Many of us have been shamed at one point or another in our lives for the simple expression of fear.
Feeling fear – it is something that animals, small children, birds, express so naturally. They feel fear, recognize it for the messenger that it is, and do the next right thing. This is because in its primal state, fear is built into our primitive limbic brain – the part of the brain that is wired to alert every sentient being to danger and give us a head start in finding safe shelter.
So how did fear evolve to the point where the simple expression of feeling fear can lead to shame, a desire to hide, or a need to camouflage fear with anger, rage, sadness, blame, or various addictions, just so we won’t be found out?
The actual definitions for fear range from an unpleasant feeling of perceived risk or danger, real or not to a reverential awe.
One interesting question I often ask those I work with is – “who told you fear was unpleasant?” Who would we be in the presence of our own fear if we weren’t so keen on labeling it as unpleasant? These are interesting questions to ask.
Another revealing question those I work with sometimes find helpful is, “since when is risk or danger ever perceived?” By this I mean that when we say these things to ourselves, we are in essence saying to ourselves, “I don’t trust you.” This is very frightening, and our fear only grows.
The truth is that when we feel fear, it is real to us – period, the end. We won’t accept others’ assessments that we really aren’t afraid when we are. We don’t have to stop and ask ourselves, “are you sure you are afraid?” We know. Questioning our fear shames us, and cuts us off from taking the necessary action to move through our fear towards resolution.
Similarly, when we spend precious moments believing that the emotion of fear is unpleasant, unwanted, unnecessary, or untrue, we resist the fear and….you guessed it….become even more afraid. It is at this point where we may find ourselves turning to various thought or behavior patterns or addictions such as drinking, drugging, using other people’s bodies, stuffing our own bodies when we are already full or not feeling hungry, watching hours of mindless television programs, losing ourselves on the internet, or otherwise “checking out” from our own lives and the people around us.
I’d like to propose a simpler way to put fear in its place. Let it stay where it is.
Fear is there, knocking on our awareness, for its own reasons. It has a message for us. It comes respectfully, and not without its own trepidation given the often cold reception we offer it. Yet it continues to come. Fear is kind. Fear wants us to deal with what is causing the fear and find resolution and peace.
So the next time you feel fear, before you move on auto pilot into arguing with its presence, discounting it, shaming or judging yourself for feeling it, blaming someone or something else for inducing it in you, hiding from it, or drowning yourself in addictive thought and behavior patterns to escape it, try this.
Ask yourself kindly, “What am I feeling afraid of?”
Write down your own answer.
If you find you are turning towards any exterior crutches or supports, like alcohol or other people, before doing a thorough self-investigation of your fear, then notice that too, and ask yourself kindly if you can wait just a few moments to do self inquiry on your fear before you have that first drink, make that phone call, or switch on the computer or television set.
And if you find that you are still too afraid to proceed without those crutches, it may be the right moment to consider reaching out for help.
Fear is a great teacher – if we will allow it. Fear can be a good friend – if we will allow it. Fear can teach us that it is okay to reach out and ask for help, and that in the very act of asking for help, we find our first taste of freedom from the fear of our own fear.
At Southlake Counseling, we have more than two decades of expertise with guiding people just like you through the experience of their own fear towards understanding, action, and resolution. Our caring professional staff is skilled in individual and group facilitation methods which can allow fear to safely arise, deliver its message, and depart, leaving us stronger, wiser, and more confident for the experience. Contact us today to find out how we can help you say “no” to discounting, shifting or hiding from your fears, and “yes” to learning from a very wise teacher – fear itself. www.southlakecounseling.com