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.