Is That Threat Even Real?
This will be a shorter post because conceptually, it is easy to comprehend. However, for real exploration, the counselor and client really need to unpack these themes in an empathetic space. This is because many of us experience perceived threats as real. This point will become crystal clear very soon.
Let's return to our bear example from the previous two posts. Imagine that a few months after your encounter with the bear on the path, your friend wants to go hiking. They have a surprise for you: a new path they've discovered. You're out with your friend, enjoying the sun dappled path, talking about her brother's fiance, feeling strong as you navigate over rocks and roots. Suddenly, there is a noise from just beyond the tree line. Is it a bear? Immense fear washes over you. Your heart rate changes, your breathing becomes faster and less efficient. And these are only a few of the many changes that happen when our sympathetic nervous system takes over. Are you in real danger, or perceived danger? Here is the quick answer: It doesn't really matter.
Your body pumps out the fear response hormones and chemicals, while well below your level of awareness you are clenching muscles, feeling shaken. A succinct way to think about real versus perceived threat is this:
Real threat exists as an outside danger that calls for behavioral intervention to resolve and avoid future threat. Perceived threat is comprised of internal forces, resolved through emotional regulation, reducing anxiety, psycho-education, and confronting beliefs.
Conceptually easy to comprehend? Perhaps. But when it is your fear, it can be a real journey to understand the difference when they both feel very real.