Dealing with Fear
I’m standing in the bathroom washing my face and brushing my teeth, getting ready for the day ahead of me. As I’m drying my face with a towel, I notice something on my bathroom floor. I bend down to take a closer look and realize it’s a cockroach. And not just any cockroach – it’s one of those big, fat, juicy-looking ones with attitude, and he’s strutting around like he owns the place.
My initial reaction is to back out of the room and let him have it until he decides to leave (I don’t particularly enjoy conflict- especially when the other party intimidates me).
So I do that – I actually back out of the bathroom even though I am not finished in there yet and let the cockroach dominate the area.
It takes me a moment to realize the ridiculousness of the situation; I had just placed my needs on the backseat (and therefore set back my entire day) because of a tiny fear I have for an insect.
I begin to give myself a pep talk: “Roz, you are a million times bigger and stronger than this cockroach. You are a strong and powerful woman – you can do this! You can squish him in one shot… Ka- POW!” I do a little kung-fu move in an attempt to psych myself up to face and conquer my fear.
As I am jumping around and punching the air, I have an epiphany. I realize how often I (and humans in general) do this in other areas of life.
In relationships, in pursuit of goals and dreams, in work and in our social lives – it’s so easy to ‘back away’ when a fear arises. When a fear manifests – no matter how ridiculous or small- if we allow it to have power over us it can seem bigger and more threatening than it really is. We can allow our fears to dominate the situation or keep us from pursuing our goals.
These fears often come in the form of:
1) Fear of rejection
2) Fear of disappointment
3) Fear of failure
4) Fear of success (yes – we sometimes fear success because it seems too overwhelming, or the responsibility seems too much, or we don’t feel good enough for it)
5) Fear of wasting time or resources
6) Fear of making a fool of oneself
7) Fear of becoming what you don’t want to become (for example, someone with an alcoholic father fears becoming an alcoholic)
Often, the fear starts out as a tiny doubt in the back of our minds, but as we feed it it grows into a giant fear – intimidating enough to make us want to back away from what we are wanting to do or achieve. And so, instead of seeing our fears for what they really are, we let them dominate and define our lives.
I remember as a kid seeing the shadow of a bug that was flittering around the light of a lantern. I didn’t actually see the bug, I just saw the shadow, but as you can imagine (being a tiny child and not knowing anything about shadows) it was quite terrifying. The shadow was much bigger than the actual bug, and looked to me like a monster. In actual fact, the bug itself turned out to be quiet small. But that night I learned that sometimes the tiniest bug can cast the biggest shadow, depending on how close to the light it goes.
This is the same as our fears. The closer the fear is to your heart or previous hurts and experiences, the bigger the threat is and the more legitimate the fear will seem to you. But if you take a moment to objectively assess the fear that threatens you, figure out where it is coming from and why you are afraid, and then see it for what it is – the power it has will start to diminish, and you can begin to move past it.
By assessing your fears (like the ones mentioned above), you will probably notice that they are usually rooted in much deeper and more personal doubts. We often feel we are alone in these thoughts and feelings, but studies in social psychology suggest that everyone has these same thoughts and self-doubts. Those who succeed in life are those who conquer and learn to silence these thoughts.
The most common thoughts are:
1) I’m not good enough
2) If they knew the real me, they wouldn’t like me
3) I don’t have what it takes
4) I/my situation will never change/improve
Isn’t it funny – and sad- how we all have the same doubts and fears deep down inside, yet we find it so difficult to talk about them, open up about them, and help each other conquer them? Often, all we need is someone else’s objective perspective to help us see our fears for what they really are: Tiny little bugs sitting a bit too close to the light.
I’ve found it helpful and effective in my own life to, when I feel that fear begin to rise up in me, ask myself:
1) Where is this coming from? Am I feeling this way because of something in my past, or am I fearing the unknown?
2) What are the lies or assumptions I am believing about myself and the situation at hand, and what is the truth?
3) What can I do/ what do I need to do to conquer this fear?
I’ve found this 3-step approach successful both in helping me to gain some insight into my fears, and in healing my heart of previous hurts that have turned into fears.
Yes, dealing with your fears requires vulnerability and is not for the faint at heart. It requires risk. But success doesn’t come without risk, and often those ‘risks’ (in all areas of life) involve conquering our fears.
Well, after all of this revelation and pep-talk with myself, I still essentially have a problem: There is still a cockroach in my bathroom, and he doesn’t seem to have any intention of moving out. The time has come to realize who I am, acknowledge my own power in the situation, and exercise my authority to conquer my fear.
I walk into the bathroom, ready and equipped to tackle the cockroach. But in a strange twist of fate, I notice he is already dead. He has tragically drowned himself in a puddle of water in my shower.
This brings me to my final revelation on the topic: most of the time, when we find the courage to face our fears, we find ourselves realizing that there actually wasn’t much to be afraid of in the first place.
ALSO READ: How to be Confident (Without Faking)