Facing Fears Means Being Afraid

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

kids facing fears at the ocean

I have accepted fear as a part of life – specifically the fear of change…. I have gone ahead despite the pounding in the heart that says:  turn back.  ~Erica Jong

Personal development blogs and self-help books are filled with strategies for overcoming fears.  And that’s great.  Creating significant change will certainly require you to overcome some of your deepest fears.  But in our rush to conquer our fears, we – or at least I – may forget that having fears is perfectly normal.  Before we can overcome we need to practice facing fears.

It’s OK to be scared.

Fear is just a feeling.  It’s a powerful emotion, true, but it’s still nothing more than an emotion.  Trying to control an emotion or actively avoid a feeling is not a good idea.  The best – and really the only – thing to do with a feeling is feel it.

I’m not making this shit up.  The question I asked most frequently in therapy was “what am I supposed to do with these feelings?”, to which my brilliant therapist responded, “you don’t do anything with feelings, Britt.  They’re just feelings.  Feel them.”  And she was right.

My life changed dramatically when I learned to stop trying to do something with my feelings.

Don’t let people talk you out of your fear.

Fear is not only uncomfortable to feel, but to watch.  None of us enjoys watching people we care about struggle. So when you say, “I’m afraid”, it’s natural that some people will try to help you be less afraid.  They may do this by offering “solutions”, insisting that you should not be afraid, or encouraging you to just stop doing whatever is scaring you.

Stop voicing your fears to people who insist on helping.

These aren’t bad people.  In fact, they may be exactly who you want to talk to when you’re looking for ideas and solutions.  But trying to share an emotion as volatile as fear with someone whose instinct is to fix is counterproductive, especially if you don’t have emotional boundaries made of steel.

Don’t run away from your fear.

When someone tries to fix my fear for me, I try really hard to shove my fear down so I can prove that I’m not afraid.    Then I wind up feeling defensive or rebellious.   In the blink of an eye I’m tossed into an emotional tailspin, desperately trying to deny one undesirable emotion after another.  In the end, I’m left with a pile of denials and no ability to recognize my own truths.

Of course, it’s not always someone else’s attempt to fix that sends me running from fear.  Fear is a bitch.  I don’t like feeling it.  It reminds me of my deepest insecurities and oldest hurts.  My initial instinct is to handle fear as quickly as possible, as if I can put fear in a box and move on with my life.

Be brave enough to feel the fear.

Unacknowledged emotions just turn into resentment.  Fear that is ignored becomes powerful and can sabotage every hope you have for your life.  Pretending not to be afraid when we are secretly terrified is neither brave, healthy nor effective.  If you need to be afraid, be afraid.

Find a safe place to let those emotions wash over you.  Talk to someone who will not try to talk you out of fear but who will just listen.  Write down your fears in a journal that can’t talk back.  Let your mind wander to the worst case scenario.  Cry.  Discover what feeling fear looks like for you.

Go ahead and let your fear see the light of day.  Only then will you be able to let it go.  Only then will you begin to be less afraid.

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do. – Eleanor Roosevelt

Only then will you know for certain that fear cannot kill you.

Go ahead, be afraid.  Be very afraid.

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Miss Britt, allisonsreading. allisonsreading said: Miss Britt: Facing Fears Means Being Afraid http://bit.ly/h7FHpA [...]

  2. Oh my fuck, Britt, this is awesome. I am usually in the “talk fear away” corner, but you are so right that fear can’t hurt me. Fear is an emotion. Feel it and keep on keeping on!
    Change & I are not friends, but I am getting better at accepting it. :)

    • Miss Britt says:

      Thank you. :-)

      My mom always uses the analogy of an ocean wave. You can try and fight against it, but it will just leave you exhausted. The only thing you can really do is stand there and let it wash over you, and then it will pass.

      Same goes for pretty much every emotion. I struggle with it with fear and anger. Yes, I actually do not LIKE to be angry. It makes me feel guilty.

  3. P.S. I do so love that last picture. Gorgeous and full of joy!

  4. Nanna says:

    I love this post. And I looooooove people who face fear and go ahead anyways. Great job, little one.

  5. the muskrat says:

    Dude, were those pictures taken in FL? I didn’t think y’all got waves like that (if it is FL)! See how I’ve turned all surfer now that I’ve done it twice?

    • Miss Britt says:

      Yes they were. :-) This is why I love the Atlantic Coast of Florida, because we have waves. The Gulf side is pretty and all, but I get bored looking at the flat water.

      And, um, we have national surfing competitions here all the time. On that exact beach, as a matter of fact.

  6. Poppy says:

    Fantastically wonderful post.

    I try to help fix situations because it is built into my personality, unless someone says out loud in blunt words “I want to tell you how I’m feeling but I don’t want you to help fix it.” And then I just listen and give hugs.

    • Miss Britt says:

      Thank you. :-) I actually have come to know this about you, and sometimes it takes me a minute when you are being helpful to calm down and not get all STOP TRYING TO HELP ME AND FIX ME!! in caps.

      But I’m the same way. A natural fixer. APPARENTLY that’s a big reason Jared didn’t use to share stuff with me.

      I’m trying to practice saying “are you asking for my advice? Do you want advice, or just want me to listen?”

  7. Hockeymandad says:

    I need to print this and keep this with me. I fear the fear, and when I get scared I bottle it up. I’m working on that though since bottled emotion causes other problems via manifestations.

    Amazing words my friend.

