"When fear ceases to scare you it cannot stay." – Gary Zukav
Fear is the most primitive emotion we have. We share it with our distant ancestors, who needed it more than we do to survive, but it was passed on just the same. The truth is that fear gets a bad rap. When we think of fear our immediate response is that we don’t want to experience it, because we associate it with a very negative outcome. Since we associate it with bad things happening, we understandably avoid it and try to prevent fear from entering into our lives as much as possible.
This is a huge shame however, because fear is one of our greatest teachers. All of our emotions can enlighten and guide us if we're willing to let them, but fear is misperceived; it has become the ugly stepsister of the feeling family. The truth is that the better we understand something, the more logically we can deal with it.
Fear is part of our human operating system, and it’s designed to keep us alive. It is wired into our brains and body, just like anger and joy. Although we may not like fear, we need it to stay safe and to interpret the world accurately so we don’t do stupid things.
When we develop a resistant and negative relationship with our fear, we’re actually turning away a valuable resource that can offer us solid wisdom and unspoken advice. Learning how to listen to our fear will tell us when to feel safe, whether we should proceed forward, or if we should abort our mission.
When we ignore our fear or try to suppress it we actually make it bigger and more terrifying. We have to learn instead to develop a relationship with our fear so we can work with it, understand it, and get along with it. Like any relationship, the one we develop with fear will influence our well-being and how we experience the world.
Here are three ways to transform fear:
Fear is a reaction to an external stimulus that triggers parts of our brains, sending signals to our bodies. Those signals are designed to help us do one of three things: fight, flee, or freeze. Blood is pumped to the limbs, pupils dilate, we become more alert, and we have an incredible amount of energy to expel. It’s easy to interpret this feeling as “scary,” but if we recognize it as a beautiful performance by our bodies that helps us stay alive we can begin to accept that our fear is our friend.
Where do you feel fear in your body? How do you know when you’re afraid? When was the last time you felt a rush of fear?
Inviting fear in is a much better tactic than trying to shut it out. It will just keep banging on the door because there is no way to get rid of it forever. Everyone lives with fear all the time, it’s just more prominent depending on the life context of the person who's experiencing it. Learning to welcome it, stay with it, and become curious about why it’s visiting gives us the chance to get to know it a little better.
The more intimate you can become with your fear, the more easily you'll flow through the feeling when it surfaces. What does your fear look like? What color is it? What does it feel like to not act on your fear?
Dance With It
As we move toward embracing our fear we can then start to move with it, and even let it guide us. Our fear can bring great lessons if we can be teachable. Our fear can show us where we need to focus more energy, when it’s time to seek help, whether a relationship is healthy for us, and if we’re on the right path. Distinguishing between our true fear—the one we know well—and our false fear will help us use this emotion for our benefit.
Let fear be your guide and trust it in the same way you would your brain. When did fear teach you about yourself in the past? What message does fear deliver when it arrives?
Finding the courage to let your fear out of the closet and having the strength to face it long enough to learn from it will immediately shift your relationship to the world. You’ll feel stronger and more productive because you won’t have fear lurking in the dark waiting to pounce. Let fear motivate and push you to do great things instead of allowing it to keep you small and stuck where you are.