They say there are two basic human emotions: love and fear. All other emotions are subsets of these two.
Joy, peace, happiness, trust, and feeling safe—all flow from the emotion of love. On the other hand, anxiety, nervousness, worry, anger, and frustration—all flow from the fear of something or someone.
Fear is perhaps the root of many of our problems. Yet it’s the emotion we most often try and evade, ignore, hoping it will go away like a pesky mosquito.
Our culture even reinforces hiding from our fears. Be fearless, we’re told. Be brave. Suck it up. All these messages tell us to overcome our fear by ignoring it.
But fear doesn’t go away when we ignore it. It festers like a boil and often comes out sideways as we try to numb it with alcohol or drugs or some other distraction.
Fear’s gotten a bad wrap, because it actually has a positive quality. Fear is often inviting us, nudging us to grow. It’s one of our basic instincts.
Fear can become our friend, if we let it. It usually has something underneath it. It’s trying to teach us something. But like a dandelion unless we dig to the root of our fear and pull it out, it just keeps coming back like a nasty weed.
So, how do we befriend fear? How do we let it become our teacher?
The first step is to become aware of when we’re feeling fearful. Name it, don’t avoid it.
When we feel that knot in our stomach, when we can’t sleep at night, when we’re using alcohol or other drugs excessively, we can learn to recognize that fear is rearing its head again. By identifying our fearful emotion, we’re then ready to address it. Dig it out with some deeper inner work.
After you’ve identified fear is back, here’s a handy tool you can use to dig deeper and find out what the fear is saying to you.
Take out a sheet of paper and make three columns across the top with these headings:
I’m afraid of: Here’s what’s true: Here’s what I’m being invited to learn:
After you’ve made these three headings go back to each column, one-by-one and write down what rises up in you as you ask yourself each question.
Column One: I’m afraid of.
Under the first column write down everything you’re afraid of right now. Things like, I’m afraid of losing my job, not having enough money, being a bad person, being rejected, failure, looking incompetent, being seen as weak, etc.
Let your pen simply flow on the page as you identify in a word or two every fear that’s bugging you right now.
Column Two: What I know is true.
After you’ve filled out the first column, go to the second column. Next to each fear you’ve listed write down what you know is true.
For example, next to I’m afraid of losing my job you might realize: I’m doing good at work and if I did lose my job I’ll find a new one. Or next to I’m afraid of not having enough money, you might write: I have what I need and I’m safe.
By naming the truth, your pulling yourself back to reality. You’re taking your free floating anxiety and grounding it in what you know deep down in your heart is really true. You cut the fear down to size.
Column Three: Here’s what I’m being invited to learn.
Then, when you’ve listed what you know is true in the second column, move to the third column. In this column write down what you hear in your heart with respect to each fear as you ask yourself: what is this fear inviting me to learn?
This question contains the nugget, the key piece of wisdom that’s revealing itself to you as a virtue or life lesson to grow and integrate into your life.
In working on this column you might discover things like: I’m being invited to trust myself, to trust God; or, I need to let go of trying to control life and let things unfold, taking it one day at a time. You might also discover that in this moment you are safe, you have plenty in your basic survival kit: food, shelter, money, people you love, and who love you.
Some key virtues you’re being invited to develop might also be uncovered; things like: patience, gratitude, compassion for yourself and others, non-judgment, acceptance.
Some action steps you can take to remove the fear might also pop up inside of you as you ponder this question; for example sharpening your resume and looking for a new job in case the ax falls on your current position; or, finding a second job if your cash flow isn’t what it needs to be; or reading a good book that can help you grow spiritually.
Like Jacob wresting with the angel, when we acknowledge our fears, name them, and determine how they’re inviting us grow, our fears get transformed into our strengths. Our Achilles’ heel helps us develop healthier perspectives and attitudes that invite us into living lives of richer love, balance and wholeness.
brian j plachta