Fear or Friend?

woman looking at sea while sitting on beach

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“I don’t have to fear my fear, I can use it as a way to get closer to love,” Gabby Bernstein, Super Attractor Deck.  This is actually incredibly personal for me.  I am a person who, admittedly, has been fearful most of my life.  From the every day things to the BIG things, my brain has managed to warp nearly everything into something of near catastrophic proportions.  Ironically, in most cases when there was a real emergency, I was always prepared and I made it through those calmly and with flying colors.  Maybe it was the years of replaying horrific circumstances in my mind that made me prepared, maybe I was functioning in a broken state.  I digress.

For a long time I looked at life as something to control.  I thought it was just me being prepared, being the adult in the situation but really it was me wanting to call the shots over everything.  I absolutely did that out of fear.  I didn’t want to lose anything, I wanted to have the answers, I wanted to be prepared, I wanted to know what was coming, and I wanted to have a response to anything that came my way.  Again, those were all responses to fear of the unknown.

I know this started as a child because I had older siblings and my habit of proving things to people started there.  I wanted to prove I could keep up and I hated being left behind or shown that I was wrong about something because I would be made fun of for it.  It progressed from there to school as well (still as young as grade school).  I was terrified of being wrong because it seemed I was always made fun of for it.  No one taught me it was a learning experience—it was just something that I was belittled for it.  Lack of knowledge was laughable.

Then fear spread to everything.  I lost my grandfather and that cut me deeper than anything at that point in my life.  Couple that with a lack of trust with my closest family and I began to fear life itself.  I couldn’t stand the unpredictability.  I hated not knowing what was coming.  I hated not knowing period.  I became afraid, like I said, of everything.

I’ve learned to look at the things I feared in different ways.  For example, I don’t fear failure or being wrong.  I have truly adopted the mentality that failure is a learning experience.  However, brains run on the path of least resistance and for me that path still trends towards fear so my brain often comes up with new things to fear.  It likes to remind me of things that I’ve done wrong (re-living embarrassment) and it likes to remind me of the things I know will happen but don’t know when like illness and death.

The idea of making peace with each thing I fear is comforting to me.  I have had success with the small things and it gives me some hope that fear is something that I am able to live with.  Liz Gilbert says in Big Magic that fear is allowed to come along for the ride but it isn’t allowed to drive.  I spent a lot of time as a passenger to fear in my life.  I let it call all the shots including when I went out with friends or when my husband and I went out to eat as well as when we had a child.  I let it decide that I wasn’t going to go away to school, I let it keep me in a job I detested for years, and I let it prevent me from sticking with my decisions, and worst, I let it keep me from going after my goals.  I hated fear for a long time until I realized that it was my reactions to the fear that I hated, not the fear itself.

Learning to look at fear as something that needs to be loved is a challenge.  Most of us have a strong negative reaction to the emotion and recognize that it is not comfortable to sit with it so our first instinct is to push it away.  The truth is fear is just doing its job.  It’s trying desperately to protect us and sometimes it gets a little too amped.  Piggy Backing off of yesterday’s conversation about choosing our thoughts, it is up to us to look at fear for what it really is: a primal directive toward self-preservation.  We have always had the wheel—we just need to do a better job of steering where we go.  Leaning into fear and making a collaborative agreement with it can lead us to love—because we are learning to love the darkest parts of us.

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