Fear is a good thing, it is a primal emotion inherent in all human beings which increases our chances of survival. While we did evolve to survive in the wilderness in which fear played an important role, fear also serves as a survival tool in our modern lives.
For example, there is a reason most drivers and front seat passengers have become conditioned to wear seat belts, or that cyclists were helmets. As a society, fear has helped us in becoming more conscious of things that could go wrong and taking precautions. On a personal level, our feelings of fear enable us to make wiser decisions, regarding what places we reside in, where we visit, who we choose to associate with and how we prepare for the future.
So when does fear become a problem? The reality is that when people find themselves struggling with anxiety, due to their chronic state of emotional stuckness caused by their fears, it is not their fears that are keeping them emotionally stuck. What is keeping them emotionally stuck are their beliefs, more specifically their beliefs in guarantees.
Take for instance, during my years as a school age child, I was sold a narrative. That narrative was that I would finish secondary school, attend a good University or College and then settle with a good job. Furthermore, the only thing I had to do to fulfill this narrative was read diligently, complete my homework on time and get good grades. This narrative was flawed. Flawed, because it left little to the imagination and suggested that if I followed the rules everything would go my way.
Looking back, I have come to appreciate how flawed that logic was and how fortunate I was that things worked out the way they did. Don’t get me wrong, narratives are good and healthy, especially when it comes to preparing for the future and developing a sense of meaning and purpose about life. However when you throw in the idea of a guarantees, not only does it stunt emotional growth, but if also sets people up for issues with anxiety and depression when they encounter and experience variables that threaten to derail them from their goals.
This is where people become stuck, because from their perspective they have followed all the rules laid out for being successful, and yet they encounter circumstances they are not prepared to deal with, which prevents them from experiencing the happiness they deserve.
Here are some examples to consider, parents whose young child has been diagnosed with a cognitive disability, having been recently hired on your dream job, only to have a boss from hell, dealing with a natural disaster, experiencing harassment in the workplace, graduating from a good school with good grades and not being able to find work with big name firms.
In my practice I encounter people experiencing these types of predicaments most of the time. They come in to see me with complaints about anxiety with most of them already taking medication. Then I introduce them to the paradox of embracing their fears by changing their beliefs about guarantees. The concept of embracing fear is that you come to recognize that your feelings of fear is a good thing, and it is giving you vital information regarding your current circumstances. Information that if you pay attention to, may very well lead you to the decision of making important changes in your life. Such changes in your life may or may not involve you making some major revisions to your personal narrative.
Besides our timely or untimely departure from this world, nothing else can be guaranteed. Everything that goes our way is a blessing, and everything that doesn’t go our way is an opportunity for growth. So with this in mind here are three steps to take towards embracing your fears.
Learn to identify guarantees
Old habits are difficult to recognize in ourselves, talk less about old habits in thinking. Expectations are guarantees, so when you find yourself becoming upset over someone not meeting your expectations or things not going your way as expected, you are operating on the concept of guarantees.
Make a list
Everytime you identify your adherence to a guarantee, write out what you expect will happen if you follow through with your planned objectives. Then write down what possible variables could derail your plans, and how you plan to respond to such a disappointment.
Overcoming your beliefs in guarantees is a process. This exercise gets you in the mindset of being willing and accepting of disappointment. Which makes you more agreeable towards practicing change in your life, if and when needed. Stuckness in fear arises when we have bought into a narrative for so long that the idea of changing paths is so intimidating that we choose to put up with dysfunction and misery.
Learn to use fear as your guide.
As stated earlier in this post, fear is a good thing. When feelings of panic creep up, begin the process of asking yourself specific questions. It’s a lot more effective if this is written down.
Get in to the habit of playing a game of whys with yourself. For every fearful situation you are upset about, ask yourself why. You will find yourself very surprised with the answer you arrive at. Often times when we are aware that we are feeling fearful, we usually misidentify the stimulus eliciting fear in us, and when we play the game of whys with ourselves we find that our fears are coming from the unlikeliest of places, and even more striking that they could be accurate.
We are only able to come up with solutions to our problems when we are able to face our fears.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.