“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
How would your life be different if you didn’t have fear? This question can evoke as much excitement as imagining how our lives would be different if we won the lottery. Think of all the places we would go, the people we would meet, the various creative pursuits we would… well, pursue. The funny thing is, we don’t need to buy a lottery ticket to win the lottery – we just need to get past our fears, one by one.
Fear is part of a process. Right before we are about to step into the light, or move forward, fear will step in our path and say “Boo!”. This is an opportunity to dig into the origin of the fear and heal it, so that it enables us to move forward. It is no coincidence that Halloween, a day about fear, darkness and death, is followed in the Catholic calendar, by All Saints Day, a day about purification, light and clarity. Instead of trying to avoid our fears, welcome them in and ask, “What is this fear here to teach me?” A fear of rejection can teach us to reach out to others, for instance. A fear of betrayal can teach us to trust.
Recognizing the fears we have in our lives is the first step to overcoming them. Some fears are easily identified and some are not – some fears feel small enough to handle and others feel too broad to tackle all at once. Fears, unless identified and faced, will continue to steer our lives in a direction that avoids the life we have envisioned for ourselves.
It can be easy to identify those situations that we fear. We may be afraid of showing up at a party by ourselves or afraid of dating someone who we feel is out of our league. We may be afraid of changing careers, breaking off a relationship or having children. However, what is the true fear lurking underneath each one of these scenarios? Why are we afraid of breaking off a relationship? It may be because we have a fear of being alone, for instance.
Some of our fears can be difficult to identify because we may unconsciously be avoiding any situation that would put us in contact with our fear. For instance, if we have a fear of rejection, we may automatically avoid certain social situations. Perhaps we chalk up our lack of social interaction to having a “bookish” or “introverted” personality. Our behavior may have compensated for our fear for so long that we assume it is part of our personality – instead of recognizing that fear is dictating our behavior.
So, how do we identify our unconscious fears? One way to identify them is to ask what makes us angry. Yes, anger and fear are really the same thing. Let’s assume we are stuck in traffic. We’ve rounded a bend and see the long line of red taillights ahead. In the midst of our anger, we can take advantage of the opportunity to ask ourselves what is scaring us. Perhaps we have a fear of not being in control, or a fear of being trapped. Perhaps we fear the unknown, and if we don’t know what is causing the traffic jam, we don’t know how long we will be sitting there. Perhaps we have a fear of abandonment and are afraid that we will be left on the road and no one will provide us with help, if needed. Once these fears are identified, they can be overcome!
If we are already aware of a fear but it seems to persist, digging deeper into the fear by asking “What is the worst that could happen?” can be a powerful tool. For instance, if we feel guarded in relationships, we may easily identify our fear of intimacy. However, fear of intimacy can feel like too broad a subject to tackle. It helps to pinpoint some underlying fears at work. We can ask ourselves, “If I let down my guard in a relationship, what is the worst that could happen?” We may then recall the childhood experiences of betrayal from those people who were supposed to be protecting us. If the fear of betrayal is really fueling the fear of intimacy, tackling the betrayal fear first is key. The next time we react by putting up our guard in a relationship, we can ask ourselves if there is any rational evidence that someone has betrayed us. Doing this separates the fear generated from the past from our present reality. (Popular acronyms for fear are “False Evidence Appearing Real” and “Forgetting Everything is All Right”). Each time we do a reality check, we lessen our fear of betrayal. We can continue to dig deeper and ask, “If I am being betrayed, what is the worst that could happen?” and this may identify a fear of being alone. We can then look at our lives and ask ourselves, in a world of 7 billion people, if we would be, in fact, alone. And so on and so on.
Facing our fears can be a scary, yet incredibly courageous exercise in moving forward in our lives. Removing the obstacle of fear from our lives and the feeling of freedom that replaces it, is priceless.
“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength.” – Corrie ten Boom
What fears limit your ability to claim the life you were meant to live?