We had some pretty intense discussion happening in the comments section of last week’s talking truth to fear post.
And not intense in a bad way. The opposite, in fact. Really good points being brought up, people showing up and respectfully debating ideas and, in some cases, respectfully disagreeing. I’m loving it.
These intelligent, compassionate conversations have been continuing in email exchanges and on other people’s blogs, and it was really cool to see how my thoughts inspired a ton of other blog posts which work with these concepts and take them in different directions.
One of the weirder things that’s coming up, though, is that several people have been writing in to thank me for getting them to face their fears.
And yeah, it’s completely awesome that they’re having breakthroughs (yay, breakthroughs!) and of course it’s always sweet when someone gives me credit for sparking or facilitating that kind of fabulous moment of bing!
It’s just that I’m feeling a little bit worried that maybe my actual point was lost.
Or partially lost.
Because I’m not trying to get you to face your fears. I don’t even think you have to face your fears. In fact, I think that — quite often, at least — facing your fears is totally the wrong approach.
Of course it might be that we’re actually all saying the same thing, and it’s just a semantic misunderstanding.
Because words can be pretty loaded with subtle, often hidden connotations. And I totally get that what one person means with a certain word can be very, very different than what another person means. So I’m going to do my best to be very clear about what I mean by “face your fear”, and then we can see if we’re all on the same page or not. And who knows, maybe we are.
The problem with “Oh, you should face your fears.”
Actually I have two problems with the “you should face your fears” sentence. Both from the linguistic standpoint and the more theoretical change-yer-habits standpoint.
The first thing not working for me with this sentence is the “should”.
There are no shoulds in habits work. You don’t have to face your fears.
Sure, you can if you want to. If it’s empowering for you and it works. But you don’t have to. There are plenty of ways to resolve fear and even to heal it that don’t involve direct confrontation or meeting it face to face.
Face being the second issue I have with fear-facing. More about that.
“Facing” fear is scary. And not fun. And often not even necessary.
To “face” your fear is, in fact, a thing which causes fear. Which it should. Because it can imply direct confrontation. Face down. Face off. Face up to. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!
Sometimes confrontation involves violence. Or at least potential violence. Standing up to a bully. Readying yourself for a classic old-timey Western movie showdown. Pistols at dawn. Stuff like that.
And sometimes a confrontation is more about the emotional discomfort. Like holding an intervention to get someone to realize he has a drug problem.
Either way, this kind of uncomfortable facing stuff isn’t something most of us would actually want to do with our fears. Which is good, because you don’t have to.
So I vote we reframe this whole “facing” thing so that it can start working for us instead of tripping us up. And yeah, if it’s not tripping you up and you’re having fun chasing dragons, go for it. As long as you’re feeling good about it.
What we want to do with fear is meet it.
Meeting, facing, whatever. It’s all the same going right into the horrible, right? Actually, no — it’s not. This might seem like a small distinction, but it is in fact huge. This part is important.
Meeting fear is not like facing down a dragon outside of its lair.
It’s not like holding an intervention.
It’s like noticing that there’s a trapped and terrified kitten in your closet.
When you face fear, you have weapons. You’re prepared to fight. Someone’s going to go down and it might be you.
When you meet fear, everything is different.
When you meet fear, you just acknowledge that it’s there. You say, “Hey, there you are! I know you!” You remember that it’s natural and normal for you to be scared, and you agree to let that fear stay there just a little longer until it gets its bearings.
You remember that you are not your fear, but something larger than your fear. Something larger than any thought or feeling or idea. That you, in fact, have created this fear for a reason that must have made sense at some point, and then you try to figure out what that reason is.
You talk to the fear. You talk it down calmly and quietly, with sweetness and logic and as much compassion as you can stand.
And eventually the scared kitten calms down enough to find its way out of whatever tangled pile it got into, and then it curls up in a little ball and dozes off.
How not to deal with fear:
This is one way the “facing fear” scenario can go, if you’re not careful.
Fear: Arrrrrrgh! Crap! Everything is going horribly wrong! You screwed it all up! You’ll never be good enough and you’ll end up living in a box on the street and everyone will say I -told-you-so and they’ll be right! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh!
