This was first published on KSl.COM
This week I want to share some interesting things about human behavior that will help you understand yourself and your loved ones and why we behave the ways we do. I have been teaching people skills and coaching people through relationship problems for over 25 years, and in that time I've come to realize that whatever bad behavior you are seeing in another person (or yourself) it is being driven by their (or your) fears.
If you read my column regularly you've heard that before, but today I am taking it a little deeper because there are some other important truths about human behavior and fear that might also help improve your relationships. Here they are:
Fear always wins
What I mean is you subconsciously make decisions from your fears, way more often than by love or values. Your need for safety is your most basic need. Maslow didn't agree with me on this when he created his hierarchy of needs though. Maslow put food and water as the most basic need and then safety after that, but I think he got it wrong.
This is because, if you are starving but at the same time you are being chased by a tiger, you wouldn't stop to eat. Your safety comes first. Once you were safe, then you would worry about food and water. This makes sense if you are being chased by a tiger, but it doesn't work well in your personal relationships, when you are choosing between fear and love.
When your spouse offends you, you will automatically react from fear and protect yourself before you will respond with love. It's your natural programming to do so. I wish this wasn't true, but your subconscious fears will almost always override your love, values and intentions, unless you consciously choose otherwise.
Behavior driven by fear is inherently selfish and void of love
This is because you cannot do love and fear at the same time. Fear-driven behavior is all about protecting yourself and seeking safety. It is not about the other person and what they need. All bad behavior is driven by fear for ourselves and this selfish, loveless behavior creates a divide in relationships.
When you show up in fear you trigger the other person's fears, too
When you show up in a relationship in fear (instead of love) you trigger fear in your partner. They can feel that you don't love them in that moment and that scares them. They feel unsafe and they automatically respond back in fear, to protect themselves. You will then feel this lack of love in their response and you will be triggered further.
This is the vicious cycle I see in almost all relationships. Can you see it in yours? One person gets scared and responds in fear and this triggers the other to respond in fear and soon, there is no love showing up?
We can change our fear-driven bad behavior and choose love
This fear-driven behavior is something we can work on and change, but it takes a great deal of mindfulness, awareness and practice. Everything I write and teach comes down to recognizing when fear is driving, choosing to feel safe in that moment, and choosing to show up in love not fear. I will be the first to say that it isn't easy, though, because we are subconsciously wired for fear. We do have the power to watch our behavior and thinking for fear reactions though, and consciously choose love-driven responses.
Here are some examples of how fear over love reactions happen:
Example 1: A child loves his parents and wants to make good choices for himself, but he also fears not being accepted by his peers. He might be fear of failure dominant, which means he needs acceptance and validation so badly, he might choose to follow his friends and make poor choices in order to feel safe and accepted. His fears around acceptance will drive his choice, and he will choose safety over love for himself.
The parent loves this child but also fears losing them and failing them. When the child makes a bad choice, the parent gets fear triggered. They react badly, yell, scream, ground the child for a year, or punish them in whatever way will make the parent feel safer again. They might become controlling, if this feels safer. Their parenting behavior is fear-driven though and it is all about them, not what the child needs right now. The parent will put safety before love, the same way the child did.
The answer here is to help the child build their self-esteem and have less fear of rejection, so they don't need approval from their friends so badly. He needs help making choices that are love driven for himself. The parent needs to learn to trust their child's journey and see life as a classroom, not a test. They need to have less fear and more trust in their value and journey. This will help them parent from love and wisdom, doing what's best for their child, not what feels safer for themselves.
Understanding each other's fear-driven behavior brings compassion for why they did what they did though. We understand it because we have the same fears and they drive our bad behavior too.
Example 2: A husband loves his wife, but he has a great deal of fear around losing or wasting money. When he sees the wife has spent money on food that didn't get eaten and went bad, he gets angry and upset with her, even treating her badly. He subconsciously thinks being angry and unkind to her will teach her to be more careful with money, which will make him feel safer. This is fear-driven bad behavior, and he is obviously choosing to act from fear not love.
The wife loves her husband but has a deep fear of failure and feeling attacked and criticized triggers her badly. She doesn't at this point feel safe with her husband. So she pulls back, gets silent and stays away from being close to him. This is also a fear-driven bad behavior that means she is choosing fear over love. She thinks she is safer pulling away.
The husband feels his wife pulling away from him and not wanting to be close to him. This fear-driven behavior of hers triggers more fear of loss and anger in him. Instead of showing up with love at this point, he gets more angry, because that subconsciously feels like it's protecting him. This further triggers her. This vicious cycle of choosing fear over love can continue until there is no love left in the relationship.
The real answer here is for the husband to get help around his fears of loss, waste and money. He most likely has fear issues around being mistreated and disregarded, and these are his fear issues to solve and manage. He must learn to see loss and recognize that acting from fear won't create what he wants in his marriage. He has to learn how to handle situations with love and respect, if he wants love and respect back.
The wife hopefully can see why her husband behaves the way he does and understands that when he lets fear dictate his behavior, it's not really about her, it's about his own fear of loss issues. She must learn to manage her fear of failure issues, so when she is criticized, she can see it's about his fear and not take it personally. She must learn to make herself feel safe so she can show up with love and forgiveness when he is scared.
Here are the core principles from all this:
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.