School of Fear, School of Pain

We recently looked at the need to face up to our pain and suffering in order to deal with it and move on with our lives. Now we will look a little more closely at how fear and pain are tied together, and why it is important to break the pain-fear cycle in the early stages.

Pain and fear are both aversive experiences that strongly impact on behaviour and well being. Pain and fear may… become maladaptive if expressed under inappropriate conditions or at excessive intensities for extended durations. __ Trends in Neurosciences

School of 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.”
__ From Frank Herbert’s Dune

Nothing is more natural or common among humans than fear. Anxiety is merely a generalised and poorly focused form of fear — and one of the greatest driving forces behind societal dysfunctions such as addiction to prescription and nonprescription drugs, tobacco, and alcohol. Fear also keeps people trapped inside their houses, and holds them back from expanding their scope of action and scope of thought.

Pain and Fear

Fear amplifies pain and pain can intensify fear. The connection between the two is intimate in brain circuits and worth studying a bit to understand the connection better.

The relationship between fear and pain is highly complex and there are many mechanisms that facilitate bidirectional influence. There are emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and psychophysiological factors that allow fear to modulate the experience of pain. In addition, the expectancy of pain as well as beliefs about pain can in turn influence fear…

Individual differences in fear of pain are also thought to play a pivotal role in the transition to, and maintenance of, chronic pain conditions. __ Abstract from Neuroscience of Pain and Fear

Put another way: The fear of pain can lead to pain as a chronic condition.

Pain and fear are important under normal situations. They can help us to avoid serious injuries or death. But if allowed to bloom out of control, they can take on lives of their own — and crowd out the freedom of thinking and action of the individual.

Human Memory and Pain/Fear

Memory traces of pain and fear are encoded by distinct but partially overlapping sets of synapses. For example, painful stimuli are highly effective for inducing fear learning [1]…

… acute and chronic pain are often associated with fear or anxiety [2–5]. Brain areas associated with fear, such as the amygdala and the cingulate and medial prefrontal cortices [6–8], are also relevant for the emotional/aversive and cognitive aspects of pain [9–12]. ___

Consider that the twin epidemics of “chronic pain” and “opioid abuse” seem to sprout from some of the same neurocircuits of the brain.

On college campuses, the fears of being offended or contradicted are two of the most disabling maladies affecting youth. If young people cannot overcome the fear of seeing the world from different viewpoints, they will be mentally crippled for life. And yet that helpless condition seems to be the goal of faculty and staff at many of the most elite universities in the western world, for their students.

Fear and pain do not have to be taught, they come built in. But in today’s world which tends to coddle young minds excessively, youth must be helped to learn to manage fear and pain — lest these youth become mastered by their own bloated and disabling aversions.

Every child suffers injury of some sort or another. How the child’s caretakers react to these early injuries has a lot to do with whether the child is likely to be crippled by fear and avoidance of physical/emotional/social pain as they grow toward adulthood.

I recall a two year old child brought into Casualty one evening, screaming in fear, with a history of having fallen and hit her head. A few seconds of close, hands-off observation assured me that the child was perfectly healthy. I continued observing the child intensely and as the seconds ticked slowly by I gradually became aware that the child’s father was shouting in my left ear to “do something!!!”

The point of the story is that small children take their cues from the adults around them. The little girl would have never been screaming on arrival had not her father surrendered himself to panic mode and remained in that state throughout the evaluation process. Fear is contagious, and children are particularly susceptible to the displayed fear of their adult caretakers.

Dangerous Children tend to suffer more injuries than the ordinary child, although not necessarily more serious injuries. The risks may be greater, but the risks are well calculated, with proper technique being paramount to the training.

Intense mental concentration leaves little room for either fear or pain, and there are many ways that the mind can bypass or overlook these sensations. The key is to extract the useful information from all of the body’s sensations and all of the mind’s emotions, before moving on to more important matters.

Young children are best given a playful and loving upbringing involving training in movement, pattern, language, and music. Properly done, the training allows each child to bloom in different ways at his own pace.

Aversive stimuli such as pain and fear arise naturally, and children learn to deal with them as they arise, taking cues from their caregivers. In this way, pain and fear — like all the other emotions, sensations, and feelings — become functionally integrated into the normal corpus of existence of the child. In this way the child builds a toolkit for dealing with the full spectrum of existence.

Note: Some have suggested to me that Dangerous Children should be trained to be resistant to torture techniques. That is nonsense. If the Dangerous Child is taught ways to master and bypass his pain and fear in the course of normal life and training, he will be able to adapt his training to a wide variety of circumstances which may arise.

Combat troops, special operations forces, and spies are taught methods of dealing with capture and torture, but these are things you do not want very young children obsessing over. As the child gets older, he learns methods of evasion and escape, and becomes a progressively more lethal weapon in himself as he grows.