What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
“As scary as living can be, stop and think how you will feel if, on your deathbed, you look back on your life and conclude that you never really showed up because you were afraid. Isn’t that grim prospect more frightening than facing the fear itself, up front, right now?” - James Hollis PhD.
So perhaps you might ask yourself this question, “What would I do if I weren’t afraid?”
Fear; it has a hold over many of us, and for some of us a chilling, paralysing grip. What are we afraid of? Often we are afraid of what might happen, something we imagine will happen, some future disaster. In reality, worrying about what might happen is like bleeding before you’ve been shot. It’s a waste of your energy and will thwart your happiness. Furthermore worrying can become a habit.
“An evil corrosive thread and the fabric of our lives is shot through with it”, so said Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. He was describing fear in alcoholics but in reality this can be applied far more widely. I have known many people to be moderate drinkers or non-drinkers and still be wrapped up in paralysing fear.
Fear isn’t a bad thing in many situations. It will prevent us from doing irrationally dangerous things like walking in the traffic or putting our hand into a fire. Fear teaches us caution and wisdom. However, if it becomes distorted by imagination or some real traumatising event it can become impossible to control from which phobias, obsessions, panic attacks and other irrational behaviours might emerge. This kind of fear is like the content of Pandora’s box, once released its seemingly impossible to get back in the box.
So where do we learn to be fearful? It can start from strict discipline at home when our parents and grandparents strive to impose their digested ideas of what is acceptable behaviour and not. Then there is school and time keeping, behaviour in the class room, respect of elders and betters. There’s tribal belief, which has a powerful hold on us, maintaining tribal loyalty and distrust of others, tribal rites and traditions sometimes involving rite of passage and physical marking. Then there is peer pressure, the risk of being judged by your peers if you don’t conform or fit in.
These influences in our early lives will mostly carry a heavy penalty, one that cuts to the core, scarring our souls. That penalty is shame. Shame through failure, through humiliation, through public ridicule and exposure, being seen as less than and feeling less than.
It may be possible there was a time when we could take these fears somewhere and discuss them and in so doing take away their power. For most of us this is no longer the case. Non-disclosure and secrecy, often fuelled by shame, keep us silent and in suffering.
Facing our fear and working through it can be a daunting prospect, but often when it is faced with another person’s support it can be overcome and this is where the power of counselling and psychotherapy can help. If any of this is feeling uncomfortable or familiar, the chances are your life is being affected by fear. In reality, the only thing to fear is the fear itself. If you can face your fear and discuss it with someone it will lose its power and that is a fact.
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About Paul Henry
Before I trained in psychotherapeutic counselling I spent many years in the creative industries so I am familiar with anxiety and stress related conditions, particularly performance anxiety. I also have twenty years experience of working with alcohol and substance misuse. I am also a professional mediator and a Quaker.