Beyond the campfire

Beyond the campfireThere is a boundary within which we feel safe and which beyond lurk the threats to our sense of security. Like a dog with an invisible fence, we are notified of this boundary by our emotions such as anxiety, fear and perhaps anger, but also feelings of excitement, interest and curiosity. The “comfort zone” varies tremendously from person to person. Some individuals feel comfortable wandering or even leaving the globe engaging in activities that would make the faint-hearted shudder. Others find it threatening to leave their bedroom — panic-bound with almost every move they make. How we manage this boundary is a crucial determinant of our lives.

This boundary is like the space between the warmth and safety of the campfire and the menacing dangers beyond its glow. We may prefer to cling closely to the intoxicating comfort and security the fire provides, but this draws the boundary even closer. If we never leave the campfire, we may find a life crowded with anxiety. Fear is a hardwired emotion that is activated to help us escape threat. We may find it extremely difficult to leave what feels secure when we feel afraid.  But fear will not just go away if we try to wait it out, there is no way for it to be permanently exiled — threat, danger and risk will always be “out there” somewhere.  The question is how close is the boundary? We can minimize fear’s influence over us, but this only happens “beyond the campfire.” We must be willing to leave the place where we feel safe in order to expand the territory where we will feel safe. To “move beyond” requires motivation, and to find this we will need to switch emotional states.

Wolf-Eyes04Anger is one possible option. Like fear, anger is a hardwired emotion, however unlike fear, which motivates us to escape threat, anger activates us to engage threat. It is also elicited when we feel our freedom has become too restrained, when we feel our safety zone has become claustrophobic or endangered. Even a rabbit will fight a predator when backed into a corner.  Anger motivates us to move out of safety and into risk. Anger enables us to drive the lurking danger farther away from the campfire.

There are also positive reasons to move beyond the campfire and into the riskiness of the boundary. Safety and security may be desirable, but there are some pleasurable feelings that cannot be found near the campfire. Many forms of entertainment involve some element of risk. Increased feelings of aliveness, novelty and excitement often arise only when the stakes are raised.

Leaving our comfort zone feels risky but pushing into the unknown is the only way to stretch our boundary and expand the territory where we can freely roam. It may also be the only way to connect to the full complement of human emotions and feel truly alive.


John R. Lucy, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice at Decatur Psychology, LLC.