Is it possible to become addicted to an emotion? When we think about the effects that emotions like anger and fear have on our bodies, the answer is a definite yes. That is because the fight or flight response, or the fear that originates from our perceived sense of danger, for instance, triggers dopamine reward receptors in the brain (dopamine has been connected not only to pleasure, but also to reward seeking and avoidance behaviours), as well as adrenaline. The combination of those hormones makes us feel physically and emotionally charged, which produces a “rush/high” that has potential to become quite addictive. Here are 3 signs of fear addiction to help you gain greater understanding of the role that fear has played in your life:
1- You have built up a personal narrative around fear
For those who have an addiction to fear, their personal history is construed by adverse events. So much so, in fact, that they allow themselves to be entirely defined by their negative life experiences. It is a well-known fact that trauma makes the brain biased towards the negative as an evolutionary measure to self-preservation, however, fear addicts refuse to move beyond that. Even when aware of that tendency, they struggle to adopt a balanced perspective and not see the world, people and the future through their extremely rigid belief systems and all-or-nothing attitude. Since the emotional discomfort that arises from not feeling afraid or anxious is too great for fear addicts, they feel safer when seeing their own selves as faulty and their lives doomed to misery and disaster.
2- Your lifestyle choices reinforce your fear
Any type of addiction is high maintenance by default. Fear addicts keep themselves in a fear state by creating and maintaining habits that reinforce their addiction. Therefore, what they do, consume and experience will be reflective of that principle. Making sure that days are filled up with a thousand activities, feeling (secretly) proud of being always busy, listening to podcasts or watching true crime documentaries, being addicted to the news and controversy, reading books that tell stories of violence, abuse and trauma – be them technical or biographical in nature – as well as drinking great amounts of coffee and eating foods which are high in refined carbohydrates – such as white bread and pasta – give fear addicts their beloved adrenaline rush and “help them” keep their stress baseline at a high level.
3- You gravitate towards people who reinforce your fear
Positive, emotionally mature, zen and centred people are uninteresting for the fear driven. Unless they feel consciously overwhelmed by their own addiction, they choose to be surrounded by individuals who add to their drama and reinforce their fear. Those who hold a negative outlook, struggle to see beyond worst case scenarios and think and act in ways that do not reflect objectivity make for their perfect match. In addition, people who display maladaptive behaviours, have mental health problems, “difficult personalities” and/or come from toxic backgrounds and, for those reasons, feed (even if unconsciously) a dysfunctional relationship dynamic, give fear addicts a great array of reasons to feel anxious and keep worrying excessively.
If you feel ready to overcome your fear addiction, I recommend practices that calm the nervous system and stimulate the pre-frontal cortex, such as breathing and relaxation exercises, mindfulness meditation and raising self-awareness through challenging negative thinking diligently. The more you activate that region of your brain, the more in control of your impulses you will feel, which is key to ending any type of addiction.