“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” -Marie Curie
We all know what fear is and all the various forms and shapes it takes in our lives. It’s the fear of failure, change, humiliation, confrontation, and loss. It’s that nervous energy swirling inside, a looming sense of dread, the feeling of constriction and suffocation that either mobilizes us or renders us paralyzed. Fear is a universal experience and beneath its intense presence it is pure in its intent.
Most of us spend lots of time trying to manage and overcome fear and we follow all of the expert advice. We meditate, exercise, complete various deep breathing exercises, get out into nature, connect with others, get plenty of sleep and stay hydrated. We attempt to distract our minds or we make the effort to stay mindfully present. I find great relief temporarily through all of these things, but then I wake up the next morning and fear is there again banging down my door like it just can’t wait to tell me about all the potential things that could go wrong today and the next day and the next day.
One day, I woke up and decided to investigate and get curious about my fear before I gave into just wanting to get rid of it. I decided I would stop working so hard to manage it and demonize it and just have a conversation with it instead. After all, it had a lot to say and was constantly reminding me of the same things over and over again.
I got out a piece of paper and asked fear to share with me all of the things it was afraid of. Fear was afraid that I was getting everything wrong, that I was making the wrong decisions, and that surely I would be punished or there would be consequences for all this wrong doing.
I then asked fear if all these things were really the truth about me and I got it all wrong and somehow ended up facing some harsh consequences as a result, what did it see happening to me next? Fear said, “Then you will fail.”
And if I failed, then what?, I asked. “You will lose everything”, fear said.
I took a deep breath and in a gentle and compassionate voice I asked fear, “What do you hope for in telling me all of these things everyday?”, Fear replied, “That I can keep you safe and I can keep you protected. If you make mistakes people will think the worst about you, they will ultimately think you are a bad person.”
In that moment, something inside of me softened and I realized that fear was working overtime to keep shame at bay. That fear was actually concerned that shame would somehow be exposed. I knew it was shame because when I heard fear speak I remembered Brene Brown’s brilliant definition, “that shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” That something inside or underneath the fear was actually questioning its worth or value as a human being. Bearing witness to fear I had new insight and began to instantly feel calmer. I realized that fear was constantly in my mind and body taking up all the space because I never once really stopped to listen to it. I felt a new sense of gratitude for the wisdom it shared and the role it was playing in my life. I then knew if I could open more space for compassion and empathy towards myself in my life and spend time honoring my own value even when I make mistakes, fear wouldn’t have to work so hard. I knew trying to manage fear only made it louder overtime and that if I really stopped to be curious about what was going on, I might uncover something that could help me nourish myself in a way that I didn’t expect. I did not have to believe its catastrophizing messages but I did have to understand why they were there in order to find relief.
What is the vulnerable truth underlying your fear? What is the story your fear tells you? What is your fear really trying to protect you from? How can you more actively bring compassion to it in your daily life?
Photo Credit: Photo by Asdrubal luna on Unsplash