Feelings and fear
There are some fears that are universal – fear of harm, of an exterior danger trying to do you harm (a dangerous animal approaching) or fear of a life-threatening situation (serious illness, lack of food, shelter etc). What I have been curious to explore is some of the emotional fears I experience to varying degrees, some of which may resonate:
- Fear of abandonment
- Fear of being trapped/overwhelmed
- Fear of being seen
- Fear of being wrong or failing
- Fear of change and the unknown
These are pretty normal fears that everyone experiences at some time or another in their lives – very few people like change that’s been imposed upon them, for example, and experience some anxiety about what lies ahead. But as with many other areas in the personal development field, it’s the extent to which they affect your life, relationships and generally function in society that determine them as problematic or not.
There aren’t any one-size-fits-all solutions, as fear is such a complex feeling physical sensation. Which is frustrating, as one of the characteristics of someone who has a lot of fear is to be drawn towards certainty and solutions, because above all, what we want to feel is safe.
Approaches to fear
Personal development circles encompass differing approaches to fear, and the best way to deal with it. Some schools of thought encourage you to proactively move towards the source of your fear, to do what scares you most. Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway, the 1980s bestseller by Susan Jeffers, is one example of that “go towards” approach. This is also encouraged by some exposure therapies where the treatment is to approach the fear gradually and allowing your body to experience the fear response without running from it, thus diminishing its power over you.
A differing philosophy suggests we be less gung-ho in our approach – that our fears are our mind’s way of telling us that a situation is unsafe, and that by pushing through it we are deliberately and harmfully retraumatising ourselves. Proponents of this school of thought often try to deconstruct the fear at the level of the belief – challenging the thinking behind the fear so as to avoid experiencing it so intensely.
Then you come to the importance of feeling the fear in the body – surely everyone agrees that you should feel your feelings fully and allow them to pass through you, no? Nope – some trauma therapists believe that by essentially indulging the fear, you are prolonging a dysregulated state that increases the time it takes to get back into a calm, adult frame of mind.
But one thing everyone seems to agree on is the importance of acknowledging the feeling of fear when it arises, regardless of what you choose to do with it. Even noticing that you’re feeling fear can be a huge thing for people who may have repressed the fear response so completely that it comes out as anger or complete numbness and dissociation.
Approaches that have helped me
Fear is not something you “get over” – as I mentioned above, it’s a healthy emotional response to certain circumstances. There are many approaches people use for anxiety, including EMDR, tapping, talk therapy, DBT and medication. But the following techniques and approaches have helped me deal with my own fear. These are all free to access (although the people sharing the techniques may have paid courses that go into greater depth about particular issues). Here are some of the main ones I’ve found helpful. I’d love to hear about any you’ve found useful in the comments section below.
- The Daily Practice. This is a technique by Anna Runkle, AKA The Crappy Childhood Fairy. She has some amazing videos on childhood PTSD and offers a free course which involves writing out fears and resentments – you can download a free guide here
- The Work. I’ve mentioned this in previous blogs, but it involves Byron Katie’s seminal approach of questioning your beliefs and finding evidence for the opposite. Her Judge Your Neighbour worksheet is free to download, and she has other insightful videos on her channel.
- R.A.I.N. This is Buddhist meditation teacher Tara Brach’s technique for acknowledging, feeling, enquiring about and nurturing emotions. You can find how to do this technique here.
- Teal Swan – for those who are open to a more spiritual approach, Teal has a good video on fear, as well as free meditations to download.