Deconstructing Fear

November 14, 2017

Fear is a natural part of the human experience.

It does not mean we are weak.

It does not mean we are not good enough.

It is expected.

 

I sometimes hear people say in 12-step meetings that "fear and faith can't live in the same house," or, "if you're going to pray, why worry - if you're going to worry, why pray?"

 

I'm not a fan.

 

I believe that true courage and faith involves acknowledging your fear and being able to walk through it anyway.  To walk through it with grace, dignity, and the ability to ask for help.

 

I don't believe that being "fearless" is even possible.

 

We are born with a fight or flight response that has existed in all species since the beginning of existence itself. It serves us. It has a purpose.

 

Fear becomes a problem when it inhibits us from living as our truest selves. It becomes a problem when we hide behind fear as opposed to stepping into the arena of the unknown. It becomes a problem when we let it run our lives.

 

So, how can we begin to deconstruct fear?

 

By doing exactly that: deconstructing. Bit by bit.

 

I'll never forget an experience I had with someone who was riddled with fear. She was paralyzed by fear every moment of every day. She had relapsed numerous times, would not reach her hand out at 12 step meetings, and had no idea if she was still employed because she was too scared to pick up the phone.

 

I didn't know where to start. It felt that her fear barrier was impenetrable; She had been living on this plane of existence for as long as she could remember. I had yet to become comfortable with challenging people about their cognitive distortions and core irrational beliefs.  On their bullshit.

 

One chilly, fall day, she anxiously told me about her inability, yet again, to pick up the phone and call her employer.

 

Something hit me.  What's beyond the primary fear?

 

I decided to try something out with her. Something in my gut told me to probe deeper, to dig a little further into her psyche than we had previously embarked on due to my own preconceived notions of her capacity for insight.

 

"What are you afraid of?"

 

She stared at me, jaw dropped in disbelief that I could be so naïve.

 

"Obviously I'm afraid that I'm going to be fired because I've been on FMLA for way over my allotted time and I got urined screened for alcohol and failed and the board of nurses are really harsh and if I call them and they tell me I'm fired then UGH I don't know."

 

"Then what?" I asked, feeling my cheeks flare up with the rose-color that can only be interpreted on my face as insecurity and apprehension.

 

She was getting impatient. "What do you mean then what?!"

 

I held my ground. I ignored all of the shame-based narratives going through my head.

 

"Let's say you call your employer and they tell you you've been fired," I asked, coolly.  "Then what?"

 

She was losing her composure at this point, more than she had in any of our prior sessions. Her face had also turned red, brought on by an intense panic which was now manifesting as rage.

 

"Well then I'd lose my job and be out of work," she scoffed angrily.

 

"Then what," I asked again. 

 

She began to catch on, surrendering to a process that she did not think she signed up for.

"Okay... then I'd be unemployed."

 

"Then what?"

 

"Well, I guess I'd have to look for jobs. And that's terrifying"

 

"What is the fear?"

 

"That I won't get a job!"

 

"Then what?"

 

"Uh... I guess I'd be okay for a few months while I keep looking for jobs."

 

"Then what?"

 

"If I still couldn't get a job, I'd eventually have to dip into my savings, which stresses me out."

 

"Then what?"

 

"I mean if I really used all of my savings, I'd be homeless."

 

"Would you really?"

 

"No... I could stay at my mom's.  But I'm a grown ass woman and don't need to be living at my mom's..."

 

"I hear you 100%. But if you were really going to be homeless, you would be able to stay with your mom?"

 

"Yeah of course. And then I guess I'd keep looking for jobs and I'd eventually get hired somewhere, even if it isn't in the nursing field."

 

"So, eventually you'd be able to get back on your feet financially?"

 

"....Okay Hannah WE GET IT my fear is mostly in my head OKOKOK."

 

"Just because it's in your head doesn't mean it's not real to you.  Your fears are valid because you are experiencing them. But yes, if we play the tape all the way through, we realize that most of our catastrophic thinking doesn't take into account the rational, factual based variables in our lives. Like your mom, or your savings, or the fact that you are likely to get another job."

 

"Oh, shit."

 

And just like that, my apprehension about my level of competence was lifted.

 

--------

 

How often do we stop at our first, primary fear?

We identify the fear, let our feelings take over, and lose control of our rational thought.

 

I've talked about this with my boyfriend before, especially at the beginning of our relationship when I was terrified almost all of the time about if we were to ever break up (hello, anxiety).

 

But then... we'd play the tape through.

 

If we broke up, we'd both be fine.  Whatever the terms of the breakup were, we would be able to walk throughout it with strength and integrity, just as we had done with emotional pain in the past.

 

Yes, it would be painful.  No, it's not what I want.  At the end of the day, though, I would still be able to stand on my own two feet and continue showing up for my life.

 

I was able to think about how the universe continues to show up for me, even if I can't see it in the moment, and that I would be OK.

 

Wow.  Well, that lifted a huge weight off my shoulders.  The weight that I carry around when I am trying to control the circumstances in my life.  When I am trying to control other people in my life: their thoughts, feelings, actions, and reactions.

 

I invite you to try this.

 

What fear can you think of that is currently weighing on you?

What would happen if you played the tape - and practiced "what if-ing" it?

 

Set yourself free from your own fear.

Acknowledge it, honor it, and allow yourself to play it all the way through.

 

While fear is a natural part of the human experience that is beyond our control, how we react to fear is absolutely in our control. 

 

Daily reminder:  Just for today, I will walk through my fear. 

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