“We master our fears by embracing them, not by subduing them.” ― Arianna Huffington
Every year I choose a word for the year. In 2015, my word was fearless. I chose it because I wanted to eliminate fear from my life—completely and totally eradicate it. Without fear, I imagined I would leap tall buildings and right wrongs and make the world my oyster—in other words my life would be a beautiful cliché of never-ending accomplishments and obstacle-crushing successes.
You can guess how well that turned out.
After struggling with this idea for an entire year, I have some thoughts. Fear, in and of itself, is not bad. We need fear. Fear protects us from harm. I fear snakes, partly because they are scaly, but also because some are poisonous and can kill you.
Fear is also important in our emotional life. I might fear that this bout of depression will never end so I finally call my doctor. Or I might fear divorce so I get myself and my partner to a couple’s therapist to work on our issues.
The problem with fear is that it can be a loud, obnoxious bully that shouts down our more logical and grounded parts of us. With just a smoldering look and flexing of its muscles, even the most brave among us can become quivering wimps.
In addition, fear doesn’t play by the rules of polite society. It brings up past failures, disappointments, and even past fears. It often strikes when we are at our weakest—in the middle of the night, sitting beside a sick child’s bed, or just as you stand to give a presentation at work.
What doesn’t work with fear is to deny its existence or beat it into submission. Believe me, I’ve tried. Fear just seems to come back bigger and stronger. But like with most bullies, if we face fear straight on and show it some curiosity and compassion, it will eventually calm down. Curiosity might be asking questions like: Why is fear showing up now? What does it looks like? What is it saying? Can you imagine treating your fear like a small, frightened child and picking it up and placing it in your lap? What if you gave it comfort instead of fighting it?
By acknowledging our fears instead of ignoring them or trying to squelch them, we illogically calm them enough to give us a little breathing room. In this space, we can better evaluate the validity of our fears’ underlying concerns. Maybe it would be a good idea to see a doctor, go to therapy, or call a friend to check on them. Or maybe not. Curiosity and compassion are a better guide in life than anything that fear might suggest.
- What fear keeps you awake at night or wakes you early in the morning?
- What does your fear look like?
- When is your fear most likely to strike?