Our problem is not fear. Our problem is that we misuse fear.
In the movie, Haunted Mansion, the children of one of the main characters appear with a pair of ghosts who have told the story of the Mansion and why they, (the ghosts,) are stuck there. When the kids’ father rushes into the scene, chased there by a band of ghost instruments, they try desperately to tell him what they just learned.
Even though has just come from a conversation with an emanation in a crystal ball, and even though he has just been chased down a hallway by a marching band of instruments with no human players, he tries to blame everything he’s seen on the chicken they ate for dinner. The ghost who cooked that meal for them swoops down the flight of stairs and screams, It’s Not the Chicken!!
Some people will tell themselves anything in order to push away from fear.
Because of Fear
Some people don’t go to therapy, because of fear.
Some people don’t take risks in relationships, even though it risks the relationship, because of fear.
Some people sabotage goals they have worked hard for, because of fear.
And sometimes, fear keeps us alive.
Fear as Data
Imagine for a moment that you are out in the woods camping. It’s 3am and you awaken to the sound of snapping twigs.
Is it a cute little insomniac bunny rabbit out for a nighttime nosh? Is it a hungry bear coming to eat the food you carefully hoisted up in a bag on a pole? Is it a hungry, angry bear coming to eat you for being in its favorite place in the woods? Is it a serial killer who has been waiting for just the perfect victim and you are it?!?!?! You really don’t know what it is, but you do know… there’s a something.
You aren’t wrong. That twig didn’t snap itself. You do need to know how to assess the threat. The fear response was there to tell you to pay attention. Now that you’re paying attention, it’s time to get off your last nerve and think through your choices. You can use fear well.
If you can’t seem to find your way to a rational risk assessment, try The 5 P’s, or sincerely answering your anxious questions. Use your vagus nerve relief techniques (see the videos under “Changing Your Anxious Chemistry,”) over and over again if you need to.
Listen to the message of the fear: “There’s a something,” without spinning out into adrenaline-fueled awfulizations about what the something might be.
Long before the movie Monsters, Inc. came out, I wrote a children’s story about a girl named Ella who was convinced there was a monster living in her closet. She kept trying to tell her parents, but they didn’t believe her.
Eventually, Ella’s mother agrees to go with Ella to the closet door and open it together so that she would see there was no monster. They bravely turn the doorknob together. Ella, her mother, and the monster all shriek in surprise when the door is opened.
As long as the closet door was closed, the monster seemed like an impossibly terrifying entity, sure to gobble up the little girl. However, when she faced down the monster with a trusted other, she found out that he was really just some big, goofy critter named Fred that eats socks.
Pro tip: All human healing happens in the context of relationship. I’ll share more about that in the next blog.
Using Fear Well
Ella’s fear told her, “There is a something!” Once she found a way to be safe enough, she was able to make an accurate assessment and respond accordingly. Consequently, she got a new friend, and an explanation as to why so many of her socks seemed to disappear in the laundry.
Had the monster proved to be a real threat, she and her parents would have had the data they needed to make a genuine safety plan with their logical minds fully on board.
Either way, they will have used their fear well.
Coming Up Next
Next week, let’s look together at how these same dynamics can push us to hold destructive “Isms” (like racism, ableism, sexism, and so on.) We’ll also look at how safety and connection serve us as well as they did Ella, giving us much better options for managing our community-level fears. I hope you’ll join me.
Is fear clouding your ability to make action plans? Contact Tiffany today. Let’s figure it out together.