Fear is Useless if We Aren’t Curious About Ourselves
Fear permeates much more of our lives than we suspect, or would ever want to give credit to. It has been revolutionary for me to realize that, recognize what I am so afraid of, and actively work toward acknowledging those moments in my life when I am reacting out of fear.
Fear, in many ways, makes sense. We need it biologically for survival. When someone sneaks up on us, we jump—to avoid a surprise attack by a predator. I know when I see a snake, I am repulsed (to the extent of making a face, hunching over my body like I am gagging, and usually emitting a drawn out grunting noise—it’s dramatic, and absolutely unintentional). Fun fact about me, when I was a child and read Zoobooks (a magazine for kids about various animals), I’d flip to the double-page spread of a snake with its mouth open, ready to strike. The magazine would magically drop to the floor and I would be frozen in fear for a couple of seconds. I even would leave the magazine on the floor and walk away, too disgusted to even touch it.
Our minds are fascinating. The snake was not in my house, my spouse startling me by appearing soundlessly is not going to hurt me, and yet I react. What the heck is going on in my brain to simulate something that feels so threatening and real? Similarly, fear of not being accepted by our peers is in many ways a biological response. Harkening back to the idea that we are a tribal species, if we were truly rejected by our tribe or community, we would potentially die on our own. We wouldn’t have the advantages of shared knowledge, resources, and protection.
Human connection is so important, for that, and so many other reasons. But, pettily, if a colleague of mine doesn’t seem to be too crazy about me (or, perish the thought, a family member) the rejection can be hurtful and I can react in ways that aren’t helpful (to myself, or anyone else). Our minds are fascinating.
How to Manage Fear in Daily Life
So when someone doesn’t seem to care for me, or says something I perceive as rude, or lies to me, or betrays me, I decide how I will let it affect me. Sometimes, I allow myself 5 minutes to be pissed, maybe rant to someone about it, maybe give myself time alone to cool off. Sometimes I allow myself an hour, and at certain times I have even allowed myself a week. Sometimes, I seem to have moved on, and months (or years later) an old hurt will resurface, and I will feel surprise at the way the hurt reared its head anew. There are hurts that do not go away just because I decided I was done feeling hurt. But they will definitely not go away unless I make that decision.
I remember someone once telling me that “You alone are responsible for whether or not you are happy.” Oh man, that really got my goat! At that time in my life, I was terribly unhappy, and thought to myself: “Brother, if I could make myself be happy, I would be. This isn’t optional for me. Who would choose this?” I don’t know that forcing happiness is possible in a tangible way, but I let the general concept ruminate in the corners of my mind while I trudged through some very dark days. Eventually, the concept became less foreign and came to be a truth. I felt so very powerful. I am responsible for my happiness. Me! No one else can get in my mind and flip switches for me.
Let’s Take Our Power Back
It doesn’t mean that every interaction with every person creates pleasant feelings. I am responsible for feeling pleasant, just as I am for feeling less than pleasant. When I am upset, or angry, or bothered by some injustice, that is ok. Those are normal, human emotions. I do, however, get to decide how long I will allow these things to hang out in my brain, and whether or not they fester.
Fear is an amazing actor. It has many faces. It looks like anger, or hurt, or even irritability. So when I am any of those things, and I am gearing up to take whatever negative idea that resulted from that emotion and go ahead and add it to the list of the things I think I am, or am ready to lash out, or shut down for an indeterminate amount of time, I ask myself “What am I really afraid of here? Does it make sense to be afraid of the result I think might happen? Am I afraid what this person thinks of me might be true?” With those (and other) questions, talking to my own best friend (me), I show myself I am valuable enough to be curious about. After asking these questions of myself, while the hurt may still sting, it becomes a dull sting.