You: Shut up shut up shut up. I’m the boss around here, so you’d better start listening to me right now. You have no right to be scared. Everything is going to be fine because I said so.
Fear: Oh, yeah? You’re a moron. I’m not listening to you. Remember that one time that you messed up everything? Remember how horrible that was? Remember how you couldn’t even do that one basic easy thing that everyone else could? Aaaaaaaaaaaagh!
You: I’m hit! Man down!
Here’s another way that works somewhat better:
This is how I try to do things. Not that I always remember to do it (in the heat of the moment, and so on), but at least I’m in the process. And more often than not, we manage to talk things through.
Havi’s fear: Arrrrrrgh! Crap! Everything is going horribly wrong! You screwed it all up!
Havi: Wow, you sound really upset and worried. I’m noticing that I’m really frightened right now when I think about the stuff you’re saying. It’s hard for me to concentrate when I’m so scared.
Okay, fear, I just want you to know that I know you’re there. I see you and I hear you and I feel you. And even though I hate it when you show up, and part of me wishes I could just kick you to the curb, I know that this is temporary and that you’re here for a reason.
So I’m just going to let you be here — just for now — and I’m not going to be impressed by all the stuff you say about me. I’m just going to try and have a conversation and figure out what useful information I need to get from you.
Havi’s fear: God, you are such a stupid freaking hippie loser. Don’t even bother trying that stupid I-feel sentence crap on me. You know, you were way more fun when you were a drunk. Right now you suck.
Havi: You’re probably right. I was more fun. Listen, I get that you’re upset with me. I’m also sensing that you’re worried about me.
It seems like there are two things going on. One, you’re worried about me because you think I’m not going to be safe and taken care of, and two, you’re worried because you think I’m going to lose our sense of humor and become a boring grown-up.
Is that true? Because if it is, it’s kind of sweet. Would it help if I promised you that I’m going to do everything in my power to stay fun and keep enjoying things?
Because it’s kind of easier for me to be in fun mode when I’m not scared of all the impending disasters you keep telling me about.
Fear: Oh. Well, I just want you to be safe from harm and not to be a boring loser that I’ll be ashamed of.
Havi: Oh. Okay, I can live with that. How about I promise not to be a boring loser and you do your best to express your concern in ways that don’t hurt so much?
Fear: Whatever. That works. I’m going to come out of this closet and take a nap now. Please rub my belly.
Summing this up:
Your fear is not intentionally out to get you.
It’s just scared that things are going to go horribly wrong and that no one will be there to take care of you.
And it doesn’t know how to say that in a helpful way, because no one ever taught it how.
When you face it — in a confrontational way — you put it on the defensive, and it’s going to become louder and more forceful. When you use violence, it will fight back. When you apply guilt and manipulation it will fire that evil stuff right back at you.
When you meet it — in a conversational way — (I know, it’s crazy) you learn stuff!
You’re not kicking yourself out of the comfort zone, you’re interacting with discomfort from a safe place.
I’m not saying you have to be all mushy and goo-ey and lovey-dovey. You don’t have to love your fear or be happy that it’s showing up. You don’t have to think the whole world is made of pink ribbons and dancing bunnies or whatever.
You certainly don’t want to be fake or dishonest. What you do want is to be working on consciously and intentionally meeting the fear and noticing that it’s hurting. Reminding it that it’s hurting you.
Belly rubs for everyone!
Yeah for belly rubs and dancing bunnies 😀
Did I tell you we have two rabbits and they are the best at reminding us how to enjoy ourselves? They’re the tops!
I love the whole: be careful with semantics and make sure you’re very clear where you’re coming from. I tend to get groans and rolling eyes when I try and be so specific about what I mean and I know that if I’m not then we won’t communicate as well but it’s tricky to get someone who doesn’t want to hear that kind of stuff to still hear the message.
Usually perseverance and lots of acknowledging that the other person is intelligent, and that you’re being clear because perhaps you misunderstood them, gets the job done and they almost always end by agreeing that things are a lot clearer now. Just wish they’d get on board at the beginning!
