Are hidden fears holding you back … without you knowing it? Once you’ve dragged a fear out into the open, you can work out ways to cope with it, live with it, protect against it…But you have to find it first.
Clues to fear are when you find yourself saying: ‘Oh, I can’t; I daren’t; I shouldn’t; I mustn’t; I couldn’t do that … I’d be so embarrassed … I wouldn’t know what to say … they’d think I was stupid … I might not like it … I’d miss my usual routine … foods … environment too much. …’ You have lots of good, rational, sensible reasons for all these hesitations, of course. But as often as not, what lies underneath is just plain fear.
Fear is like pain. Nature evolved it as an information system. When you meet a sabre-tooth tiger, you don’t need to work out intellectually that those teeth could do quite a bit of damage. You run automatically. Fear stops you doing stupid things and mobilises your energies to get you to safety
When someone you love is in danger, when you find a lump, when the airplane drops a couple of thousand feet … then fear is out in the open, operating the way it’s supposed to. It’ horrible, but at least you’re able to confront it and look for ways to cope with it or live with it.
The problem fears are the ones we don’t confront, maybe don’t acknowledge or try to hide from ourselves, maybe don’t even know about. They hold us back without us knowing why. When you get right down to it, most of the barriers in our lives are of our own making. And most of the reasons we create these barriers is fear. Quite often, those fears won’t be sensible and protective but silly, artificial, essentially meaningless … based on a childhood hangover or false assumption. But so long as the fear is hidden, you never get a chance to find out just how realistic it really is and get it into sensible perspective.
How to find hidden fears
Listen to your excuses. It’s human nature to find good reasons for what we do, even when we’re really acting from pure instinct or unthinking emotion. So fear tends to lurk behind a maze of rationalisations and excuses. This means your energy goes into trying to deal with the excuses, instead of the fear which is producing them.
For instance, do you say: ‘Well, I’m trying to get fit, I want to lose weight, but …’? You haven’t time, you’ve a bad back, it’s too much trouble to eat properly, you just get so hungry, exercise is so boring, life isn’t worth living without chips and chocolate …
If you try and deal with these excuses at face value you probably find yourself playing the ‘Yes, but’ game:
You: ‘I can’t eat a low-fat lunch, everything in the canteen is fattening.’
Friend: ‘They must do a salad, couldn’t you have that?’
You: ‘Yes, but then I’m still hungry and I can’t work properly.’
Friend: ‘Couldn’t you take something to work?’
You: ‘Yes, but I simply don’t have time in the mornings.’
Friend: ‘Couldn’t you cook it the night before?’
You: ‘Yes, but I’ve enough to cope with doing the family meal in the evenings…‘
And so on, indefinitely. Getting rid of one excuse only produces another.There’s only one way out of this game, and that’s to stop playing it. To simply say, OK, so I don’t want to do this. Why?
Let your feelings guide you. The useful answer to WHY you don’t want to do something, why fear is holding you back, is always going to be not verbal or intellectual, but emotional. Take a quiet few moments to imagine yourself in the situation you’re avoiding, and open yourself to the feelings that produces. Let yourself react physically. Do you tense up, huddle in on yourself, find yourself wincing, feeling sick, gritting your teeth, clenching your fists? Read your own body language, and as often as not it’ll tell you that underneath your excuses and reasons why not … is fear.
Be specific. Be VERY specific … Fear of what? Don’t settle for a vague, abstract answer, but pin it down to details, so you can confront it and plan for it. ‘Change is always frightening.’ Precisely what aspects of this particular change are frightening, and why, and how could you cope with them? ‘I’m afraid of failing,’ Exactly what could happen if you failed, and would it really be so awful? What emergency plans could you make? ‘It might upset my family.’ What would they do? How would you feel if they did it? How could you cope with your feelings and theirs? ‘It would be awful.’ Would the discomfort of foregoing chocolate, missing your favourite telly program, sitting down and writing that overdue letter really, seriously, be more than you can endure?
Pin down those what if’s. Your what if’s are useful pointers towards underlying fears. For each one, ask yourself exactly what would really happen. ‘What if … I get muddled … I can’t cope … I’m the fattest person in the gym … I can’t stick to a diet … I fail the interview…they laugh at me, don’t like me, reject me, find out I’m not much good really.’
So what would really, seriously happen if …? You’re afraid people will laugh at you? Will everyone you know really stand around pointing and jeering? It’s more like a playground nightmare than a sensible adult worry. It might have been a valid fear when you were ten, but now? You’re afraid you’ll fail? Everyone has failures, and you know it. It’s not fun, but it’s not the end of the world. You can’t succeed without failing, and you certainly can’t learn anything without failing. And so on. Once you start analysing them, you can turn your what if’s into so what’s.
And once you’ve actually dragged a fear out into the open, you can work out ways to cope with it, live with it, protect against it. You can stop it holding you back without you even knowing why.
But you have to find it first.