Fears are so powerful for many of us. We often want to do anything but face our fears. Yet, we make them so much bigger than they are.
Stop Turning Away
The first thing we have to do in order to face our fears is to stop turning away from them.
I’m not referring to avoiding the things that frighten us. I’m talking about evading fear itself. There’s a distinction. Turning away from fear means we refuse to allow fear to guide us. We refuse to engage in a dialogue with fear or understand its underlying message.
Imagine being pursued by a wild animal in the forest. If we were to turn away from the fear, we might inadvertently turn toward the very animal chasing us. By disregarding the source of our unease, the reason we feel compelled to flee or distance ourselves from something becomes obscured. It’s essential for us to discontinue our avoidance of fear itself. We need to ask, “What is this fear?”
Of course, in the face of imminent danger from a wild animal, there may not be sufficient time to analyze the fear at that moment. I’m talking about the fears of every day, the kinds of things that keep us stuck and keep us from moving forward in our lives.
Perhaps we say, “I would never do that. I’m afraid of public speaking,” or “I’m afraid of putting myself out there in a different way. I’m afraid of what my parents will think or what my kids will think or what my peers will think.”
Instead of ignoring the fears and saying, “I’m afraid of this,” and then moving on, what if we actually turn toward them? Find out what they have to say to us, and what they’re trying to communicate with us.
Name Your Fears
It’s also important to give our fears a name, and do so with clarity and a willingness to face them head-on.
When we say, “I’m afraid of public speaking,” there’s often an underlying fear beneath it, such as the fear of being judged by the audience we’re speaking to. We must identify these deeper fears and be open to exploring what lies beneath the surface. Once we start turning toward our fears instead of avoiding them, we begin to realize that the fear we initially identified may be rooted in other underlying fears.
Turning toward and naming our fear allows us to engage in a dialogue with them. We can say, “Show me what you’ve got. Talk to me about what it is you need to say. Why are you afraid? What’s really going on?”
At this point we can delve deeper into naming our fears. Moreover, once we’ve named them, such as fear of judgment for example, we can take it a step further and ask, “Okay, I’m afraid of judgment. Now what? What potential judgments could arise? What’s the worst-case scenario?”
By engaging in this dialogue with our fears, we gain insight into the nature of our resistance and the factors contributing to it. This invites us to carefully discern how we present ourselves.
Consider a scenario where you’re about to speak in public on a particular topic. Perhaps in doing so, you may unintentionally upset certain individuals or face the scrutiny of judgment. In such instances, we may need to discern the appropriate timing, audience, and context before expressing ourselves. For example, I know authors who didn’t want to write a book about their life, their memoir, until perhaps their parents had passed because they didn’t want to cause harm or have their parents’ lives end up in the public spotlight.
Engaging in a conversation with our fears allows us to gain a clearer understanding of what’s truly real and the underlying truth of a situation. It provides us with valuable insights into what’s happening behind the scenes.
How Might Fear Be Strengthening?
After we’ve chosen to face and name our fears, we can shift our focus toward the strength and assets that lie within our fears.
Is the fear we have expansive? In other words, does it push us to our limits? If we were to approach the fear, engage with it, would it assist us in becoming stronger and more skilled?
Perhaps the fear primarily stems from our discomfort and unfamiliarity. However, if we confront it and take action toward the very thing we’ve been afraid of, such as delivering our first public talk, for instance, could that propel us forward, gradually dissolving the fear as we realize, “Oh, that wasn’t as daunting as I thought?”
I’ve witnessed interviews with actors who admit their nervousness before going on stage, and even my own children participating in musicals and school plays express similar sentiments. Yet, they face the fear head-on. They embrace it because they understand that it expands their capabilities. It helps them improve their craft. It’s allowing them to push those edges to try something new.
Additionally, we must examine whether the fear is contractive in nature. Are we shrinking and contracting in response to that fear? This type of fear corresponds to the instinctual reaction of fleeing from a tiger in the woods, where we recognize the immediate threat and decide that it’s unsafe to remain in that space, with that person, or in that particular situation. This represents a more contractive fear.
By dialoguing with our fears, we start to get to know them. We start to get to know if the fear is one of expansion we need to move toward or contraction we need to move away from.
Allow Your Fears
The final aspect I’d like to emphasize regarding facing our fears is the ability to allow them.
It’s entirely natural and human to experience fear. What if we could befriend our fears and acknowledge that they’re a part of us?
We might have old stories that we’re still working through. Rather than berating ourselves and thinking, “I should’ve overcome this fear by now. It shouldn’t be a problem,” instead of burdening ourselves with ‘shoulds’, can we embrace the notion that fear is an old companion speaking to us, allowing us to become more acquainted with its nuances?
Can we learn to take small steps towards that fear or engage in a dialogue with fear? Can we accept and befriend it?
Only then can we harness the energy associated with fear and redirect it towards our true passions in life, allowing it to guide us in expressing ourselves authentically.
For a video version of How to Face Fears, watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SsdoalSE4qg