What is fear?
When I take a moment and think about what fear is, my first thoughts are it’s something dark, malleable, heavy yet agile, secretive, destructive, burdensome, all while being quiet and seemingly manipulative.
But here’s a question: have you ever seen fear?
The only answer is no.
Fear does have a physical shape, though. It does create a real physiological response within the body. But consider this, it really only takes its shape and manifests a bodily reaction when it’s ‘triggered.’
Fear can only be triggered by a stimulus.
Within this post, I really want to draw attention to people’s power over their fears.
1) Fear is built into the brain as part of the human condition to keep people alive and safe
2) It is only prompted and sends the body a physiological message only when a stimulus is introduced.
That’s fear de-bunked. Now, let’s talk about how fear shows up in our lives and how we allow it to affect us.
We all have the ability to experience fear when prompted with big or even small life decisions. However, most of these times, the fear that creeps up on is inaccurate and reflects how we learned to fear.
Recently, as you might have seen in my last blog post, I am making the journey from my head to my heart, and with this post, it has to do with walking into my childhood.
What this means is, I am considering the ways that life affects me, how I mentally translate it, and then how my heart is affected. With fear in mind, I want to better understand how my heart can navigate incoming fears.
I tell myself stories when it comes to fear. Example: In the past, I was paralyzed by conflict, to the point that I became nauseous, my palms went clammy, and my neck started stiffening. Up until two weeks ago, I believed that this experience was being done to me, and in no way was it self-induced.
I realize now; I was wrong, I was creating my experience.
I am 100% justified in my story of fear. My childhood was steeped in fear. Fear of my father, fear of our family not having enough money, and fear of getting into trouble (this happened a lot as a kid, #hyper).
That said, while I am justified in my childhood story around fear since I painted it, the question is, is my childhood story around fear still accurate, and better yet, does it serve me still?
From the examples I’ve already provided, the stimulus in my childhood was real, was threatening, and as a perfect response, fear was accurately set in motion. But I am no longer a little boy, and what was truly threatening, is longer in front of me.
But here’s what I’ve recently learned: while my life’s circumstances are different twenty some years later, the story fear has in my life has not evolved—I’ve learned to fear a certain way.
If I don’t want to experience fear in similar ways as I did as a child, I have to unlearn my fear’s story and tell my head and heart a new one. The body needs to have fear as a safety mechanism to keep us alive; we should not attempt to wish it away. Rather, let’s inform the little child within that we are no longer small and so fragile and that we can operate differently as a result.
Picture this: imagine yourself as accurately as you can when you were around the ages of 4-7. Remember situations, cycles, places, facial expressions, and the things you were afraid of.
Here’s the trick, many of us cannot remember early memories, but this exercise makes a body connection when you tap into the feelings you had vs. the exact memories.
What that means is, whether what you remember is accurate or not, the feelings you conjure up inside while you do this exercise are real and important.
Once you have come up with some phenomena, ask yourself these questions:
- Do the same situations still present themselves in the exact same way today?
- Are you still the same size?
- Do you rationalize and make sense of life in the same way?
- Have you developed nuanced ways of seeing the world since being 4-7?
If you are reading this post, your answers should be as follows: no, no, no, and yes.
Congratulations, you are ready and have seen with your own eyes the need to repaint your story around fear. This is essential for our growth towards wholeness as adults.
While it may seem funny and/or awkward, I suggest taking some time and having a chat with your inner child. I’m serious; it’s a very powerful, emotional, strange, and often healing conversation.
Key elements to the conversation are: your words NEED to come from a place of compassion. Pose yes or no questions, and use affirmations.
Me: “Hey buddy, are you scared of something happening to you?”
Little boy: “Yes.”
Me: “Are you afraid of being hurt by others the same way you were hurt by X?”
Little boy: “Yes.”
Me: “I need you to know something—you are totally safe. We’ve grown up now, look at us, we’re not small and easily hurt. Did you know that when life gets scary, or conflict shows up, you make me react as if we’re still 5?”
Little boy: “Yes.”
Me: “Cool. Do you think we could do this a bit differently now that you see this?”
Little boy: “Yes.”
Does this form of question and response make sense?
It’s a way of giving the little child within us access to repaint our perception of threatening fears, and to make them more accurate. I know it can seem a bit goofy to walk this line, but what if on the other side of it, we can experience relief?
What if by doing some work with our fear, learning to embrace it, rush towards it, gain access to it, and retell its story, we gain accurate perspective with the choices in front of us, and this causes us to show up stronger, more empowered, courageous, bright-eyed, back straight, and ready to pounce?
What would life begin to look like then?
Do you think life would show up differently for you, or in the very least, it would feel different? I wager a tall bet saying yes!
I’m going to continue to write about fear and our ability to transform our relationship to it if and when we decide to embrace it. I’m no expert, but after practicing these exercises in my own life, I am amazed at how my reality is changing.
What are other questions we can pose to our little inner child—one’s that can potentially unlock our old stories? Please share, we can grow from listening to others’ experiences.