As I write this blog, my splendidly imperfect dog, Frankie, clings to my leg like Velcro. He’s terrified. . . of the garage door opening below. I am not sure why he has this fear. I guess, from an evolutionary perspective, a garage door opening in the wild would offer a significant reason for a dog to pause and get the hell out of dodge. So I acknowledge he’s scared; however, I do not reinforce it by petting him and saying “it’s ok.” Petting dogs when they’re scared is like saying, “yes, please go on being scared.” Instead, it’s best to show the dog you’re okay, the world is not falling apart, so they are ok too.
In the spirit of Halloween, one of my favorite holidays (Btw – I am dressing up as Scarlett from GI Joe, because she is a red head that totally kicks ass), I am writing about fear. We all have it. In many cases it serves a good purpose. We should be scared of snakes, because a bite from a poisonous one is bad news. We should be scared of jumping out of a perfectly operational airplane for fun . . . what if that parachute (and back up chute) does not deploy? We should be scared of shopping at Target on black Friday. Fighting for an x-Box at mid-night with a group of determined mothers could end your life . . .
However, Fear shows up when it is not really needed. Our “fight or flight” system gets activated – our heart starts beating rapidly, blood rushes to our extremities, our digestive system shuts down (definitely should not be munching on Doritos when in dangre. . .actually best to avoid Doritos altogether), our thought process narrows to the ultimate goal of escaping danger. Interestingly, the majority of our greatest fears result from the stories we tell ourselves versus reality. As I reflect upon my life, my worst experiences were not the nightmares that I dreamed up in my head, they were obstacles that landed unexpectedly in my life. Once they disembarked, I had tasks to do, things to figure out, breaths to take . . . Fear certainly showed up in those moments. Fear said some pretty awful things, “you’re broken . . . people are going to think you’re pretty f’d up . . . no one else you know is in this kind of mess . . . stop crying . . .everyone is going to see how scared you are . . .” Initially, in these moments, I felt compelled to hide Fear . . . kind of like when you realize you’ve worn mismatched shoes or earrings. You do what you can to direct attention away from these flaws. However, I discovered the more you try to silence Fear, the more Fear speaks up and says, “Hey, you should be damn scared right now. You are all alone and all you’ve got is me. No one is going to understand how terrified you are like I do.”
I have made peace with the fact that Fear is going to show up from time-to-time. I also acknowledge that Fear kept me safe and saved my life several times. When I was quite young, my parents did everything in their power to keep me safe. However, outside of their loving care, I encountered situations that were dangerous and where being in a state of fight-or- flight served me well. As an adult woman, these dangers are no longer present in my life. However, certain situations trigger Fear, and we need to have a talk.
Me: Fear what in the hell are you doing here? I don’t need you right now. What do I need to do to make you go away? Seriously, you’re getting in the way of me being present to life.
Fear: I am here to help you. What if something really bad is around the corner? I can protect you. You know that. We can think of all the possible scenarios which could harm you and then come up with a plan to avoid them. We’re good at this together.
Me: Thank you for showing up during the times in my life I really needed you. I don’t particularly need you right now. If you want to hang out with me, you need to zip your lip.
Fear: Ugh, that’s so hard for me to do. I’m so used to talking with you all the time. Particularly when I’m worried that someone is going to hurt you.
Me: I know, but I’ve got this now.
Fear: I’m worried about you.
Me: Is there anything I can do to make you feel better about leaving me alone?
Fear: Connect with people who love and care about you, so I can know you’re safe or conversely they can help you shut me up if I am prattling along.
Like my sweet, scared, splendidly imperfect dog, it’s best to show Fear (when not needed . . . this does not apply to being chased by a Zombie . . .you totally need Fear to help you out with that one) you’re okay, the world is not falling apart, so they are ok too. I invite you to tell unneeded Fear, “Hey, zip your lip. I’m trying to attend to life at the moment!”