It’s fantastic to know that there are people here in internet land that think a bit more like me. 🙂
James | Dancing Geeks last blog post..The Lazy People series
Excellently put! My method of meeting is to first say “What is it I’m afraid of?” and then spell it out and look for the reasonable side of it. For example, I kept putting off emailing past customers to ask them to sign up for my newsletter. Once I realized I was avoiding it, I asked “What am I afraid of”. I wrote them down and then addressed each one, acknowledging the reasonable fears (that I would annoy my customers) & promising myself (and my fear, I guess) that I would do my best to do the right thing (ie. not be sales-y in my letter).
It worked! I banged out the email and lots of customers emailed me back, all happy to hear from me!
Fantastic way to look at fear. Love it. I can always just picture that frightened kitten and then I’ll *know* what to do (loving animals the way I do).
Thanks Havi. 🙂
Karen JLs last blog post..Which Animation Student Are You?
Yo, to expand on your awesomosity, fears are simply something we keep around to get us to pay attention to something, an invitation to look deeper within. Not a “bad” part of us to be conquered.
Thanks Havi. That is actually a pretty cool way to deal with fear.
I’m one of those guys who usually says “face your fear” and also “fight your fears” because of the slight alliteration in the phrase. But thats definitely going to change.
And have I told you recently how much I adore your writing style! Love it.
Voted for your post via the stumbleupon toolbar too.
Ankesh Kotharis last blog post..When Did Noah Build the Ark (And The Benefits of Sacrifice)
Great post Havi! I”m getting steadily addicted to reading your blog.
I love the conversation technique. In high school I’d write out dialogues when I couldn’t make decisions – it’s very helpful for analyzing what’s really going on inside your head.
Some fears need to be snuck on it I think, kind of out of their peripheral vision, because some fears are that large. Sneak up and pat it on the back, let it know things aren’t that bad, and then talk.
Annies last blog post..A Logic Exercise
I love your perspective. I’ve been practicing what you’ve been talking about these past couple days and it works! My feelings are my friends and they just need to be heard. What friend wants you to ignore them or be afraid of them?
That’s why talking to your feelings as a friend that is trying to help you makes the rush of “Oh my god I’m overwelmed” less powerful and easier to handle.
You have great advice for women and men. I think more men should understand these tools and they can deal with their issues much more efficiently.
Karl – Work Happy Nows last blog post..Pig-Headed Determination and Discipline
Well, thank you for the last two posts about fear. I cried both times, at very specific parts, but it was a good cry each time, like “wow, she nailed that emotion, that feeling, and yes I’ve had exactly that same feeling recently, and now I feel better prepared to deal with it the next time it happens.” Wow, powerful stuff. Thanks again!
p.s. I’ve just started reading your blog, and I believe I read that you’ve moved to Portland, Oregon. I’ve lived here most of my life and I think you’ve found a great place to practice your unstickifying craft.
I remember a visualization exercise where there’s a bear that’s supposed to represent fear and how you react to it appearing on the path (of course you don’t know what each thing represents until afterward).
My reaction to seeing the bear was to say “nice bear, you go that way and I’ll go this way, okay? No, don’t look at me like that, I’m not lunch and I’m not trying to harm your babies. Seriously I’m just going to go over here, really slowly please don’t charge at me.” Then inching away and talking about the encounter in excited tones to everyone I met.
So, yeah, I’m really not into confronting my fear – I’d much rather avoid them and then have a cool story about my near-death experience for later.
Alex Fayle | Someday Syndromes last blog post..Fearfully Moving Forward – Full Text Answers
This is my approach to- whatever keeps you positive. I GOT a fear that I overcame but every time I do it, it creates anxiety for me and gives me palpitations. Even confronting it made me contemplate suicide. It drained me of energy and whatnot- I cant tell you how uplifting it is to find that there is another person out there exactly like me. Thanks for this :D.
You probably wont reply since you posted this comment like 9 years ago.
Love it! Confronting fear is like resisting reality. Meeting it like a friend feels so much better. After all, the fear mechanism is really on my side–it’s a part of me. It’s job is just to let me know what I’m believing. When I welcome fear and have a cup of tea with it, it’s amazing what it can teach me. thank you!
