Fear limits the love you can share. Fear limits the love you can accept. Whereas fear limits, love expands. Where fear pulls us back, love draws us closer. Where fear sees risks, love sees possibilities. I don’t mean to imply that they are opposites or mirror each other. The absence of fear doesn’t equal the presence of love. It is perhaps better to think of fear as being an unsupportive condition for the growth of love. In spite of its significant dangers, fear is a valuable and frequent human emotion. There’s a pretty big difference between the useful kind of fear (like the spike we get when we see a large bear at the edge of our camp site) from the fear that gets triggered by the emotional traumas that we carry with us from our past. John Gottman calls the latter enduring vulnerabilities. Unfortunately, we confuse the two in everyday life.
I awoke with a start, instantly alert
Heart pumping, pupils dilated scanning
Still dark and deep quiet disconcerts
Fear perches between my dreams and awakening
Here we sit, the fear that knows my fears
The piercing eye and judging hand take steady aim
On hopes and loves, and all that matters, and new frontiers
Disheartened by praise then blame, malaise and shame
Unexpectedly, instead of hiding, I turn to embrace
Without need for words nor charm nor deflecting gaze
I accept my fear, uncertain is even the worst case
Life has sharp edges, living fully cuts both ways
I have found that it helps to better understand my enduring vulnerabilities, the life experiences and emotional traumas that form the basis of the core belief that gives strength to these fears. Usually, there’s more than one core belief about yourself and others that is involved. My very first post here deals with coming to terms with a set of core beliefs about myself and how the world worked that were fueling my fear of abandonment and failure. At first, I thought that deeper understanding would get rid of these fears. Well, that’s not so easy. I’m not without fear today. I had to accept them and not push against them in order for me to not be controlled by them. Not only do I need to accept those fears, I need to let myself feel them fully. This was the hardest part. Allowing myself to feel the fear and anxiety, not cutting it off, while avoiding feeding it with additional negativity. Trying to adopt a mentally neutral stance while being consumed by fear and anxiety is a trick and a half. I really didn’t understand how to do it until I applied the idea to physical pain when running. Like riding a bike, it kind of only really made sense after being able to do it.
I don’t expect it to go away anymore. With a better sense of how those fears developed and how it feels when they are operating, I’m now often able to catch my negative crazy train before it leaves the station. With a lot of practice, I’m better able to see the cycle of anxiety and negative thoughts for what they are – mostly false, yet also partially true. I am less fearful, however, of the anxiety and feelings I get when those fears pop up. I know now that they won’t burn me up and they’ll subside if I lean into them. As a result, I feel more able to do those things I fear.
Recognizing that my fears aren’t completely false helped a ton too. We often get into trouble by trying to dismiss our fears, even those that are founded on those enduring vulnerabilities. For me, it all boils down to the inherent uncertainty of the world. There are literally no guarantees (except death). My partners can state a deep intention, but they cannot guarantee that nothing will ever change. There is a possibility that the new friend or partner of hers could shift our relationship in a way that is painful to me. To ignore the reality of this uncertainty is to choose to not see the world as it is. And, I try hard to see as clearly as my little brain allows. And, that leaves me with only one choice: learn to accept an uncertain world. I can’t say that I’m happy about uncertainty. I face it along with the feelings it brings up.
The uncertainty is real. So, I try to focus on what I can control. When the fear of abandonment grips me, I know I cannot prevent it from happening. It is not completely up to me. When uncertainty about how a partner’s new interest might impact our relationship snares me, I know that I cannot predict how things will play out. Instead of playing multi-dimensional chess in my head to try to work out the exact set of moves I need to make to have things work out just the way I want, I turn my attention inward. I know how fear works against love. And, so I work directly with that. I focus on keeping my heart open to the love that’s around me and keeping myself open to that love growing and expanding. When I feel the self-protective move to close off because of the fear, I focus on softening and staying vulnerable. That’s the essence right there, staying vulnerable. It is the key to intimacy. And, intimacy feeds love faster than fear can diminish it.
My fears may be realized. It is something I cannot predict. I know, however, that my best chance at joy lies in giving love without letting the fear that it won’t be returned close me off. My major task in an uncertain world is feeling and giving the fullest measure of love I can manage. I actively cultivate this style of loving and aim to get better at it every day.
Our culture encourages us very strongly to avoid negative feelings. Walk through a drug store, glance at the pharmacy shelves, and you’ll see row after row of pills to treat “symptoms” both physical and emotional.
We’re stronger than we give ourselves credit for. Those symptoms are there for a reason. I agree with you: we can’t stop feeling “part” of life. We have to feel all of it or none of it.
Treating symptoms is occasionally valuable. The habit of avoiding discomfort is a disability.
I agree. A habit of avoiding discomfort is unhealthy. And, it is definitely a way our culture is inhibits individual growth.