This week’s topic is fear – a topic that’s near and dear to my heart. To clarify, not because I love fear. Not by any means. But because I have fear, or should I say fears, and plenty of them. While I do deal with some more external fears, like claustrophobia, heights, flying (ironic, for a travel planner I know), and a particularly strange fear of getting locked in a bathroom (there’s actually history to this one), my biggest fears are internal:
- Fear of failure
- Fear of rejection
- Fear of loss of control (of life, of my mind, of anything)
- Of never being truly happy
- Of never finding my path in life
So if you, too, battle these, know that you’re not alone. Often, fear of failure and rejection, and even fear of loss of control, can show up as behaviors such as self-sabotage (whole week’s focus coming up on this), procrastination, talking ourselves out of going for something we really want, giving up on our dreams and goals even if they’re attainable or in reach. And frequently, because of these, our fears become a “self-fulling prophecy” and form a vicious loop. If you struggle with depression or anxiety, this loop is often even trickier. To clarify, I am NOT saying that these things are our faults, that we’re to blame for feeling depressed or for having low self-esteem or confidence or self-worth. I’m not saying that at all. Here’s what I’m saying:
Depression and anxiety make it difficult for us to fully trust ourselves. They lie to us, telling us that we’re worthless, hopeless, not good enough. They tell us we’ll never be successful, or catalogue a list a mile long of all the things that will go wrong, to the point that we may be overcome with anxiety. When you’re consistently being told you’re worthless and hopeless and not enough, that you’ll never succeed, that nobody cares about what you do, or whatever other lies our illnesses tell us, the results are often low self-esteem, low self-confidence, and low self-worth. Afterall, being told this enough, even by ourselves, has a lasting impact. And if you’ve ever been told this by others too, that only compounds it further (note, we’ll go into stigma and dealing with other people’s B.S. later in this topics series). Speaking from personal experience, convincing yourself that you’re going to succeed, that you don’t need to be afraid of failure or rejection or anything like this, can be incredibly difficult when you’re really struggling with feelings of worthlessness.
This is something I’m working with actively at this moment, and it’s something that I think a lot of us experience, at least on some level. Over this week, I’m hoping to offer some thoughts to help maybe break down the fears a bit, to make them seem more manageable, and also offer some tools to try to work through them.
To start with, here are a few questions to think on:
1. What do you truly fear? This could take a little digging, but it helps to get to the bottom of the fear. A few tools that might help dig deeper here.
- Note that the true fear may be hiding behind another fear. For example, you may be saying, “I want to start my own business, but I’m afraid I’ll make less money, and I won’t be able to pay my bills.” And maybe money is where the fear ends – maybe you are making six figures now and your business plan you’ve created for your own business doesn’t account for that kind of salary. But often, it’s not this cut and dry and we have to dig deeper and ask ourselves, “Is a this really what I’m afraid of?” Or to put it another way, in this example, “If you started your own business and you were successful, would you have less money and not be able to pay your bills?” See if this assumption of success changes the inner dialogue. If so, the real fear not be simply be the salary to bills ratio, but that you’ll fail in your business venture. When examining your fears, look for what’s being left unspoken, and that might help you get to the heart of the issue. Often our fears are layered, and we need to address each aspect of them to fully work with them.
- Also note that sometimes, fear disguises itself as anger. For instance, say you’re a writer and have a dream of getting published. And someone says to you, “You’ll never be published. You’re not all that good. Why don’t you go after a more realistic dream?” Sure, most people would get hurt. Because it’s a hurtful statement. But if you get really angry, and (internally or actually) start screaming at them, “How dare you say that. You’re an a$$hole! You don’t know what you’re talking about. You wouldn’t know good writing if it hit you in the face!”, make note. Make further note if you’re still mumbling to yourself about how wrong they are days or weeks later. It is true that it’s a pretty rude (and unless they’re your editor, probably unnecessary) thing to say. But often, we get most angry at something because deep down, there’s a tiny voice that says, “what if they’re right?” It doesn’t mean it’s a justified voice, but it’s often there all the same. People putting a voice to our deepest fears can make us feel exposed and vulnerable, and that’s often not a comfortable place to be.Often, to protect ourselves (think fight or flight), our body goes into anger mode, to mask feeling exposed. So take note of those moments. They can often be the most telling.
2. Do you feel this fear is holding you back? I ask this because it’s not always the case. Three reasons: First, some fear can healthy. It can keep us from situations that are actually potentially dangerous. Second: Fear can make us think things through more. For instance, if you think starting your business will result in a lower salary, you probably should address the “how will I pay the bills” question, even if it’s not your deepest rooted fear. Third, some people use fear as a motivator. They are determined to get past their fear, and it fuels them to push themselves when they otherwise might stop. Sometimes, pushing past the fear in itself is a goal, and it can be a good one. But if this does not sound like you (I know it often doesn’t sound like me), here are some ways to figure out if fear is holding you back.
- Do you notice you often get stuck at the same point in tasks/projects/activities? I, for instance, am gung-ho in the idea and brainstorming stage. I am great at the planning, I make content calendars and marketing plans, I have business plans bulleted down to the tiniest detail. And then, when it’s time for implementation, I freeze. Or I make one small effort, and if it doesn’t seem to immediately return a positive result, I get discouraged and often back off. It’s easier to find reasons why it’s a bad idea or it won’t work or I’m too busy, or I just can’t do it right, now than to face potential failure.
- Do you procrastinate consistently when it comes to certain tasks or goals (by which I mean tasks or goals that you want to do, at least in theory – not like taking out the trash or cleaning the toilet)? To clarify, procrastinating doesn’t have to be scrolling through Facebook for hours (though it can be). But if you find that every time you have to do xyz, you suddenly realize that you’ve been meaning to organize your sock drawer, or rearrange the kitchen pots and pans, or clean the tub again, note it. Or, if like me, you constantly think you’ll just make one more list or read one more applicable article just to make sure every tiny detail is perfect, instead of actually starting on the next steps, you may well be procrastinating. Procrastination can be sneaky, so look for it in non-obvious places – like working around every other item that could possibly ever be on your to-do list, instead of starting on the one task you said you were going to do today.
- Do you deal with all or nothing thinking when it comes to your goals? For instance, for the writer above that wants to be published, if they say something like, “It’s not like it’s going to be a best-seller, so what’s the point?”, fear is probably holding them back. This falls under the “I’ll never succeed so why try” category. When you deal with a mental illness, gray areas can be especially tricky. Speaking from personal experience, when I struggle to trust my own brain, it can often feel like I need “solid” thoughts to hold onto – something is good/bad, right/wrong, this way/that way, success/failure. And having that anchor can be really important, because there are times that the whole world can feel gray, fuzzy, wobbly. But it can also feed fears of failure or rejection, because we may see the only possible outcomes as success or failure, not a sliding scale. This is something I am especially working on right now, and there will be a whole theme on “gray areas” later on.
If you’re working on determining your fears, I hope these help. My next post will be on what we can do once we have determined what are fears are, and how (if) they’re holding us back.
And to close, a final reminder: fear is a natural part of life. It’s ok to feel afraid. I’d venture to say nobody lives without some fear – even if it’s a small, less-obvious fear that they may not even be aware of. Having fear is part of the human experience. We don’t have to be fearless. We just need to work on identifying those fears, and how we can best work with them to move towards our goals and dreams.