While most emotions are seen as valid in some way, there is a common demonization of fear within the personal growth and coaching industries. People often dismiss their experiences as “just my fear talking”, in order to indicate that what they are experiencing is not really valid or worth taking seriously.
So people overwrite this fear, and they overwrite their experience, for the sake of pushing through and doing something anyway.
While I understand the purpose of this dismissal, and while I think there is some wisdom to be found in this perspective, I worry about applying it to every scenario where we experience fear or concern, because it teaches us to ignore our emotional intuitive responses to situations. What if every response we experience has some value, or wisdom, or has something to show us?
I’d like to offer insight into how we can be more generous towards ourselves, allowing ourselves to feel the full range of our expressive and emotional responses – including fear – in a healthy manner.
Recognizing the potential value in engaging on a deeper level
There’s often more value in becoming intimate with our response, and being curious about it, than in trying to determine which version of a natural response is “better” so that we can dismiss the other.
We spend so much time teasing apart our unconscious responses to discover what the “true” response is vs. the “habit” response, purely so that we can dismiss the habit response – but what if we encouraged and fostered more engagement with our curiosity around all our responses – even habit, or ‘trauma response’?
For instance, if something comes up in your life that you feel fear or anxiety around, there’s a question of whether this is your deeper intuition telling you this isn’t the right path, or whether it’s ‘just’ fear or anxiety, or some other habitual response.
Instead of engaging with this divisive approach, what if you instead brought attention to understanding what is having this response arise? Are there parts of this situation that you are genuinely afraid about? What if knowing that something is scary for you is useful information, rather than something to override (out of some idea that feeling fear is weak or less evolved)?
We often label things as “fear” or “anxiety” because we haven’t examined them closely enough to understand what they actually are, so what if you looked deeper into your response to discover the underlying feeling that caused it?
Bringing awareness to your questioning
An important element of engaging more deeply with our emotional responses is to bring more awareness to the mechanism that you use to question yourself. This is actually the exact same mechanism that generates self-doubt, so if we let ourselves get caught up in our questioning we can sometimes be feeding the self-doubting mechanism, too.
When something happens that fills your body with some sort of fear or anxiety, the self-doubting mechanism is what kicks in when you start to look inward and tells you that you shouldn’t be afraid, that there’s no reason to be afraid, that you’re actually safe here. It can be misleading, because it squashes your natural responses that are trying to tell you something.
This self-doubting mechanism can keep you from accessing the underlying reasons for your discomfort, because it tries to convince you that there aren’t any.
Your self-doubting mechanism is the antithesis of exercising trust in yourself. So, focus on cultivating an awareness of the self-doubting mechanism to help you more easily distinguish when it is overriding your deeper emotions and responses.
When you recognize self-doubt coming up, ask instead, what would an act of self-trust be? In what small way can I trust my responses, rather than question them?
Trusting yourself anyway
One result that comes from recognizing your self-doubt mechanism, and from trusting your inner-responses despite that mechanism trying to tell you there’s ‘no reason’ to be afraid, is that it slows things down. It slows down the urgency of needing to know why you feel a certain way, deciding on a response, and instead allows you to stay with your actual feelings and sensations. This slow down helps open up all of the options you can choose from, so that you can see every potential pathway and choose with a sense of calmness rather than from urgency.
One of the unreasonable expectations we put on our intuition, bodily wisdom, and deeper wisdom is that we obligate them to always be right. As soon as they aren’t – as soon as we make one little mistake or miss one little piece of information – then we suddenly no longer trust ourselves. We decide that we can’t trust our intuition to make good, informed decisions, and we begin allowing that self-doubting mechanism to creep in more often.
We have to be able to trust our intuition, to take action in connection with it. Then, when we realize we made a mistake, we must be able to not allow that to be the be-all and end-all. We must sometimes be allowed to make decisions from fear, and not have them be so heavy.
Getting in relationship with fear and anxiety
The final aspect of conquering the fear vs. intuition dilemma is allowing ourselves to get in relationship with fear and anxiety.
This is not about getting rid of fear and anxiety; rather, it’s about asking how we can get to that place where our fear and anxiety has a place within our range of emotions, and where we know how to handle it without diminishing its value or what it could tell us about our experiences.
One way to do this is to set yourself a practice, where you engage in these kinds of decisions on a regular basis. All of us have been conditioned in some way to override certain yeses and certain nos that come up naturally for us, so it takes time to become more in connection and in communication with the parts of us that allow us to go through the practice of assessing our yeses and nos.
This practice takes the form of asking ourselves questions, like “Do I want to wear lipstick today? Should I have oatmeal for breakfast?
Simple questions, ones that aren’t life or death if we get them “wrong”, are opportunities to practice trusting yourself.
Some of us have years of experience avoiding, repressing, and denying certain things, so it’s important to allow ourselves time to unwind.
Slow it down.
It’s often the ways in which we have taken on other people’s urgency for so long that make us feel there is urgency in our own lives.
There is real value in recognizing the fast-paced anxiety that comes up around making a decision in certain moments. Instead of indulging the anxious urge to choose now, make a conscious effort to give time and space for that decision.