Adapted from the "just one thing" bulletin
Humans evolved to be afraid. Multiple systems in our brains continually scan for threats. We are vulnerable even to tiny subliminal threats - whether they are real or imagined. We can feel threatened by stimuli that we are not consciously aware of and the resulting fear may not be consciously experienced, although it may result in stress responses in our bodies.
There is a wide range of social cues that can trigger fear - like indifference, criticism, rejection, disrespect, seeing a frown or scolding look on someone's face, hearing a cold tone of voice, rapid fire talk, being interrupted repeatedly, receiving an indifferent shrug, someone turning away or walking away, irritation, caustic tone, edginess, superiority, pushiness, nagging, argumentativeness, eye rolls, sighs, demands, righteousness, sharp questions, judgement or put downs.
When we receive subtly threatening input, we tend to react - we may feel cautious, distant, uneasy, worried, guarded, tense, pressured, criticized, hassled, defensive, disconcerted, unsettled or anxious around that person. The negative signals that leak out during our interactions affect one another. Fast talk, rapid instructions or questions, and quick movements can rattle or overwhelm people. A reaction to these threats includes preparing to fight, flee, freez or appease. We may get caught up in viscous cycles that signal to us that something bad is going on, resulting in pointless conflict, defensiveness, withdrawal, counter-attacks, grudges, dislike or one enlisting allies against the other while getting revved up more and more. Negative reactivity makes everyone suffer, losing the connection with each other, losing opportunities and it gets a lot more difficult to cooperate.
We need to stop adding to the mounting costs of fear. We need to stop needlessly engendering fear in one another. Think of the benefits to everyone when we feel safer, calmer and more at peace. The alternative to evoking fear is building up a core of calm clear strength inside ourselves.
We can consider our words. We can become aware of how our tone of voice changes. We can learn how to put people at ease. We can develop practical wisdom of compassion and kindness. When things don't work out as we expected or when we are in a hurry, we can be assertive - without exuding threatening signals. We can provide clarity by speaking up, we can make decisions and take action without raising anxiety, apprehension or unease in others. We can stop instilling fear in others even as we step towards meeting our needs - and once our needs are met, we are less likely to be reactive towards others. We can assert ourselves compassionately about the things that matter to us. We can express warm, connecting and positive intentions. We can be self-disclosing, straightforward and unguarded in a compassionate way. We can refrain from using emotional weapons against others, no matter how subtle they are. We need to learn to slow down and stay calm. We can be much more careful with anger and judgement, especially when our verbal and body language has become a tool for us to threaten or dominate others.
We can give breathing room to ourselves and others, space to talk freely, we can help preserve pride and dignity. When we are trustworthy - others would not fear that we will let them down. When we are at peace others will feel safer around us. We can stop giving cause for people to fear us. We can know that how we do things and interact with others is giving them more peace of mind, is helping to reduce their fear and is bringing them more joy and more fulfilling relationships with us.
Small things repeated adds up over time to produce a big outcome for better or for worse.