There’s a trend in the coaching world to talk about fear as a demon or gremlin; something dreaded and to be avoided. You know, something to wrestle to the ground, hogtie and conquer. Notice my Texas-side coming out?
That was my mindset too for the longest time until I realized that this “conquering” wasn’t changing fear’s presence. In fact it was only making is seem larger with uglier fangs and a scarier demeanor. I wanted to be “fearless” but instead this hairy monster in my closet that needed banishment was growing and all I wanted to do was stay in bed with the covers over my head. In fact, there was a time in my life where fear grew so much to me I needed anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication*.
Fearless, I was trying to be. But it was something I was not and I started to lose hope.
It wasn’t until I started to recognize fear for what it was and how it was showing up that I was able to make peace and show respect. I can now accept that fear can be present without me being overwhelmed by it.
How Fear Shows Up
Most of us think of fear as that sickening feeling when we are on the top floor of a high rise or on a roller coaster: the physical reactions of sweating palms and a flutter in the stomach. For some, the same physical feelings can show up when you are faced with the unknown. Dealing with technology can bring out fear in some, public speaking for others.
At its core, fear is a basic feeling that helps us survive. The commonly known fight-or-flight response which elicits the very physical responses that you are familiar with. There was a time in our history when these responses were needed on a daily basis. Today, our fear shows up less in the fight-or-flight and more in subtle forms that we may not even be aware of.
Fear’s name today isn’t so much in fight-or-flight, it’s the Inner Critic. The noisy non-stop conversations that tell us we should be better, do better, look better, everything better.
I want you to imagine two chairs facing one another and you are in one of them. Let’s put this big hairy monster (or however you personify Fear) in the other. What is Fear saying to to you? Most often Fear isn’t saying “I’m going to eat you like the wild animals of your ancestors…” Instead your Fear shows up with a critical conversation, the inner mean girl or the Inner Meanie.
Your Inner Critic is the Voice of Fear
She’s a noisy mutha but would you believe that she only has your best interest at heart? She (or he) was created to keep you safe and protected, most likely from an experience that left you feeling embarrassed, let down or maybe physically unsafe.
Paying attention to these ever-present conversations is the first step in learning about our fears and how to embrace them.
What is your inner critic saying? The voice that says you aren’t good enough, smart enough, deserve enough. The “who do you think you are…?”, “You’ve screwed up before so you’ll do the same again…”, “You don’t deserve that…”.
We may be so accustomed to these conversations that we don’t hear them or most often we try to ignore them. Don’t be fooled, these conversations sink in, deeper and deeper into the fabric of who we are and how we see the world around us. We are so busy trying to ignore them that we fail to take the time to understand what is really trying to be shared.
There needs to be an ongoing form of curiosity when finally paying attention to the Inner Meanie. This can be hard especially when the voice that we hear is of a critical parent or partner. But the curiosity can allow us to be open to what we hear with a teflon protective coating: we are going to explore without letting the words stick.
The first step is to look below the words and see what is Fear really trying to tell you. The comment “You always mess things up, why would this be any different?” could really be “You made a mistake that one time that was really embarrassing and I don’t want you to feel that way again.”
The “You don’t deserve to be loved…” could be “Your last marriage ended with such heartbreak and you lost so much of yourself, I want your heart protected.” Or maybe “Your last marriage ended and you know that you made your own bad choices in the relationship. You’re not proud of them and afraid that those mistakes make you a bad person.“
Leaving my 9-to-5
A common one I experienced within the last couple of years, “Who are you to leave the comforts of a 9-to-5 and start your business? Remember those financial mistakes 25 years ago? That will be you again…” As I listened and explored I realized that security is important to me especially coming from a childhood of many moves and family changes. I also still living with shame from mistakes many years ago. And with further exploration I also realized that I was holding onto a false sense of security with my 9-to 5 and this inner conversation was more about me trying to protect myself from unstableness.
I wasn’t fearless when I left the corporate world to start my own business. In fact I worked like a mad woman, took on clients that weren’t a good match and lost sight of what I really wanted to build. Again fear was showing up and I was still trying to wrestle with it.
You see, fear doesn’t stop existing but it does get easier to deal with. And being aware of our own inner critic voices while stretching the borders of our “safety zone” can lead to accomplishing those “maybe somedays”.
Fear can be noisy and a non-stop conversation that can seem overwhelming. But when we look at what fear is trying to tell us and give it a loving voice, there is so much to learn. You will find in time, that Fear becomes less of a scary monster and more of a hairy puppy that needs to be trained on how to sit and stay.
Sending your Big Hairy Fear Monster a hug.
P.S. Speaking of fear…I’m sharing something with you. I am starting a podcast! Midlife Schmidlife will be launching June 13th and I’m looking for guests! You can find more about the podcast here >> http://elizabethapplegate.com/podcast-guest/ Please share with anyone you know that has turned their “maybe someday” into today.
* I always advocate seeking medical attention when needed. There should be no shame in taking medication when life gets to be too much. If you are thinking this may be something you need as well, please ask the advice of your doctor.