On listening to your fears

January 1, 2013 in feel-good, self-coaching, woo-woo

People talk about fear a lot.  The key word here is about.  They discuss their fear as a goal, a thing to get over like it’s Mt. friggin’ Everest.  There’s talk of conquering fear, facing fear, even fearing fear itself (thanks, Frankie.).  Always always talking about the damn fear.

This drives me bonkers.

This drives me bonkers because talking about fear is a great way to stay afraid, when there is a more productive, enlightening conversation to be had here. One that’s harder to have and easier to avoid.  One that goes way beyond and beneath the fear itself.  And one that can start turning your mean, nasty fear into solid gold.

Stop talking about it. Start talking to it. Have a conversation with your fear. 

(I know that having an open-ended conversation with your feelings sounds very woo-woo, sage-burningly, circle-dancingly nutso crazy, but stay with me here…)

Fear is not a bad thing.  It is not there to hold you back from what you love, or to create insecurity.  It is not there to keep you from getting on a plane, trying a new class, or chatting up Hottie McScruffyFace while you wait for your double Americano.  It just wants to talk to you.  To teach you something.  To tell you something you don’t yet know how to tell yourself.

I learned a lot from fear recently on vacation with my father in Florida.  He ran over to our conclave of chaise lounges exclaiming that he’d rented jet skis for an hour.  In that moment two things happened simultaneously: I thought “COOL!” and at the same time, felt more double knots in my tummy than in 50 Shades of Grey. I chalked it up to fright, and said I didn’t want to go.  I went back to chaise-ing, and the following conversation ensued:

Me: Fear, why did I say no to this? I mean, it kinda sounds cool….
My Fear: You could fall off that jet-ski and get hurt.  A shark could eat you!  You could run out of gas and be stranded!  You could die a horrific death at sea!!!! Fright fright fright!!!
Me: I admit, that all sounds kind of scary, but I could die a horrific death any day of the week.  A meteor could strike my beach chair.  I could spontaneously combust.  There’s no exclusive corollary between that jet ski and my eventual demise.  There’s gotta be something else going on here…
My Fear: SHARKS DEEP WATER JAWS MINOR CHORDS SCARY MUSIC BROKEN ARMS!
Me: Still not buying’ it, Fear…
My Fear: Fine, just don’t go out then!  And when everyone else is talking about it at dinner tonight just remember that you chose to not try it!
Me: Ugh, that sounds lame….I totally want in on that !  I totally want to try this!
My Fear: Um, then why did you tell your dad you didn’t?
Me: Well…nobody else seems afraid!  They’re all “yeah let’s go, adventure, thrills, woo!”  They go on freaking roller coasters and hang-gliding and stuff!  It’s like they already know they’ll like the thrill of it, and…I’m a little nervous that I might not like it, since I tend to not be as into that sort of stuff.
My Fear: Well, what would happen if you didn’t like it?
Me: Um, I’d just come back in to shore I guess.  But they’d all know that I didn’t like it, even though they did!
My Fear:  Boy, so you’re not afraid of broken arms and sharks?  You’re just insecure of what they’ll think about you?  Jeez, why didn’t you just call Insecurity instead?
Me: Insecurity.  Yeesh, I’d almost rather it was you, Fear…
My Fear: Well, I don’t even get it…what would be such a big problem with them knowing you didn’t like what they like?  Sounds to me like everyone liking the same thing all the time would get pretty old.  I always thought your whole thing was loving yourself for what’s true to you, not to someone else.
Me: Hold the phone, Fear, did you just coach me?
My Fear: Yes, yes I think I just did.

upon further investigation, it had nothing to do with this...

upon further investigation, it had nothing to do with this…

So that was that.  I stood up and said “okay, I’m kinda freaked out by this and I really can’t tell if I’m gonna like it, but I know I do want to try it.”  Within two minutes I was driving myself out to a buoy on a MOTHER FRIGGING JET SKI.  And five minutes later I was turning it back in to shore.  It turns out I don’t actually like jet skiing. And it also turned out that everyone else’s’ experience of jet skiing had nothing to do with my dislike of it.  I didn’t love jet skiing, but I love that by exploring my knee-jerk fear for a bit, I was able to learn something deeper about myself.  I found a lurking insecurity and created the opportunity to change it.

Fear is crafty like that.  It’s great at hiding something even more painful.  “I’m afraid of crowds” might actually mean “I don’t think I’m good at talking to people,” or “I prefer to stay at home but my friends all think that sounds lame,” or “If I don’t like crowds I must be a loser.”  In my jet-skiing example fear  was a smoke screen for “I feel insecure about what they might think of me.”  It took addressing the fear to reach that truth and work with it, and once I did I felt so much better.

So just remember that when you “fight” your fear, you’re shielding yourself from further self-awareness.  And when you listen to your fear, really ask it questions and take in the answers, you create opportunities to practice all sorts of growth.

Up in knots just thinking about talking to your fear?  I can help you get the conversation started. Drop me a line!