If you'd have asked me five years ago, I would have told you I was relatively fearless. I would have told you that I don't get embarrassed easily, that I didn't care what people thought, and that regret wasn't worth my time. I also would have been lying — kind of.
The truth is that fear controlled and shaped a great deal of who I used to be, whether I knew it or not. I used to put my so-called fearlessness on a pedestal. I was out and proud about my emotional toughness. My reactions to moments of heartbreak and hurt we're opportunistic. I'd sooner spit out a humorous "don't give a f***" than allow myself be seen feeling hurt or left out when I wasn't invited to a party, when I was turned down by a crush. In the face of failure, I grew louder and more ostentatious. Let's get drinks, I'd say after finding out I didn't get the job, no big deal, life goes on! You couldn't hurt me, I'd say. Only I can hurt me.
That last bit was definitely true. I could hurt me, and I was. In her novel Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, author, phD and LMSW Brené Brown says “..when we deny our stories and disengage from tough emotions, they don’t go away; instead, they own us." In one paragraph, Brown sums up a truth that took me years of mistakes, missed moments, self-hurt, and hurting others to discover. "The opposite of recognizing that we’re feeling something is denying our emotions," says Brown. "The opposite of being curious is disengaging."
When I said that I wasn't afraid, I was really saying that I wasn't feeling. The opposite of fear isn't fearless, it's numbness. The opposite of fearless doesn't exist. Humans were built to fear. It keeps us safe and gives us the power to adapt to our surroundings. Without fear, we'd be jumping off cliffs to our rocky deaths, petting lions in the wild, and gobbling down poisonous foods. We've misnomered fear as weakness when in reality we'd be weaker without it. Feeling fear and understanding it is as close to fearless as we can hope to be. Being unafraid is unreal but being in-touch with your fears enough that you can learn from and move beyond them? That's real.
I was afraid, five years ago. I was terrified. I worried that I was worthless and that I couldn't compare to the talented people around me. I feared that no-one actually liked me and that I'd end up alone. I was petrified of failing, of being nothing. I was full of incredibly human fears but refused to look at them. I thought the easiest way to fight those fears was to ignore them. I figured you had to fight feeling fear to become fearless. So I numbed. I exercised pristine control over my food and my exercise in hoped that I could eventually control how I felt as well. I didn't want to take the chance that my fear would sneak it's way in on the back of some other emotion. I stayed hyper-busy with school clubs, hobbies, and social engagements so as not to let my idle mind drift towards danger. I surrounded myself with people, parties, loud music, and strong drinks to drown out an possibility of feeling the fear.
I built a life of false fearlessness out of a deep fear of my fear.
As I started healing my relationship with myself, my body, food, and exercise, I started to see the importance of recognizing my fears. Reading Rising Strongand applying its lessonsmoved me further through that process, reminding me of the power that embracing our fears can have in transforming everything from professional failures to relationship roadblocks. As I started accepting and exploring my fears, I learned to understand them and to respond to them. Feeling my fears actually let me use them to my advantage.
I knew I feared failure. But as I looked at that fear I further understood that I feared failure most when it relates to promises or projects that involve other people. I fear that in failing, even slightly, I will let someone down and no longer be needed or wanted. I don't want to lose the opportunity to be involved. As I explored this fear, I began to understand that I fear not being needed because I genuinely want to help people. I want to do my best and be counted on. I want to experience and create. These are traits I'm quite proud of and soon realized that my fear could actually help me nurture — when I'm able to voice it.
For example, if was experiencing high levels of anxiety upon being asked to take on a new project at work, exploring my fear might lead me to the realization that I'm anxious because I'm afraid I won't do a good job. With this knowledge, I can go to my superior and say: "I am worried that taking on that project right now as I am quite busy and fear would mean giving less to other clients thus producing work I'm not proud of." Being able to articulate this, rather than just accept the project, is more likely to open up a constructive conversation about my values, strengths, and abilities with my employer. The result of that, which would likely be an extended deadline or reprioritization of tasks, would be far better than high anxiety and poor results for a client.
There was another reward for fear, too. Feeling my fears also meant feeling everything else again; it meant waking up from the numbness. The more I fought against fear, the further the numbness had spread. My understanding of joy and love had also been limited as I restricted my understanding of fear.
I thought I knew how to give and how to get love but, as it turns out, there's more. It does deeper and grows richer. As I opened up to my fears, I found space within me to allow love to root firmly into the core of my being, like an old oak tree into the earth.
There is a level of joy that accompanies simply being alive and being able to feel agin that sometimes so overwhelming it floods my soul to the point that it leaks out through my tears. I like this kind of joy. I'm grateful to fear for bringing it into my field of view.
I was never nor will I ever be fearless. I am full of fear and worry but I refuse to let that define me. In order to truly be in control of my emotions, all of them, I had to experience and own my fear. I had to walk through it and let it be a part of my journey.
Fear has brought me to love, to joy, to pride, and to peace. Fear has brought me here.
“When I see people stand fully in their truth, or when I see someone fall down, get back up, and say, “Damn. That really hurt, but this is important to me and I’m going in again”—my gut reaction is, “What a badass.” ― Brené Brown, Rising Strong
How have you, or how have you thought about, claiming your fear? Was it helpful?