Fear–it’s a word that has a negative connotation, and for many of us, for good reason. It conjures up many emotions and leaves us with the sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop.
I know this feeling all too well. For most of my life, I constantly waited for the other shoe to drop. My childhood was chaotic and traumatic. There were so many kinds of abuse that occurred; I learned not to trust people and to be very, very aware of what was happening around me. In fact, I learned this hypervigilance I grew up with was not just a survival technique I’d taught myself, it was actually a PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) type of response.
Hypervigilance and PTSD
Growing up, my mom was a single mother who had nine kids. Various ‘friends’ of hers came and went, and not all of them had the best intentions. I was always wary of each new person who came into our lives. If honest, I was always on my guard with everyone.
When I was about 11 years old, my mom had a male friend who seemed different than her other so-called friends. He was kind and helpful to our family. He helped us with food and gave us gifts and wasn’t inappropriate in the least. He was nothing like her other friends, but I was still wary because I was suffering from the effects of trauma some of them had brought upon me. I do remember finally feeling like I may be safe with him after all, and then he moved.
You can only imagine how that added to my feelings of fear and now abandonment when it came to trusting anyone. Hypervigilance became my coat of armor, protecting my heart and my soul at the same time.
The problem with this hypervigilance after PTSD was that it affected my ability to enjoy life and have fun. I couldn’t STAND surprises, and I always took on roles of responsibility and action versus the roles of creative fun-haver because I couldn’t afford to let my guard down for even a second. Imagine how much fun I was on a date!
That doesn’t mean that I was incapable of having fun. I found ways to do fun things with my kids and my friends. I just never felt that there wasn’t a cloud of heaviness hanging over me.
Since much of my traumatic abuse had come from men, I was very cautious around them all, always fearful of the next pain infliction.
Human nature is to find a way to cope, and that is just what I did. I learned many coping mechanisms to help me deal with my fear and distrust. Coping mechanisms like drinking too much…which actually led me to find a beautiful new experience for me in Alcoholics Anonymous.
You might not hear many speak of AA as a ‘beautiful experience,’ at least when they first begin attending, but for me? It was a life saver.
It was in Alcoholics Anonymous that I heard the phrase, “We are driven by 100 forms of fear, and when we act out of fear, it’s because our basic needs are being threatened.”
I cannot tell you how much of a game-changer hearing that was for me. Truly, I’d never realized that something deeper was driving me–it wasn’t fear, and it wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction. It was trauma driven, and it deserved a deeper awareness and healing of basic needs that weren’t being met.
That’s when I learned an acronym for FEAR that I still use to this day:
This acronym helps me remember that there are real fears, and then there are fears that aren’t so real. Real fears are motivation–whether it’s the motivation for us to avoid or prepare for something. Real fears may cause us to focus our concentration, especially when we’re trying something new and have a lot at stake. These fears almost act as emotional energy that doesn’t always have to be bad.
When I feel the familiar tightening of my chest and my breathing becomes more shallow as I face a fear, I still repeat that acronym to help me determine if the fear is real or not-so-real. As I do that, I then can take appropriate action to get me through whatever fear it turns out to be.
You see, action IS the antidote to fear!
Put Your Fears To Rest By Taking Action
One of the most powerful and empowering ideas I share with clients about fear is making a list.
Now, on the surface, it may seem that a fears list is too basic. But don’t underestimate the power of a piece of paper with your true feelings on them!
Start by taking the piece of paper and folding it in half lengthwise.
On one side, start listing all the fears you have, and then on the other, opposite of that fear, write how you want to feel in the ABSENCE of that fear.
For example, here are some of the top fears my clients and I work on and the feelings we’d like to feel in the absence of those fears.
- Fear of speaking in public. On the opposite side, feeling confident would be what it’s like in the absence of that fear.
- Fear of failure. Not being afraid of failure would mean you’d feel enough courage to take risks.
- Fear of loneliness. You may feel joyful when you’re surrounded by caring and loving friends and absent of the fear of being alone.
Once you’ve made your list of fears that are specific to you and that you feel are preventing you from living your most authentic life, take the top three fears you feel like you’d like to take some action on.
Then, think about the actions you’d need to take to help yourself work through that fear.
For example, if you fear speaking in public, consider hiring a speaking coach or perhaps undergoing some hypnotherapy to allow you to feel confident and comfortable.
If you fear failure, you might just need to take small steps toward a project you’ve had on your heart. Don’t attack it with the goal of finishing the whole project, but just in finishing the small step you create. Before you know it, the small steps have led to a completed project. This may be a great way to create new habits for things you’ve been wanting to try out–simple, small steps toward reachable goals.
Rejection: A Universal Fear In Humans
I’d like to mention one more BIG fear that most humans have. It’s the fear of rejection. This fear can run deep and can weave its way into every aspect of our lives. It can prevent us from asking for help, asking for a raise, inviting a new friendship, or even requesting our basic needs.
Here’s a simple truth that’s taken me many years to learn.
Not everyone is for us.
Repeat that. Not everyone is for you.
You might be like me–an intrinsic people pleaser at heart–but the truth of the matter is that you’ll never be able to please everyone and those you can’t? They’re not your people. Those experiences you attempt but learn are not what you thought they were? They’re not your experiences to continue. Those people who you pour into but who don’t pour back? They’re not for you.
And that’s OKAY.
Because there are SO MANY more experiences and people out there who ARE for you. And while rejection is hard, and putting ourselves out there means we risk hearing, “No, thank you,” it’s SO much better to risk that yes (and get it!) than to miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime because we didn’t even take the chance.
Some people will not work out and will say ‘no’ to us because they’re not meant for us.
But those who are meant for you WILL say ‘yes’ and enrich your life in a million different ways if you just put your courageous hat on.
What are some of your fears? Some of the things that are holding you back? What action steps are you willing to take to move through them? You can do it, and I’m here for you! I’d love to hear all about them, so let me know in the comments!
If you’d like to hear more about how to live by love and not fear, check out what my fellow life coaches Sakura Sutter and Rory Reich and I talk about in this episode of The Conscious Coaching Hour!