive brain—and our nervous systems are wired with a biological survival imperative for physical safety. As mammals, our survival is based on social organization of living in groups, so we also have a biological imperative for relational safety, based on mutual trust.

The fear-brains continuously scan for threats to well-being and safety, signaled by fear, hostility, aggression, anger, mistrust, and other negative-feeling states. When the threat is sufficiently disruptive, the fear-brains automatically react by draining blood from the higher brain’s executive center of the neocortex and activating the brain’s fear centers in the amygdala. Our fear-brains contract our higher capacities to prioritize emergency functioning.

Focus narrows as our bodies are flooded with the survival neuro-chemistry for fight-flight-freeze. We become reactive and defensive instead of rational and relational. We engage in regressive behaviors such as aggression, blaming, and lying. For survival purposes, our functioning contracts into the self-absorbed Me-brain. Our fear-thinking constricts to over-simplistic modes. Capacity for complex problem solving and new adaptive learning becomes impaired. We are more vulnerable to perceiving those different from us as a threat.

Sadly, our reactive fears and the negative feeling-states that generate them are socially contagious and, sometimes, even self-perpetuated. With impaired capacity for discernment, we are vulnerable to manipulation and simplistic plans that promise safety.

If we are repeatedly exposed to threats, instability, and negative feeling states faster than our biology can repair and reset, our brains can be damaged from this excessive fear-based stress. We then over-perceive and over-react to fear. The brain is altered, with enlarged and overactive fear-centers, damaged learning capacity, and shrinking neocortex, which can only be repaired once we exit fear-survival mode.

Yet, brain repair is possible, and can even be accelerated through intentional practices. Brain repair resumes during relax-and-rest modes, and when we engage positive feeling states. Positive feeling-states such as gratitude, kindness, and care are brain reparative. Such elevated feeling-states access our expansive higher brain functioning.

We have one higher brain: the magnificent, creative neo-cortex. Our higher brain is wired to seek enlightenment, awe, oneness, and other expansive states of functioning.

What does our liberation into higher brain functioning look like?

Our higher brain state expands capacity. Though our fear-brains are always scanning for fear and threat, we learn to befriend fear, challenge its limiting beliefs, and intentionally cultivate practices to generate positive feeling-states that maintain higher brain functioning.

When we access elevated, positive feeling states of the higher brain, the WE-Brain comes online. Our capacity expands to seek the well-being of others in addition to our own. We become less fearful of others who are different. We become more open, curious, and inclusive. We want to build bridges, not walls. We become capable of complex thinking and creative problem-solving.

Our higher brain’s positive feeling-states expand our functioning. We expand into loving-kindness, compassion, collaboration, creativity, and altruistic service to the greater good

Positive feeling-states are socially contagious, too. Positive feeling-states not only repair our brains, they also re-establish trusting connection, repair our relationships, generate goodness, and signal relational safety to others. As we liberate ourselves from fear-states, cultivate positive feeling-states, expand capacity, and repair our own brains, we simultaneously repair and evolve the world around us. Everyone benefits.

How do we learn masterful access to higher brain states?

First, we learn practices to intentionally repair our brains from the damages of fear-based excessive stress. The key to mastery of these practices is awareness and repetition. We skillfully notice how fear hijacks us and intervene to relax and reset, soothe and repair. We purposefully generate positive feeling-states as we navigate towards stability, especially when our outer circumstances are unstable. Navigating out of trauma is more complicated and usually requires professional assistance.

Second, we learn skillful means to evolve our brain and expand enlightened functioning through science-backed practices such as intention, mindfulness, meditation, yoga, immersion in Nature, thought and feeling reappraisal, compassion to self and others, energy meridian tapping, and cultivating awe. We amplify the power of these practices through intention.

Third, we cultivate our capacity for enlightenment states, characterized in brain science research by the keyword “oneness.” We are wired to seek awe, self-transcendence, and oneness with creation. We prime our brains for this state of grace by practicing open-mindedness, self-reflection, forgiveness, creative imagination, chanting, drumming, spiritual practices, ceremony, and altruistic service to the greater good.

If each person who can chooses to retrain their brain to intentionally access higher brain capacities, then fear would no longer unnecessarily hijack our functioning. The rigged system of manipulation and domination of our lower brains would not prevail. This is the way we can overcome the odds in this rigged evolutionary game. And we will be simultaneously be priming our brain for awe, enlightenment, and oneness. We evolve the world around us by simply taking care of our brain.

Soon, masses of people will learn how to work consciously with their fear-brain instead of being hostage to them. Imagine the possibilities if the majority of people begin to operate from the expansive higher brain’s We-Brain capacities. Collaborative service to the greater good will emerge naturally from this process. Through this higher brain path, humanity will attain liberation from the domination of our fear-brain and the addictive dramas of fear.  

About Victoria Hanchin

Victoria Hanchin, LCSW, is a holistic psychotherapist in Pittsburgh PA. She is the author of her spiritual memoir, The Seer and The Sayer: Revelations of the New Earth, and of the forthcoming Retrain Your Brain Guidebook: Repair from Stress, Prepare for Enlightenment, Evolve Our World. Her website is

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