Fear, Its Wily Ways, and What We Can Do About It

Fear and Scary Ghosts

Writing the Independence Day post got me to thinking more about fear and how it shows up for us, both externally and internally.

Much ado is made about fear. We engage in much ado about fear. So much so, in fact, that I expect we’ll be talking about this topic many times, in various ways.

A good chunk of modern culture is built around fear — and it’s not just from horror movies. Fear is a powerful motivator of human behavior, and lots of people understand how to use it to get what they want from us. That’s why we see so many crime, mass-shooting, and terrorist-related stories broadcast 24×7 (fear used to control us collectively), hear so much political rhetoric (fear used to divide us), and are bombarded with advertising and marketing messages continuously (fear used to make us think we’re not enough, or we don’t have enough, or we’ll miss out if we don’t buy, buy, buy — and quickly).

That’s just a fraction of what’s out there.

Our focus today, though, is really about the ways fear shows up for us internally.

The fear we feel inside can seem as big as — if not bigger than — some of those external issues. That’s because it gets quite personal, weaving itself in, around, and through our most sensitive places, triggers, and issues. It affects our moods, happiness, peace of mind, health, relationships, jobs, and financial status. It feels contained within us, via our minds and bodies. And, unlike most of those bigger-world problems, we have to deal with it.

One way or another.

Fear’s Many Faces and Forms

Do you ever feel that fear …

… shows up as painful feelings and scary images from past experiences that feel like they’re (still) happening in the present?

… comes in the form of concern(s) about what will happen in the next minute, hour, day, week, month, year, etc., and how you’re going to handle it — or if you’ll be able to?

… insists that you’re not worthy, lovable, or capable (blah, blah, blah, ad infinitum)?

… takes on the worst voice of a critic or criticism you ever heard on the outside, and grows bigger and louder until it sounds like it’s on vicious steroids when it speaks to you from the inside?

… tries to convince you that putting something off, perhaps indefinitely, will keep you keep you much safer than actually doing it?

… feels like a faceless, bodyless boogeyman lying in wait, lurking in every bit of darkness and convincing you that there must be danger awaiting you around every corner that you can’t see past?

… reminds you that if you leave your foot hanging off the bed at night, surely the monsters under your bed will drag you into their horrifying lair and you’ll never be seen or heard from again?

Dealing With Fear, Four Ways

With that last point in particular, I don’t mean to trivialize how very real fear can feel. But is it really that real? Or is it as much a figment of our imagination as those monsters under the bed?

Fear is certainly is no stranger to me. What I have been able to do, though, is recognize how fear looks and feels, when and how it tends to show up, and even how the slippery sucker evolves and changes tactics along the way as I continue to grow and see it for the illusory nothingness that it is.

It’s like the darkness that seems so intimidating before you flip the little switch thingie on the wall. Light floods the room and you feel safe. You exhale, release any tension held in your shoulders and body, and walk into the room knowing that you can see what’s there (and not there).

I’ll share with you what I’ve done, and what has worked and does work for me when it comes to fear. I have to say, though, that this has been a layered thing over time, where one method built on the development of the previous one. And, I noticed, that what worked at one point wasn’t necessarily effective later on as the aforementioned slippery sucker evolved — so I needed to adjust as well. For me, recognizing fear for what it is, putting the rubber to the road by switching from knowing to doing, and actively dealing with its presence has been a progression.

You, too, might find that trying on or incorporating these types of techniques is a layered thing. And, depending on where you are in your personal journey, and at what stage of the relationship you are with fear, you may find that one tool works better for you at one time than another. You may experience them out of the order I’ve provided here. Or you may have other ways that you effectively bring light to dark rooms.

Here are some ways I’ve dealt with the fear boogeyman:

  • Recognize it for what it is. Name it. Imagine that it’s a figure or something that’s in front of you, with eyes that you can look into, and look right in there. Acknowledge the figure. Say, “I see you.” Keep looking at it, even if you feel like you’re shaking inside. If you stand your ground, fear will blink first. You’ll likely feel it retreat or at least deflate into something far less formidable.
  • Thank it for sharing. Like the intrusion of an unwanted, unwelcome, or uninvited guest or opinion, fear shows up and wants to share. About everything. Treat it like you would a person who was behaving that way and go ahead and say, out loud, “Thank you for sharing,” and take its opinion with the same grain of salt. Then take a few minutes to breathe or get some fresh air, shake it off (if need be), and move on with what you were doing or what’s in front of you.
  • Find a place for it. Dispatch it to the periphery. You don’t have to deny it, fight with it, resist it, or try to get rid of it — because what we resist digs in its heels and insists on sticking around — but you can set boundaries with it and make it clear that it needs to honor your space. There’s a great scene in the movie “A Beautiful Mind” where Russell Crowe’s character, after becoming aware that the vivid, real-feeling people with whom he interacted regularly were projections of his mind, eventually saw them at a distance. They were still there, at the edge of his vision, but they were not up close and personal. That image has come to mind many times as I managed fear — and moved it to the periphery.
  • Thank it. Genuinely. (This is different from the point above.) It may seem paradoxical or even ridiculous to thank something that doesn’t feel good, but fear is playing the role of a part of you that is actually trying to protect another part (or parts) of you. It thinks it is doing a good thing. In some ways, it is. It shows us the edge of our comfort zone, our own illusions, what our beliefs and values are made of, and much more. So, thank it. Close your eyes, turn toward it, and feel appreciation for it as you would anyone who protectively and instinctively stepped in between you and an advancing lion. Then see what happens to and with the fear inside of you. (And let me know what happens!)

I’d love to hear what your journey with fear has looked and felt like. If you’re so inclined, please share in the comment section below. (This sharing is welcome.) 🙂

Much love,

Kristen Quirk

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