Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Conquering Fear: Another Stoicism Lesson

"Adversity strengthens not just our particular abilities, but our very soul." (A very good blog post that addresses the practice of conquering personal stressors.)

I'd like to leave behind today's deluge of misery with some discussion on the Stoic/philosophical approach to conquering fear as well as the clinical approach.

I'm typically a believer in experiencing frequent discomfort. A major Stoic principle that I continuously try to employ is the idea of constantly placing yourself in situations of discomfort in order to foster personal growth. Basically, perform self-induced exposure therapy until you are desensitized to nearly everything and not just conquer pain and fear (which I seem to harbor an abundance of) but also conquer yourself. This, however, begs the questions (1) how much is too much? and (2) is it worthwhile to elicit and fully experience fear and pain in every aspect of my life? Short answer is I just don't know. Today I became entrenched in a duel with one of my most deep-seated fears and it seems to have only induced further anxiety and insomnia. Point being: no fearlessness in sight. Yet.

My sentiments are validated by both philosophy and science alike. Epictetus in his Discourses states that "neither a bull nor a noble-spirited man comes to be what he is all at once; he must undertake hard winter training, and prepare himself, and not propel himself rashly into what is not appropriate to him." (I feel a little better.)

I strongly questioned today's shock-exposure (known formally in behavioural therapy as Flooding) from a number of perspectives. Firstly, how important is my success (or rather failure) during this exposure as a predictor of success in my actual career and/or personal life? For me it was probably minor at best. The Stoic ideology that I adopt is that conquering any sort of fear is a victory of both personal and professional growth, so naturally I feel like a bit of a failure. This leads to my next question: how appropriate was the intensity of the situation to stimulate growth instead of retreat and trauma/more fear? A quick literature search yields a study that shows a relapse in individuals treated with flooding versus those with systematic desensitization (gradual exposure.) There's also been some conclusions drawn that Flooding can actually have adverse effects and cause further trauma in an individual which explains my sentiments after the fact. Although I feel a bit defeated, it appears that science is a little on my side too by explaining why I was unable to overcome my fear. Feeling more ok? Maybe.

(Some basic info on exposure therapies which are used to treat anxiety and OCD.)

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