Fear is a funny thing.
It’s an emotion, an experience, a safety mechanism for survival and a mindset that can occupy your thoughts to the point of deeply influencing your choices and behaviors. Not all emotions occupy so much functionality AND not all emotions are so deeply rooted in the infamous stress response that makes our bodies believe the moment we are in is a do or die situation.
To top this off, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to discern if the fear we experience is indeed an accurate protective mechanism with life saving application. More often, our fears have become a story, a process and an embedded behavioral default to certain stimuli or stressors. They trigger a host of physical symptoms, mental storytelling and subsequently we stop ourselves from having experiences that may benefit us in the name of avoiding what we fear most.
Why Am I Talking About Fear?
In my personal work this week, I’m being reminded of the ways in which my fear played a role in many of my most important life choices. Any time something comes to me multiple times, in a variety of ways, it means I’m being called to share it.
In this case, I’m also taking the Albus Dumbledore route to call a spade a spade. In case you’re not one for Harry Potter, here’s a quick 411. In Harry Potter, everyone says “he who must not be named” instead of the Super Villain’s name. They are SO afraid of this man that even saying his name out loud is too uncomfortable, so they avoid it. But the headmaster at the magical school of Hogwart’s, Albus Dumbledore, advises the students to “always use the proper name of a thing” because “fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”
Our fears are something we often avoid naming. In many environments, it’s publicly untouchable subject matter to talk about what we fear, leaving our fears to occupy our thoughts and grow in the dark corners of our hearts and minds.
In an effort to encourage naming what we fear most with a healing and positive intention, I’m sharing three stories of my deepest fears. Here are three examples in my own life where fear led the way and in doing so created the biggest and most fantastic failures I’ve experienced thus far.
#1 My Dance Career
My greatest fear: I feared that I would not be a life-long professional dancer. The one thing a dancer needs most to be successful is their body for, as my favorite quote says, “Dance is the only are where we in ourselves are the stuff from which it is made.” Ted Shawn
My Choice: Afraid that not dancing, for any length of time, would put me at a disadvantage, I did not listen to the advice of doctors to take breaks from dance beginning as early as the age of 10. My fear drove me to push through pain until I forced my joints to say, “no more.”
What Happened: It started with a dislocated right knee (twice), two surgeries to repair it, and it led to hip injuries, spinal injuries and years of physical therapy and chronic pain management.
I could say it was bad timing, poor medical advice, uninformed dance teachers…I could say many things were the cause or contributed but I’m not.
I take responsibility for the collapse of my dance career. Out of fear, I chose not to stop dancing and take care of myself first. Then, out of that same fear of failure and an overwhelming sense of grief, I also chose not to pursue any other creative discipline despite being trained in theater, voice and music. With fear at the heart of my choices to keep going, my worst nightmare of not being a lifelong professional dancer came true.
#2 My Marriage
My Greatest Fear: My greatest fear in relationships is being deserted. My parents divorced when I was between 2-3. I had a relationship with my father and love him to bits as of this day but all my life, I’d never been able to get over the fact that he left and the feeling of desertion I had as a result.
My Choice: I chose to marry my x-husband for a host of emotional and rational reasons including that I loved him. But I also knew and refused to acknowledge openly, even to myself, that I felt deeply uncomfortable at times. Out of fear of being alone, I avoided my discomforts and the thoughts that stemmed from them. Whether it was inexperience or just an unconscious pattern – I wasn’t ready to face my discomfort until after years later and hours of therapy.
What Happened: My husband learned that marriage was not for him. He wanted to be free of the commitment and my greatest fear was realized when I was left alone and divorced.
I could say it was so many things that led to this breakdown and where two people are involved, it’s not possible for me to be 100% responsible for what transpired. I can say with certainty that I entered into marriage in fear and I believe that the way the outcome mirrored my childhood experience is not a coincidence but an opportunity to learn whatever part of the lesson I didn’t get the first time.
#3 My Health
My Greatest Fear: Physical limitations will prevent me from doing what I want in life. Or put another way, I have a huge fear of lost opportunity.
My Choice: After my divorce, I was traumatized and exhausted, working full time and being a single mom to my infant son. When my son was two, I started graduate school. Seeing very quickly that I was going to need help, I got permission to move to California and live with family to help us. I had told the court before I left that I had a specific job and when I got to California, I could see that the job was not going to be the right fit. Afraid of being in trouble with the court, missing the opportunity for this work, not having an income and with the SAME distinct sense of discomfort and dread that I felt in the former 2 examples, I started the job anyways.
What Happened: 5 months in, I hit my head on the blunt end of a steel bar and suffered a moderate to severe concussion. The severity of my injury was misdiagnosed, and I suffered for two and a half years with symptoms and complications. During these two years, my son was 3-5 years old and I could barely pick him up. I couldn’t run after him and play on the jungle gym. I was too tired most of the time to be the patient and loving mom I had been before a TBI and I was on disability, unable to earn the income I needed for all of this time. In short, I missed the opportunity to be my best mom self for two important developmental years of my son’s life.
I take responsibility for letting my fear influence my choice to begin this work instead of listening to my body, my intuition and after a few months on the job, my common sense that what I was doing was not sustainable or good for my health.
- I am not telling you these stories as if to say that we each have control over the wealth of circumstances and variables that impact the experiences and outcomes we have in our lives.
- I AM sharing these stories to show the way that fear influences our choices and the ways in which, if we choose to, we can become aware of fears impact in order to change WHAT and HOW we choose in the present and for the future.
We all experience things differently and fear may not create the challenging results for you that it has for me. But just in case something about these stories feels familiar, I encourage you to
- grab a journal and write what you notice after reading this
- grab paper and your favorite art supply and create a picture after reading this
- grab a friend or family member and talk to them about your fears
- Or simply notice in reflection which experiences and decisions in your life, past or present, are quietly being guided by your fears
It is important to engage in reflective practices like these without judgement, as feeling fear is not wrong
One at a time is my motto. Don’t try to notice all your fears at once. The fears you are ready to see will come first. Go slowly and be kind to yourself like gradually turning up the light to see. Otherwise, your fears can scatter like cockroaches and you’ll be left with the sneaking suspicion that you know what I’m talking about but can’t put your finger on why or what.
Remember, going public with your fear isn’t easy. When you think about what this blog post brings up for you, also think of Who or What is the best kind of support for you to share with. Isolation is fears biggest friend and super growth tonic. Shared expression, letting in light and letting someone else see you scared, is fears Achilles heel.
In our everyday life, it’s not likely that your fears will be realized the way they play out in your mind. If you find yourself looping back to the same fears over and over, it’s time to get support from a friend, family member, doctor, therapist or coach. It doesn’t mean that anything is wrong with you. It just means you’ve got work to do, as we all do, to discern when your fear is real and when your fear is habit.
With Love and Support for All of YOU,