Fear is a funny thing. It’s a mix of psychological and environmental factors, all rolled into one. Some people thrive off of fear. Not true fear, mind you, but the idea of being scared gets some people’s adrenaline going. It’s the reason horror movies have such a significant Fanbase. Although I don’t quite understand it myself, there is a feeling that being scared and being made to jump is exciting.
I think that one of the draws of these experiences is there is still safety there. In some capacity, you know you are watching a movie or enjoying an experience that won’t truly bring you harm. You can simultaneously experience fear and safety. But what happens when the Safetynet is removed? What happens when we experience fear in the absence of being safe or comfortable?
Of course, like many ideas here I am referring more so to the psychological aspect. Being physically in danger is never OK. There is no situation in which experiencing physical fear is rational. When I think about this, I think more of the psychological aspect.
The idea of “doing something every day that scares you”, or “facing your fears” is one we often preach to others. As if the fear isn’t actually that bad so long as we just suck it up. Is that really fair, though? Does that give enough credence to our emotional well-being? Fear can be debilitating for many, and simply psyching yourself up to face it may not be enough.
So why do we do that? Why do we expect that people should just push their fears to the back of their minds and not appreciate the reality those fears hold? There is a reason humans have a fear response in the first place. Our bodies and minds are wired to fear certain things in an effort to keep us safe – to elicit the fight or flight response. Without fear, we would be more likely to do things that put us in imminent danger. And yet, when it is a psychological fear and not a physical one, we are less likely to count it as helpful. Having a “healthy fear” of strangers and hot stoves makes sense to us But having a fear of rejection or being unloveable is not held in the same regard. Does that fear not serve the same purpose? To protect our mental health and ensure we are safe emotionally?
As a teacher, I am often asked to help troubleshoot student behaviour. I go into other classes and work with teachers to help students succeed. When we are deconstructing a behaviour, there is one question which needs to be answered: What is the purpose of the behaviour? What need is being met (or trying to be met) with this behaviour?
The same can be true for fear. If we get to the root of what we are actually scared of, oftentimes it might be easier to work through it. Is it a magic key that makes it easy to face? Absolutely not. In fact, often time understanding what we are truly fearful of is more upsetting and harder to work through. Because we are peeling away our own layers and doing the inner work to see what motivates us and what we run from. And most times these are direct results of past trauma and/or experiences which are not ideal to revisit.
I told a friend recently that they cannot allow the fear of an outcome to rule their decisions because it will lead to complete avoidance – which inevitably leads to the outcome you are fearful of. The one thing we cannot do is allow fear to take over our lives – to dictate what we can and cannot do. Closing our eyes and pretending it isn’t even there, that it isn’t real, is not realistic either. There has to be a happy medium where we can acknowledge the fears we have and use them to motivate us. Understanding that fear has both a birthplace and a purpose in our heads is the first step. Being willing to discuss them with those closest to us is the next. Allowing the space for those fears, but not allowing them to own us. Sounds super easy, right? Except it’s not. It takes time… lots and lots of time. It takes appreciating the purpose, not ignoring it, and yet giving ourselves the grace to work through it. Which is something I am still working through it.
Giving myself grace is a different beast altogether. I will consider this a work in progress.
This is life. Love, Mom.