Did you ever hear any of these as a child?
“Don’t step on a crack, or you’ll break your mother’s back!”
“Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.”
“Don’t cross the street – you’ll get hit by a car!”
Whether they affect our willingness to try new things, or sense of personal safety, or our self-esteem, fears that last a lifetime can arise from an event that happens in an instant. All it takes is a comment, a look, a well-meaning warning, or an actual close call…even a door slamming in the wind that you think was slammed by someone who was mad at you – who may in reality have been perfectly happy with you at the time!
People often identify themselves as “just stuck” or “bored,” or they lament, “I just can’t catch a break.” They say these things as though they are set in stone, and seldom stop to look at what’s at the heart of the problem.
How many times have you asked yourself, “what if I were to ____ (fill in the blank with something you’d love to do but have never ventured to try)…” – and then felt suddenly overwhelmed by the sheer boldness of the answer, so your inquiry went no further. That’s fear. So…what are you really afraid of???
Finding the Fear Behind the Behavior
Fears tend to be insidious, because they feel so normal and natural that most people stop thinking about why they‘re stuck in their lives and not moving forward, or not happy or fulfilled. But almost always, at the root of the problems is fear. So you may have to look really hard, and keep the inquiry going over time, before yours will reveal themselves!
It’s helpful if you write your fears down, and give yourself time to look at them, and then YOU get to decide if it’s a fear worth keeping. Ask yourself:
- What does it do for you?
- How does this belief or feeling enhance or benefit you in your life?
- Who are you when you’re sitting with your fear(s)?
- Do you feel strong and assertive?
- Do you feel and really believe that who you are is enough?
- Do you feel weak, and scared and unsure of yourself?
As you sit with these fears, and feel your own discomfort or frustration or annoyance, take a slow, deep breath, and pay attention to the messages that you give yourself when these fears are present. Check in with yourself to identify in detail:
- Are you loving and supportive, or critical and harsh?
- Do you feel compassionate towards yourself when you’re feeling anxious, or do you get annoyed and disgusted with yourself?
- Would you talk to your best friend with the tone or words that are now playing in your head?
- Where did this disrespect for your own feelings come from?
- When did you first start discounting yourself in this way?
Allow yourself to realize just how long these negative messages about yourself and your feelings have been with you. When you’ve been taught to dislike, disrespect, deny or even hate your feelings, then what I am asking you to do by sitting with them, acknowledging them and even feeling compassion for yourself for them might feel weird, or maybe absolutely wrong or crazy!
You may be thinking, “How do I embrace something that feels so awful?“ Yet, embracing the fear is exactly what you have to do! You can’t change or overcome or deal with something that you’re afraid of or that intimidates you, or that you feel you have to reject. So I am asking you to literally embrace the very thing that has held you captive.
Understanding where these fears came from, then embracing these feelings and associated beliefs with compassion – for who you were and what your life experiences have been that necessitated the fears – is the only way you can really change from the fears controlling you to YOU controlling the fears.
Today, I want you to really look at the fears you hold within you and acknowledge their existence. We cannot change something if we deny its existence. Admitting to your fears will not make them stronger – in fact, saying them out loud, or writing them down is the beginning of being able to put them in perspective.
In the next article I’ll talk about how fears – ours and others’ – affect our interactions, and our ability to establish and maintain trust in all our relationships. I’ll see you there!