Fear is a normal part of being a sentient being. All animals, including humans, feel fear. It is primal. It is what ensures our survival.
Yet at some point during the evolution of society we decided to indict the feeling of fear. We question it. We judge it. And then, we either give it the death penalty by pretending we don’t feel it at all and becoming “fearless”. Or, we lock ourselves up in the prison of that fear and throw away the key.
At some point we decided that fear fit very neatly in that category of “negative emotions” that we do not want to feel; right next to pain, anger and shame. And this is the very reason why it often can rule our lives.
An example of how living in fear can wreak havoc in your life is perfectionism. We live in a society where perfectionism is often praised. Mostly because in some cases it can yield great results and outcomes, especially in a corporate environment. And, to be clear, there is a lot of value in doing your best in any situation. However, this is different than perfectionism. Because the ugly side of perfectionism is its cost; the toll it takes on the person.
Perfectionism, like many other coping strategies often results from childhood trauma. Fear of criticism and/or disapproval from our parents is equated to loss of love and connection. This experience, if unresolved, can lead to a life of perfectionism. As an adult this can manifest in many dysfunctional and detrimental ways like:
Anxiety attacks because you fear disapproval of your parents if you do not get an A in your test
Chronic tardiness and/or procrastination because you want things to look just right so you procrastinate in order to avoid starting or you take too long by obsessively overcorrecting or re-checking
Professional inefficiency because you want your report to have all the information perfectly detailed rather than focusing on prioritizing relevant information and meeting the deadline
Unfulfilling relationships and lack of confidence because you learned that love = approval and you cannot get approval unless you are, and do everything, perfect
Physical ailments and illness because the constant state of fear is not what is intended by our biology. Staying in a state of fight or flight is intended for short periods of time because our body redirects resources to priority functions needed for survival. Maintaining this state for an extended period of time can have serious implications on our health.
These are just some of the reasons why living in fear can be detrimental. But perhaps the most important reason is because it feels awful! If you are reading this and it resonates, then you are not alone. Everyone I know that has lived in fear, or still does, feels their life is joyless and unfulfilling.
As someone who grew up in fear and lived a fearful life well into adulthood, I cannot count the times I really wanted to do something but didn’t.
I was taught fear. I come from a long line of fearful people who never really took charge of, or enjoyed their lives, or became who they wanted to be, who they knew they could be… because of fear. Fear of failing. Fear of disappointment. Fear of what others would say. And, that is ok. For them. But I wanted more. So the ancestral pattern ends with me.
It is human to feel fear, so I do not believe in the concept of fearlessness. What I believe in is courage.
Fear has an important purpose. To keep us alive and safe. It is basically a built-in tool. An automatic switch that goes off when we perceive danger. Like the anti-virus software in our computers. It’s there to protect our device. But, because of the way it is programmed it yields some false positives. And, it is up to us to change the default settings to optimize the system.
OPTIMIZE YOUR FEAR
If you are still reading this, you have probably reached the point in your life and your evolution where you are no longer satisfied with just surviving. You want to thrive! You want to enjoy life and unleash the potential within you. And, to do that you have to stop living in fear. So, here are some suggestions based on what worked for me.
In order to stop living in fear we need to become consciously aware of it.
Allow yourself to feel the fear. When the fear comes up, sit with it. Do not fight it or push it away. Do not try to analyze it or rationalize it. Let yourself feel the emotion in your body. Give it your undivided attention. Notice how it feels, where you feel it and any thoughts that come up.
The idea behind this step is to stop resisting feeling the fear and stop trying to make it fit into some narrative or concept you have of it.
Depending on how severe, deep-seeded or traumatic the fear is, you may need to do this with the support of a friend or a professional that can help you get back to a state of safety or resolution. If easier, you can also start by accessing an old memory so that the emotion is not as intense or overwhelming.
Ask yourself and/or your fear some questions. This can done while feeling the emotion. Or, it can be done from an intellectual perspective later on. Ideally, you want to tap into the emotion. But ultimately, both approaches, emotional and intellectual, will inform each other to form the full picture.
What am I afraid of?
What do I anticipate?
Do I feel safe in my life?
Where do I feel unsafe?
Is there anything that can be done right now to feel safer?
When and where in my childhood did I learn to be afraid of _______?
When and why did I feel unsafe in my childhood?
How can I change this now?
We need to understand that, while a lot of these fears may appear irrational, when we start feeling them, listening to them and understanding them, we realize they actually make a lot of sense. They are there to protect us from a perceived threat. Whether the threat is real or not, or whether it is past, present or future is not a concern for the fear. Those are factors of our programming. Just understand and validate the fear.
Note: Part of my practice is doing inner child work. This is a technique that I highly recommend to address these types of wounds so that we can heal the trauma from the root.
Examine other times you did something you were fearful of. How did you feel? Even if it failed. What did you learn? Was the fear of anticipation worse than the action?
What we are looking for here is for your mind and your emotions to understand that you did not die. That you survived. And integrate what you learned from that experience.
Figure out the desire. Behind every fear there is a desire or a need we are wanting to fulfill.
You can use some of the steps above to help you identify what it is that you desire. And YES, there is always a desire or a need. If there wasn’t, there would be no fear. You are fearing the denial, loss or even the achieving of that need or desire.
Once you know what that is you can use it to help you take action.
The easiest way to work through and with your fear is when your desire is stronger than said fear.
Start with small actions. The only way to effect real change in our lives is to take action towards what we want to create.
What I’ve found is that very often once I start taking steps towards what I want I realize that the fear I felt was the anticipation of failure or the fear that I wouldn’t be capable. Once I start DOING, I’m good.
In my Fearlessness video on my YouTube channel I provide some examples of how you can start building your courage.
Actions can really change your attitude towards something. They provide a lot of clarity. It is not going to be perfect. There will probably be mistakes along the way. You may still feel some fear. Good! That means you are being brave. That’s what we want. It is part of the journey. But if you don’t start taking steps now you won’t get anywhere. These tips can get you started.
Get support. I know that these tips are harder than they look and that you will need help along the way. That is why I created my multi-dimensional framework to understanding and healing emotional wounds. It is a unique approach and differs from what you have tried in the past because we get to the root cause to tackle these issues and heal them.
Fear is not the enemy. It is a tool. It is actually a pretty efficient way to help us determine our needs and desires. Yet, it is imperative that we learn how to harness it appropriately. That we do not let our wounds and dysfunctional programming short-circuit the system.
Many of us right now are using fear to keep us from doing the very thing it was designed to help us do. LIVE! So, let’s come back into alignment and live our lives to the fullest.
Book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway on Amazon affiliate: https://amzn.to/3qXvbxB
Academic paper on The Effects of Chronic Fear on a Person's Health:
My YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCwR43uWdzEmwDGdZWZrZTqQ