Facing Your Fears
12 November 2013,16:06:17 BST
“We have no reason to harbor any mistrust against our world, for it is not against us. If it has terrors, they are our terrors; if it has abysses, these abysses belong to us; if there are dangers, we must try to love them.”
-Rainer Maria Rilke
Nighttime was absolutely dreadful for me growing up. I was one of the little ones who would make every excuse known to man not go to sleep. I always made several trips to the bathroom, needed water for my parched throat and even occasionally woke my parents for lunch money for the next day. I was terrified of what lurked around in the dark and I was certain once the lights went out and everyone went to bed, I would be eaten alive. As I grew older my fear of child-eating monsters disappeared. Now I love the dark. In fact I can’t sleep unless it is pitch trip-over-my-shoes-on-the way-to-the-bathroom black.
This concept of growing out of our fears is very liberating. When you look at the example of being afraid of the dark, you can see that night is night no matter how you turn it. A child’s mind is filled with sometimes very silly fears that dissipate as they live on and realize that those monsters don’t really exist.
“And if only we arrange our life in accordance with the principle which tells us that we must always trust in the difficult, then what now appears to us as the most alien will become our most intimate and trusted experience.”
-Rainer Maria Rilke
The very things that scare us have within them the material to make us loving, courageous heroes. When we come to our fears with love and courage we begin to make peace with them. I love the children’s book “Where The Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak. It is a story about a little boy who comes from a broken home and is continually getting in trouble. He then goes into a dream state where he is introduced to each and every one of his inappropriate behaviors in the form of monsters. He gets to know each one personally and learns to love them all. He learns that they act out when they are afraid or hurt. When he nurtures them and lets them know they are safe they relax and become, in fact, quite charming.
Swiss Psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung, a brilliant theorist who help bring psychology to the west, came up with the theory of shadows back in the mid 1900’s. He believed that each of us possesses a shadow of our real self. The self that we project to the outer world is simply a persona we’ve created out of people we honor and respect. But the whole self includes these parts of ourselves that we are afraid to share with the world because we don’t want to be judged and thrown away in response to our true being. The only problem with not being our true selves is that we bury these shadow pieces deep and they start to seep out in convoluted ways. We bury our fears away, never getting to know them personally and never realizing that they are shaping our whole way of life.
So it is our job to acquaint ourselves with these monsters/fears. We must name them, know them and work with them in order to be free from them. I have a “Fear Journal” in which I document the answers to the following questions each time I am faced with a fear:
Where do I feel this fear in my body?
When a fear comes up it always brings up an emotion. Typically panic, which I would feel in my heart because it starts to feel, constricted and beat rapidly. Sometimes it’s a sick nauseous feeling in my stomach or gut. While other times I hold it in my shoulders and feel as if I am holding the weight of the world inside them. Once I can identify where I am feeling it, I can then consciously take my attention to that place and relax it. It may me going for a massage and allowing someone to help you work through the emotion. Other times you simply just need to sit there and feel where it is and pair that attention with calm breaths. One of the things I absolutely love about the practice of yoga is that it gives you a heighten sense of body awareness so its much easier to identify where the emotion and fear is living in your body.
What is this fears name?
I like to give my fear a name as if it is actually a living human being. I got this idea when I watched the Showtime TV Series “United States of Tara”. Tara is a middle aged woman who is suffering from DID (Dissociative Personality Disorder), a terrible personality disorder that consists of a multiple personalities in response to severe trauma that occurred earlier in life. Every time she faces something overwhelming she shifts into another personality that can better deal with the situation. For example, she has “Buck”- the tough, motorcycle-riding guy who protects. “T”- the wild teenager that helps her understand and deal with her own teenage daughter. “Alice”- the June Cleaverish homemaker, that cleans, bakes and disciplines the children. There are several more but this gives you an idea of what you can do with your own fears. I have names for my own scared selves inside me. This helps me personalize the fear and have a deeper understanding for when it shows its face. It gives the fear a certain level of importance when you name it. Make sure the names have significance to you, so maybe characters in a movie or book or someone you remember from your childhood. This gives your fear an endearing quality and it makes it easier for you to personally welcome them in.
What are the ways I am running away from fear?
We spend countless hours of our day distracting ourselves from what is going on inside. Each time I feel an emotion I am uncomfortable with I find that I grab the TV remote, take a 5-mile walk, eat ice cream or call a friend. When we replace facing our fears with running from them we never get the chance to work our way through them. By identifying our forms of distraction we can then avoid running and actually do the real work. So next time an uncomfortable fear starts to creep up notice how you react. What action oriented behavior takes place in response to what’s going on inside. Write it down in your journal so you can be sure to avoid running when fear comes up.
What message is attached to this fear?
Each time a fear comes up inside of us there is a message about ourselves that is attached to it. That message can either be something that we need to work on in ourselves, while other times it is a complete lie that we are telling ourselves. When I get ready to pitch myself to a new magazine or site the fear of “I am not good enough” always finds its way to my gut. This is a lie that I tell myself and if I go back through my history I can see that the message simply is not true. There have been plenty of times my articles have been spit back to me to re-work, but each time they have I learned how to be a better writer. So the “ I’m not good enough” is a flat out lie. What messages are attached to those fears of yours? Investigate them intently and if the messages contain truth then that fear is a blessing in disguise that was sent to make you a better person. Once you face the fear and work your way through it then it serves as a kind of momentum to push you forward toward success.
What did this fear teach me?
Be sure to process this fear full circle so that when you overcome it and make your peace with it, it can now be an example of how you are able to face your fears. Write in your journal what you learned by facing this fear. What valuable information did it give you about yourself and the world around you? What tactics worked for you in the process? Who was there to help you through it? When we overcome things in our lives we are teaching ourselves that we are brave, capable human beings and we start to have faith in ourselves. A person who has faith in him or herself is completely unstoppable! So what once served to hold us back is now the very thing that helps us grow.
“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke
Facing our fears with love and courage is the safest and quickest way through. This process will allow you the freedom to “BE”. When we learn to love and accept ourselves we can then love and accept the world around us. Know that you are not alone in your world of fears, we all have them and we are in this battle together!