My recent lecture on Why Are We Sick All the Time allowed me to explore the issue of fear, a potent and provocative enemy of health and happiness. Subsequently I realized how real this force is when considering several people I know and love personally.
Names and relationships are not the relevant point here—the power of fear to impede our progress towards fulfillment is.
I was rather surprised by the recent anxiety that one person was exhibiting which manifested itself in physical as well as emotional complaints. This was ironic in the face of recent positive events in this person’s life: personal and professional.
Upon thinking about this individual’s past few years, it all came into focus for me. They had been half-heartedly pursuing a career, with starts, stops and minor progress. This was someone who clearly was talented, bright and personable–outwardly possessing all the qualities which should lead to success.
The only reasonable explanation for past and present ‘situation’ was—fear. Fear of trying and failing, fear that love might be withdrawn or ridicule might follow if there was less than an incredible result.
I began to realize that fear had powerfully and insidiously impacted on the lives of several others I know. It became so instantly clear to me that it was the fear of fear which had given it so much power. Reluctance to vigorously pursue an expected goal, unexplained paralysis to proceed–these are manifestations of this type of unrecognized fear.
But fear is universal among us all. We all fear failure, loss of love, loss of prestige, even loss of life. Yet why do some of us react by pulling inward, reluctant to push forward and take chances, while others, equally afraid, use the energy of fear to move forward and progress?
I don’t know the answer to that. Some of us are unconsciously recalling childhood fears–perhaps related to societal pressures to perform, pressure from parents, pressures at school or social difficulties with peers. The childhood message received–do well in life or risk losing love. Many of us may believe that the love of others is conditional–dependent on how ‘successful’ we are in life’s game.
I absolutely believe that the insidious power of fear is that it works its ‘evil’ unconsciously/subconsciously. We may not truly realize that it is holding us back, making us sick. It may lead us to numb ourselves through drugs, alcohol, sex, even exercise or work– addictive activities of all kinds. We may not realize that this fundamental human emotion is the ‘evil’ behind our unhappiness and frustration.
I know that I have always been one to use fear to work harder, be more compulsive about what I needed to do in order to succeed in school and my career. I never felt that I could accomplish goals easily, or that I was truly that bright or talented. I felt compelled to work extremely hard–out of fear of failure. Yet there were many times when I resisted a competitive situation out of fear that it would be too difficult, too unrealistic, likely to lead to a less than desired outcome.
Ultimately, it seems to me, those who use fear to power themselves forward, to reach their goals are the ‘happier’ of the two examples. They can at least point to their accomplishments as evidence that they were not without merit, deserving of love and attention. They may still secretly feel unworthy even unlovable. Despite outward success they, too, may feel afraid that the world will discover that they are frauds–not that talented, or good, or worth loving. They may need to examine this persistent, irrational fear as well. But clearly they are in a better position than those paralyzed by fear.
So how can we change this scenario? How can be transform fear from a paralyzing force to one that propels us forward? This actually takes a bit of courage–the desire to risk change.
Well clearly the most important point is:
1] recognize this truth. Self-awareness precedes self-repair. We cannot treat a disorder we cannot first diagnose. We cannot heal that which we don’t recognize as broken.
2] Come to understand that it IS possible to change. We absolutely have the power to do so. It may take an act of will, or courage to begin the process. But it absolutely can be done. This is as important because we can persist in the subconscious belief that we are ‘doomed’ to continue to behave and react to life’s challenges in a certain way.
3] Be realistic about change–it is never easy. We are creatures of habit and this applies to our outlook on life and how respond to life situations. Be aware that it will require a constant process of reminding ourselves that we need to change our habitual patterns of reactivity.
3] Use our cognitive side to rationally examine our lives and realize our subconscious fears of rejection, of being ridiculed or abandonment are NOT true. Our value as human beings do not reside in our accomplishments. Most of us have many around us who do love us unconditionally.
4] Explore meditation. It has been demonstrated to be a powerful tool for changing our minds, truly transforming them. During meditation we can face our fears, rather than burying them. We can dispassionately examine the source of our fears, have compassion on ourselves for feeling fear, soothe ourselves as we would a child. For in fact that is what we are doing–healing our inner child, the one who fears. Mindfulness meditation is the technique of witnessing these feelings. They can be healed through this technique and others.
5] Cognitive therapy should be used simultaneously. This can be done through a therapist and/or personally. It is essentially a form of positive self-talk. Continue to encourage ourselves. Be positive about the outcome of this therapy. Be gentle with ourselves as well. Continue to support ourselves through the process, but don’t allow ourselves to quit. Acknowledge that there may be setbacks along the way. Give ourselves permission to take time. But not to give up. Keep reminding ourselves that life is about facing challenges. The only failure is NOT to try, NOT to move forward. Be our best cheerleaders. We know that we can achieve what we want, and if our best efforts are not successful, then perhaps we need to alter our direction, not our efforts!
6] Recognize those around us who do truly love us–unconditionally. Love yourself for your own worth. Your being as opposed to your doing. It is the spiritual essence which resides within.
7] See ourselves as a spiritual beings having a human experience. We are not here to fail or be sick or depressed. Life is an opportunity worth pursuing with all our energy. The experience of fear is why we are here in the first place–to overcome it. Use love and compassion to release its grip. Use its energy to propel us towards healing and happiness.