Guest Post from Dr. Srinivasan Pillay on Love and Fear


by Srinivasan Pillay,
Certified Master Coach, Psychiatrist, Brain Imaging Researcher and Speaker

This article was previously posted on the Huffington Post.

Love and fear are seemingly disparate emotional states, yet they seem to have a close relationship to each other. On the surface, love is a positive emotion that fosters a connection between people, whether they are parents, lovers, friends or family of any kind. Fear, on the other hand, does exactly the opposite. When we fear someone or something, we want to do anything other than connect with the feared person or object. In contrast, we want to stop the fear from inhabiting our bodies and we do whatever we can to avoid the feared person or situation. Yet, love often gives rise to fear, and fear has been known to give rise to love as well. Why can such apparently opposite emotions give birth to each other and what is the connection that keeps them alive in this “creative” relationship? In focusing on romantic love, I will discuss some of these bridges. In this, part I, I will focus on when love turns to fear.

When we are first in love, we feel the confidence of the attachment. We feel the great joy of being with someone and the good fortune of being able to see them again and again. But as this joy increases, so does the attachment. And for many people, this attachment creates a fear of loss. It is at this point that love comes to give rise to fear – when we lose the joy of the connection and want to hold onto it. This seems paradoxical, but is not. Rather than allowing the power of our whole beings to foster the connection, we invoke mainly conscious thought processes of “trying not to lose”. Thus attachment or desire for ownership is the first bridge from love to fear.

In the human brain, the amygdala registers emotion. When we are afraid, the amygdala activates. When we trust, the amygdala becomes “calmer”. When we are calm in love, this “trust” center in the brain is on cruise control, but when we start to deepen our connections, we sometimes create reasons to question the trust and the “trust” center becomes restless. How long will you actually be with this person? Will they always be in love with you? What if they leave once they get to know you more deeply? These questions disrupt the trust (and the amygdala) and the love that once was starts to turn into fear. The fear of being disappointed. Since love is a continuous negotiation of trust as the relationship gets deeper and deeper, any lessening of trust converts love into fear. Thus, trust (or the absence of it) is the second bridge that connects love to fear.

Love is also a flow state. It lightens one’s burden in life and creates a feeling of freedom where we seem to appreciate things more and feel grateful for what we have. However, this lightness can also be unbearable, as Milan Kundera has noted in his book: “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”. It is a bit like skiing and not knowing how to stop. When we question this flow, we effectively hit the brakes, and the brakes in this case are fear. Love becomes fear when we question the flow state. Effectively, we become uncomfortable with not “knowing” and when we start to analyze how we are doing what we are doing and ask other questions (Where is this going? What will happen to us?), we pull ourselves out of the power of the unconscious into the sludge of the conscious brain. Thus, questioning the flow state is the third bridge that connects love to fear.

With these bridges in mind, how do we close the gates to fear and should we? Whether we should or not, the truth is that we are often driven to. Conventionally, we do so in the following ways: To deal with the “ownership” anxiety we may, in the more extreme cases, marry, for example. But this seems to do little for protecting us from fear. To deal with “trust” fears, we try to be as self-revealing as possible, but this also compromises one’s own personhood. And to deal with the flow state, we schedule times for flow: vacation, sex, or date-nights. But can you really schedule flow? When you give up the mystery, aren’t you moving away from the original source of that positive emotion? Next week, we will take a closer look at strategies we can use to deal with these challenges, but here is an outline of what we will address: (1) Can we get over ownership by “detaching” spiritually? (2) Why should commitment precede trust? (3) How can we understand flow states more deeply so that we are less intimidated about them?

Bio: Srinivasan Pillay

Dr. Srini Pillay is an internationally recognized executive coach, public speaker, psychiatrist, and brain imaging researcher who is focused on the fields of personal and organizational transformation. His aim is to help people and corporations achieve their dreams by drawing on his expertise that addresses the intersections of coaching, biology, psychology and spirituality.

As a “Certified Master Coach”, Srini is on the faculty of the “Behavioral Coaching Institute” where he teaches business executives internationally from a variety of different companies, including Fortune 500 companies, the art of coaching, with a special emphasis on using neuroscience to enhance communication, decision-making, and transformation.

As a Psychiatrist, Srini trained at Mclean Hospital, Harvard’s largest psychiatric training hospital. He graduated with the award for the most scholarly work during his residency. He was also one of the top three award winners nationally. After graduating, Srini became the “Director of the Mclean Hospital Outpatient Anxiety Disorders Program”, where he gained national and international recognition for his expertise in stress and anxiety. He is currently an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and has a clinical practice in Cambridge, MA.

As a Public Speaker, his knowledge of burnout, layoffs, anxiety and stress has been sought out by the media. He has made numerous television appearances and he has been quoted in the Boston Globe, Newsweek magazine and Men’s Health magazine on stress and anxiety. ABC.com has featured him as an international expert on their new health internet site. He is a regular columnist for the living section of the Huffington Post.

Srini has also been a “brain-imaging researcher” for the past fifteen years. He has had numerous publications and has been nationally funded. He continues this work as a consultant to the University of Utah with his former mentors from Harvard.

Currently, Srini is starting a company called “NeuroBusiness group” that is focused on providing information, assessment tools and software, coaching and consultation services that draws on research grounded in psychology, coaching and the neurosciences to promote personal and organizational transformation. He is finishing a self-help book based on scientific research to assist people in overcoming fear. The book is scheduled for release late in 2009 or early 2010.

In addition to recently writing four original screenplays, Srini is currently completing the making of a documentary movie and composing the music for it. His passion is in integrating the science and art of life and bringing a realistic, hopeful and transformational message to the people he encounters. His deepest belief is in the power of love for transformation.

Contact information: boundariless@mac.com

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About Denise A Romano

Denise A Romano is the author of The HR Toolkit: An Indispensable Resource for Being a Credible Activist, published by McGraw Hill in 2010. She is a workplace expert and has a strong interest in government, business, workplace, and personal ethics. She can be found on LinkedIn. View all posts by Denise A Romano

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