  8. Megan says:

    I don’t who said it, but there is a quote out there that says something to the affect of “Courage is not the absence of fear, it’s being a afraid and doing it anyway.” I’m sure I’m way off on the wording, but you get the gist of it.

  9. “Unacknowledged emotions just turn into resentment.” The timing on these words could not be more perfect for me, as *I’m* the fixer. I need to allow myself to feel what I feel without sweeping it under the rug for the sake of fixing the argument…

  10. Sheila says:

    I had this big serious comment to post about the actual issue at hand but then I remembered that I’ve had “Don’t Fear the Reaper” in my head all morning and all I could think of was “This post needs more cowbell.” And then I couldn’t stop laughing.

    But seriously, *great* post, Britt.

    Fear sucks but, when it’s in regards to making changes, it’s a good and healthy emotion. Obviously, fear when it’s “oh fuck, fight or flight”….that’s not so good but generally, yeah, fear is a good thing.

    I am a fixer too – I should learn to ask people if they *want* me to fix it or not. If I know it’s someone who just wants me to listen, I feel all weird because I’m a horrible listener but I do my best.

    • Miss Britt says:

      I always thought I was a good listener, until my marriage counselor was like “um, yeah, no.”

      • Sheila says:

        I thought I was until I found out that *you* weren’t a good listener. When you posted stuff I was like “That’s what she’s supposed to do!” It was quite the eye opener.

        Hopefully your therapist doesn’t find out about this and start charging me too.

        • Miss Britt says:

          Have I ever written the story about how my therapist described what I thought the perfect romantic relationship was and I was like “YES! Exactly!” and she was like “No, dude, that’s sick”?

          And then I called my mom to tell her the story, and I got done with the first part and she was like “YES! Exactly!” and I said “oh, well, that explains it.”

  11. Zoeyjane says:

    That’s something I’ve had to learn in the past two years – that feelings are meant to exist, not be micromanaged into something else. Funnily, I’ve never applied the same logic to my kid and I’ve always gone MamaBear on anyone who tried to tell her not to be afraid, sad, angry, etc.

    Sound advice, lady. And advice that I think a LOT of people don’t even realize that they need.

    • Miss Britt says:

      I actually did NOT apply that to my kids (well, with other people) until after learning to apply it in my marriage.

      I think it’s made me a better parent.

  12. FireMom says:

    How the heck are you so darn timely? Heh.

    My anxiety is way up regarding my last day (tomorrow) and I just needed to read this.

  13. Allyson says:

    My youngest often tells me that his brother can do a thing, “because he is brave. He’s not scared at all,” and I always respond with, “being brave is not the same as not being afraid. Mommy is afraid of moving in the dark, but when you need her, she gets brave and runs through the dark house to get to you. If you want to do this thing, and are afraid of doing it, get brave and do it.” Someday, when they’re older, I’ll use my dad’s logic – he always used to ask me, “What’s the worst thing that can happen if you do this thing? What’s the worst thing that can happen if you don’t do this thing? Which is worse?”

    • Miss Britt says:

      I do that with Jared!!

      But then I learned that my worst things freaked him out wayyy more than they did me, so I’m a little more careful with that now. lol

  14. Lisa says:

    “Courage: not the absence of fear or despair, but the strength to conquer them.”

    That unacknowledged quote hung on the wall in the bathroom of my old PT’s office and I always loved it. Facing my fears is something I have actually started to relish as I get older. Maybe it’s because, for the most part, I know what I’m facing isn’t actually going to kill me. Maybe I just have a tetch

  15. Lisa says:

    Ok I have no idea what happened with that comment, but ANYWAY!

    Maybe I have a tetch of the crazy as far as fear goes. Except for snakes. I have no desire to conquer that fear. I do need to get over my “fixer” tendencies. I know it’s not a trait that people appreciate, so I’m working on it.

    • Miss Britt says:

      I don’t think that’s crazy. I’m like to a certain extent. It’s like being an adrenaline junkie but not necessarily with sky diving type stuff, I think.

      It’s funny to hear you say you’re a fixer. I’ve never seen that side of you and have often marveled at how well you were able to define your responsibilities from someone else’s.

  16. Suebob says:

    This is just brilliant.

  17. Laurie says:

    Lovely as always, Britt. The photographs are so beautiful also.

  18. Momma says:

    Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.
    Nelson Mandela

  19. Connie says:

    Another great post! Fear is an emotion that we should learn, not hide from! There’s a reason fear evolved and it was to protect us from danger. I’m a firm believer that we should pay closer attention to our fears and unearth what drives our fears so that we can overcome them. So yes, be afraid. And learn from that experience!

  20. Amber says:

    The more time I spend with my fear, the more I realize it’s actually trying to help me. It’s totally misguided in most ways, but it really THINKS it has my best interests at heart. It’s trying to protect me and all that stuff.

    Somehow, knowing this has helped me immensely. It makes my fear less adversarial, and also less frightening.

  21. [...] I am her mother. I taught her, for God’s sake, that it’s OK to be afraid – that the trick is to [...]

  22. [...] questioned everything I am and every decision I’ve made about my life.  I’ve been scared and ugly and broken and unloved and  sick and tired of trying to be better and do [...]

  23. Lisa Adams says:

    I always say that fear makes you brave. It allows you (forces you?) to do things you might not otherwise have the strength to do because you fear the alternative. I was terrified of chemo, but fearing the alternative (dying, leaving my family, suffering for a longer period of time) was not an option to me. That alternative was worse. And so I faced my fear, and feel stronger for it. Hopefully healthier in the long run, too. We’ll have to wait to see about that one.

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