@Todd – Whoah, you have TEA with your fear? That’s way more enlightened than I can imagine at this point! I’m only barely at the point where I’ll agree to a belly rub after we argue together for a while. But cool! Something to look forward to maybe happening someday.
@Alex – That bear story is hilarious. I love it. I, of course, would have run screaming from the exercise. A BEAR! Ooh, remind me later to tell you a very dirty joke.
@David – Wonderful. And yes, Portland rocks. Thanks for the welcome.
@Karl, Annie, Ankesh – YAY! That’s so great. Thanks for the warm words, and I love reading everyone’s perspective on this. It’s lovely to know we’re all working on the same stuff in more or less the same ways …
@New Age Bitch – You said awesomosity! Also, your blog: so great. Hey everyone who thinks Naomi doesn’t swear enough, head over to this one.
@Karen, Tara – That’s so sweet! Love the mental images.
@James – Bunnies! That’s all I have to say about that.
Writing this post brought up more questions than answers for me, so I imagine these themes haven’t had their fill of discussion yet. I have a lot more to say about fear, and there are so many things to be afraid of, so we’ll definitely get back to this.
That’s it. You guys are awesome. It’s so helpful for my own process to have other people thinking out loud with me.
Havi and New Age Bitch: It’s really incredible when people change your thinking a bit, when they offer a slightly different angle. But when they turn your thinking right on its head and give a totally revolutionary way of seeing something, that’s…like, what’s better than astounding and life-changing and, and WHOA?
stephs last blog post..Magic in the Air
Yes, often it is the fear of the fear rather than the fear itself that is most scary
I’m one of those people who like the term “facing one’s fear”, but I can see where you are going with this. My interpretation of this in the past has been more in the line of meeting the fear, feeling it, having a talk with it, and embracing it.
Ironically, I’ve found through experience that feeling fear in a positive way can transform that fear into something more akin to exhilaration.
Thanks for the post on this topic.
Zataods last blog post..Throwing over the top
I read this post the other day and it made me cry and helped me write a blog post about my impending divorce which also made me cry. Lots of crying two days ago :). Although I can’t say I’m unstuck yet (I have a lot of patterns I need to change), at least I feel like I finally have the right attitude about everything thanks to you. I’ve always beat myself up about my “failures” and procrastination. Now I know that what I need from myself is kindness and compassion.
(By the way, I mentioned this post in my blog post but I’m not sure how to do trackbacks . . .)
Jessicas last blog post..Dealing with fear
I loved reading this.
I call my fears “The Goblins.” We had a transformation in our relationship about twenty years ago when things were not going well in my life. My mind was a morass of negative thoughts. It wasn’t too bad during the day, but when the shadows lengthened, what I called “the goblins” came out. In my imagination I thought of the goblins as ugly little creatures, like gargoyles, that lived in the upper corners of the ceiling of my bedroom. All day long they snoozed in their cobwebby corners, but at night, when I got into bed, they woke up and swirled around me, telling me all the things I didn’t want to hear. I hated the goblins!
Anyway, it so happened that I got a bad cold, and one Saturday I stayed in bed. I was propped up on pillows reading Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled. I misread one word in a sentence that completely changed its meaning. I don’t know anymore what sentence it was, or even what it said, but it caused a virtual thunderbolt of realization to hit me. Suddenly I understood that the goblins were good! They really had my best interests at heart. They were like a worried mother, concerned for my long-term welfare, trying to get me to listen to them, and to straighten up and fly right. It was a major moment. Tears came. I felt so very bad for the goblins! I apologized (out loud, actually) for having misunderstood and maligned them for so long. We have gotten along well, albeit somewhat uneasily at times, ever since.
I have also been trying to talk to my fears. I have a lot of problems with procrastination. There is a task I need to do, but I am having lots of problems getting started, and it just feels hopeless. I can visualize my “safety engineer” (another name for the fear at work) with a hard hat on busy at work putting sandbags on top of this task to keep me from “flowing” through it. I ask him what he is doing. He wipes the sweat off his brow and says “There was a dangerous flow situation here that I have gotten under control. I can’t let Jeff go down this task that I am unsure where it would lead. I need to keep things under control and keep Jeff safe from sticking his neck out like that.”
