How To Make Fear Your Friend
Fear is a part of everyone’s life. It joins you on first dates, job interviews, and when you drive a car. It holds hands with your biggest dreams and you deepest fantasies. It comes along with you on your wedding day and is close at hand when you or a loved one has a brush with death.
It’s easy to think that fear is the enemy, that it’s the thing that holds you back from living your life or that it keeps you from being everything you want to be. It’s easy to see fear as a ball and chain you must drag around for the rest of your days.
But I’ve come to see again and again in my life that fear isn’t the enemy. And that in fact if I can learn to accept and listen to fear it can be a great teacher and friend.
Stroke of Good Luck?
Recently I met a woman who had a stroke. Before her stroke she was active and happy, and then BAM! All of a sudden, she was paralyzed on one side, surrounded by a crying family, and unsure what would come next. But she wasn’t weak, she was strong, she fought hard, she comforted her family, and she recovered faster than anyone thought was possible.
But as soon as she was out of the hospital, she noticed that something had changed. Even though she wanted to go and exercise and get back to where she was before, she couldn’t. Every time she went into the gym, fear was waiting for her. Fear was repeating everything the doctors had said to her right after her stroke about starting slow, about not overdoing it, and about not setting herself back. She knew she should exercise, but still struggled to get started.
As I spoke with her, I could hear the fear in her voice and yet she didn’t know what was holding her back. She knew she was afraid but she didn’t know what to do about it. She wanted to get rid of her fear, she wanted to get over it, and she wanted it to happen yesterday. But no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t do it.
You Can Run …
You see the mistake she was making is a mistake we all make. We see fear standing in front of us and we turn and walk the other way. Or we try to do a little dance by fear. Or we look down to our phones and hope fear won’t notice us. But no matter what we do, fear steps into the center of our hearts.
The problem with avoiding fear is that it doesn’t help. Avoiding fear only makes fear stronger and more insentient. Like an ambitious petition gatherer the more we ignore the louder fear becomes.
The truth is that we need fear. It tells us when there is danger, when we are vulnerable, and when we need to focus. Moreover, this need for fear is so powerful because it’s wired deep within our bodies and brains. Trying to avoid fear is like trying to avoid you own human nature.
So what do you do when you walk around the corner and meet fear? Well here are a few things I’ve found helpful.
Notice Your Fear – The first step to overcoming any powerful emotions is to notice it. Until we bring something into awareness. It can be very hard to face.
For example, whenever I’m afraid that I’m not doing a good job writing my blog, I simply acknowledge that to myself and then I take a deep breath. As I exhale, I feel the fear of being a bad writer, of writing posts that are boring or trite. While this doesn’t always vanquish my fears with each breath, I feel fear loosening its grip on me. Then before long I can get back to writing.
All you have to do to notice your fear is to acknowledge it and then invite yourself to breathe. This simple act can help you accept your fear and let it go.
Name Your Fear – No matter what it is, if you keep your fear quiet it will feel more real. Naming your fear can help you face and overcome it.
For example, sometimes I’m afraid my partner is angry with me. When this happens I tell her, “I’m afraid you’re angry at me.” In each case, I’m either wrong, which let’s me let go of fear, or I’m right and we can talk about what’s going on. But no matter what the outcome is naming the fear lets me confront it and get over it.
So whenever you face a fear be willing to share it with someone you trust. This simple act of sharing can often help you release the tension of fear as well as get some support.
Face Your Fear – The final step to any process around fear is to face it, but it’s important to do this in the right way. Facing fear isn’t about jumping into a pit of spiders (which still gives me the creeps even though I’ve mostly overcome my fear of spiders.) The key to facing fear is to take one small step into them.
The goal is to step outside your comfort zone, but not into your panic zone. Being uncomfortable is good for you because it can teach you that you are capable of much more than you realized. But if you push too hard you’ll just freak out and retreat. So when it comes to facing your fears, be gentle and patient with yourself.
How I Meet Fear:
I wish I could say I was a perfect at facing my fears but I’m not. There are many times I get caught up in the same traps and avoidant games that every else does. But when I’m at my best and I run into fear. I don’t run away and I don’t hide. Instead, I take fear by the hand.
I do this because fear has often been my guide and friend as I’ve walked my path of transformation. Fear has taught me about the power of intention, it has revealed to me what I truly care about, and it has shown me where I need to grow.
I hope this post will help you face fear and yourself in a gentler and more peaceful way. Remember that you are never alone in fear. Fear is a part of all of our lives. Fear doesn’t make you weak; instead, it’s hiding from fear that will steal your strength every time.