Written by: Madeline McCallum, contributing writer and blogger at http://madelinesmusing.blogspot.com/?m=1
I’ve always had a complicated relationship with fear. On one hand, fear can be a great motivator for an ambitious, strong-willed person like me who is quick to a challenge in the name of self-improvement. Am I scared of it? Then that means I am going to pursue it, head on. On the other hand, fear has been an invisible, vicious undercurrent consistently derailing my steady swim and yanking me further out to sea.
I’ve never thought of myself as someone particularly controlled by fear; to be honest, I’ve usually thought I tend to fall more in the opposite camp – making decisions that will be uncomfortable and scary, with confidence in my capacity to persevere.
That’s why, upon drilling down on a particular pain point and realizing that at the root of the discomfort is fear, I am always surprised. It becomes almost a humbling experience. Fear is, after all, an ego-driven quality. It is defensive and reactive – it’s a combination of how we are wired (the sympathetic nervous system) and how we have been trained by the world around us to avoid “bad” or “different” things/feelings at all costs. This fear reaction consequentially makes us very resistant to transformation.
For me, I find the fear monster lurking under my bed after huge changes have occurred in my life. I start to scramble around in the hopes that constantly doing will make being easier. This is how he rears his ugly head – disguised as strength, as discipline, as a coping mechanism that makes sure I don’t have to lean into the unknown.
As I grow more and more aware of myself and learn how to recognize when I’m off balance, it becomes easy to grow frustrated when I can’t pull myself out of something, despite using all of the tools in my self-help tool kit. Fear exists as control, as isolation, as complacency. Only when I sit myself down and internally scream “WHAT ARE YOU SO AFRAID OF” do I pause and realize that I am, in fact, acting out of fear – the fear of not knowing, the fear of being unaccepted, the fear of “getting off track,” etc. This is where the process becomes very humbling – I promise you that when you sit in stillness with yourself and really think about why you are so afraid of gaining weight, of being unregimented, of taking time off work, of quitting smoking, of missing a workout, the answer actually contains a lot more depth than those surface level issues.
What, then, is the antidote to fear? Well, I definitely know what it is not – it is not complacency or helplessness, just throwing up your hands and conceding defeat. This is putting yourself into victim mode – feeling like everything is happening to you. As seems to be a running theme, it comes back to finding the middle point between giving up control and feeling helpless.
I think our agency can be found in determination. When we think of fear we think of the overcoming of it, but sometimes the real strength lies in existing alongside the fear.
Fear can many times be rational, and in my darkest days I found myself wishing I was more afraid – wishing I had something to be afraid for, anything to feel strongly about. As I’ve learned how to deal with more irrational fears, such as a piece of cake somehow equating to my chances in the college admissions process, I recognize that many of my fears now – like the passing of time, my parents aging, being hurt when I’m vulnerable – are valid, straightforward, and are not going to disappear any time soon. I think naturopath and life coach Beth Bridges poignantly captures this duality when she says, “Life delivers us circumstances, events, people that are beyond our control. But – our acceptance of their place in our life, in our experience, is very much within our control.”
What if we retrain the way we react? Instead of collapse, of heaviness, of constricting, of hiding, what if we expand, listen, push into the hurt? What if we look under the bed and realise that the monster living under there isn’t really a monster at all, but rather all of the feelings, gut reactions, and daunting decisions we’ve brushed aside and let collect, out of sight?
And even if we did find a monster there, wouldn’t there be a relief in knowing? No more wondering or haunting nightmares about what is lurking. If we are prepared, equipped with strength and sound of mind, letting our hearts rather than our ego drive our reactions, that monster doesn’t stand a chance.