So, what to respond to him. Say “I want to finish this task. I am worried that I will get in trouble if I don’t”.
” Hm, yes, I want him to finish this work too. I don’t want him to be criticized for not getting to the end results. If he works on this now, I am afraid he will get to a place where he starts panicing. I need to protect him. ”
“So, we both want him to finish the work, but you don’t want him starting this task to accomplish it. Is there any other way he can finish this without doing this task.”
“Hm. No. I would feel safer if there was someone helping him on this.”
“Hasn’t he done this many times by himself before”
“Yes. But the task after this one is a real doosy.”
“Ok, why don’t you move your sandbags on to the next task, and leave me free to do this one. We can talk again after I reach the next task.”
I visualize him pushing the sandbags off to the side. As he is lifting them up and moving them, I can see how I can start on the task, and I can walk around a sandbag and see how it is no longer in the way of this task.
Havi, I enjoyed this post so much! It was so helpful for me! I never thought of fear before as ‘a harmless thing like a kitten’ trying to make sure I’m kept safe. Today though, I did have an odd epiphany which made me consider that this softness area is trying to get my attention and I don’t need to fear it. I believe I was meant to be here tonight to read that to gently look into this further and see where it will go from here. I cannot choose a favorite part easily as this whole post was great for me! 😉 but I do love these points that you shared:
about meeting, not facing fear!
[You talk to the fear. You talk it down calmly and quietly, with sweetness and logic and as much compassion as you can stand.] Lately, I am learning about compassion though I am also realizing I have very little for myself, oddly. I didn’t think of it like this:
[It’s just scared that things are going to go horribly wrong and ..main part:that no one will be there to take care of you.] I often consider myself last and count this normal, and noble though I am learning it is not noble at all. I probably face my fears with too much will power determination and really I need to just soften it up.. thank you for helping me consider this area of my life more than before.
.-= Jenn Z´s last post … 8 Organic Steps to Become Deeply Rooted in Love =-.
I’m having major anxiety and fear at the moment and this has helped. One of the fears i’ve developed is a fear of drowning just as I’m into a month long swimming programme (as I can’t walk at the moment due to plantur fasctus in one of my feet)! I realise that in earlier years I’d just MAKE myself face the fear of the water. This time I’m thinking bugger this i’m going to try a gym instead.
Also being open and sharing my fears with friends has helped somewhat.
.-= creativevoyage´s last post … its all secretly perfect =-.
Oh yeh, it drives us in so many ways….the McDaddy of them all being the fear to leave your cushy 9-to-5 “job” and trying to make it on your own. I haven’t worked that one out yet….hmm, maybe it’s got something to do with swimming up to the eyeballs in debt and knowing your online passive income venture just won’t cut the mustard (yet).
The fear of being hurt by love (god, that sounded so corny)….but it’s true.
Fear of life itself….Fear of failing…
Arggghhhhh, now I can’t stop.
I like your style. Your advice to meet fear rather than face it reminds me of the opening move in Aikido, “the world’s first non-violent martial art.” An aikido session begins with *tenkan* – the two opponents (or dancers: contact improv dance was aikido-inspired) begin by facing each other. One partner responds to the other’s pressure by swiveling 180 degrees so both are connected and facing in the same direction.
What I got from your post is the reminder that we don’t become whole by striving to attack, defeat and overcome those unwanted parts of the self. When we give attention to the scary parts, while remaining grounded and centered, we create a space in which miraculous transformation — sooner or later — is bound to occur.
Thanks for the reminder!
.-= D.K. Brainard´s last post … Horoscopes for Week of August 23 =-.
Love this idea. I’d like to introduce my fear to my resoluteness, not to face off, but to perhaps work together?
WOW…. Found your website by accident. Great article, great perspective. I have never thought of fear that way. Thank-you!
Thank you, thank you! Finally, someone who isn’t just spouting inspirational poster quotes about facing fears! I was actually writing a post to one of my blogs about facing fears, and came across this. Hope you don’t mind I referenced this post and included a link in mine. Check it out: http://www.lemonthatsdifferent.com/2014/12/let-me-have-my-fear-goddamn-it/.