We all know fear – or at least the feeling of fear that shows up as a racing heart, tightness in the belly, sweaty palms or swirling thoughts. We avoid the situation or lash out in anger, expressions of the fight or flight response that evolved to help us survive real and imminent danger. We would not want to wish it away, for that would mean sure death.
However, in our world of relative safety, this millennia old survival response begins to also construct fears. “What if”, “I have a feeling that”, “Something tells me” are largely a figment of the imagination of a psychological self that simply strives to safeguard a failing sense of self-worth. We end up reacting in ways that limit our ability to grow, experience life and live with freedom and boldness.
How then do we tame our fears and move beyond the conviction of impending disaster? The answer, handed down the ages from contemplative traditions, and now tested and researched by science, is the following: We need to face our fears.
It sounds deceptively simple. And yet, putting it into practice takes courage, vulnerability and the willingness to face the memories, beliefs and experiences we have long silenced. However liberating the outcome, the journey isn’t wrought with roses. Years of avoiding our fears has strengthened the neural networks that convince us of our inadequacies.
So here is a simple technique to begin the rewiring process – one that will luckily not get rid of fear, but which will allow you to bring conscious attention to it, so that you learn to recognize it, and then offer it the kindness and care it really seeks. This will give you the courage to step up and respond in ways that are aligned with your highest self – and in the process build your inner self-worth.
Recognize the feeling of fear
Most of us skip this first step – which is why we get run over by our emotions. In those fleeting moments before an emotional hijack, our body is our best indicator. Perhaps it’s a racing heart, or tightness in your belly. Perhaps it’s tension in your shoulders or stiffness in your jaw. Connecting with these bodily feelings is essential so you don’t let fear run the show.
Listen to its thoughts of insecurity
Fear will rarely pat us on the back and applaud our capabilities! It’s language is one of helplessness and rejection – sometimes as a whining child and sometimes as a bully. Listen to it regardless, because thoughts impact feelings and behaviors. “They’re going to leave me” will either lead to clinging or shutting down – but surely not to opening up with genuine love and kindness.
Enter its world with empathy
There are universal fears we’re born with. And then there are the experiential fears that grow through our early experiences. When we were little and helpless, these fears were very real. Today though, they are likely untrue and surely unhelpful, but just as real in our adult minds.
Offer it the kindness it seeks
This is the game changing dialogue. Pushing aside our fears, or avoiding them, simply makes them grow and become us. Talking to them as to a fearful child, asking them what they really need, and providing them with a warm embrace is often enough to calm them down and put us back in the driver’s seat.
So here’s the challenge:
The next time you feel fear in your body or your mind, ask yourself “What am I avoiding right now?” Connect to the voice of low self-worth that doesn’t believe in its competence or lovability, and give it the assurance that it’s safe. That it’s competent. That it’s loved. That it’s enough. That you’re enough.
And then armed with this inner strength, go out and do the very thing you would do if the fear were no longer running the show.