Fear Dance

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Question: My husband and I have arguments that escalate in intensity as they progress. It seems that each of us are reacting one another’s comments. There is so much emotion involved in the arguments that I am afraid someone is going to get hurt. What’s happening?

What you have described has been called the Fear Dance by Dr. Greg Smalley. Below is a model of the Fear Dance as presented by Greg’s father, Dr. Gary Smalley in the book, The DNA of Relationships.

The dance begins with a crisis in your relationship. Something happens that causes a wound to form in the emotional part of you. There are a number of emotions that you might feel. You might feel confusion, bewilderment, anger, rage, or embarrassment, to name a few. As a result of your HURT, you WANT. You want to feel better. Without realizing it, you may want the other person to change to make you feel better. Your want touches off FEAR that you won’t get what you want. When this FEAR BUTTON is pushed, it becomes your reality and you REACT.

Consciously or unconsciously, you fall into well-worn patterns of reacting. This reaction tends to cause a hurt in the other person and the cycle continues. As the dance goes round and round it escalates in intensity.

Let’s suppose you make a disparaging remark about your husband in front of others. He feels very hurt that you would do such a thing, especially in front of others. Your husband wants to be admired and esteemed, but instead he has been reduced in importance by the one he loves the most. He wants admiration and esteem, but you have pushed his fear button of inferiority.

There are many ways he might react. He may withdraw, fly into a rage, belittle you, make negative comments about you, blame the relationship problem totally on you, exaggerate the situation, deny the comment, attempt to invalidate you, tantrum, rage, or physically abuse you. Whatever the reaction, it has the potential to hurt you, which in turn, causes you to go through the same steps. You hurt, you want relief from your hurt, it pushes your fear button, and you react, resulting in another wound to your husband.

To help you identify your wants and fears, below I have listed twenty-five, taken directly from The DNA of Relationships. Take a moment to look them over to see if you can identify your WANTS and FEARS

I WANT     I FEAR
Acceptance…………………..Rejection
Grace……………………………Judgment 
Connection…………………..Disconnection
Companionship……………Loneliness
Success………………………..Failure
Self-determination………Powerlessness
Understanding…………….Being Misunderstood
Love…………………………….Being Scorned
Validation…………………….Being Invalidated
Competence…………………Feeling Defective
Respect………………………..Inferiority
Worth………..………………..Worthlessness
Honor…………………………..Feeling Devalued
Dignity……….…………………Humiliation
Commitment………………..Abandonment
Significance………………….Feeling Unimportant
Attention…………….……….Feeling Ignored
Support……………….………Neglect
Approval……………………..Condemnation
To Be Wanted……………….Feeling Unwanted
Safety……………………………Danger
Affection…………….………..Feeling Disliked
Trust…………..……..………..Mistrust
Hope…………..……..………..Despair
Joy……………..…………………Unhappiness

So how do you stop the Fear Dance once it begins? You must break the rhythm of the dance, and the way you do that is by identifying your fear buttons. Many people are afraid to break the rhythm of the dance because it works so well for them. It’s an established habit pattern, but a very unpleasant one.

Once you identify your fears and recognize that one of your fear buttons is being pushed, stop dancing. Refuse to take the next step. Refuse to react to your fear. Instead of reacting and pushing his FEAR button, try meeting his WANT. Also, I’d recommend you consider purchasing a copy of the book, The DNA of Relationships by Gary Smalley for an in depth discussion of the Fear Dance.

Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected]

Example: 9075434113

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