Does anxiety, excessive worry, self-doubt and fear keep you trapped? The subject of fear comes up often in psychotherapy sessions and manifests in a range of behaviors from complete paralysis to counter-phobic reactions. Fear and a certain amount of anxiety can be your friend when the fear of a particular outcome becomes a motivating factor. For example, imagining the fear of failure is the spark that helps some people perform to their potential.
This also comes at a cost when we use guilt, shame and fear as a way to launch ourselves towards a goal. Don't be quick to use fear as a motivating factor. Fear is heavy, dense energy. It's best to stay focused on the positive outcome and focus on what you actually want for yourself and your life. That said, don't sweep it under the rug. It's likely to come out in some other way messy way. Learning to identify your fears can be incredibly liberating. The act of naming something takes away its power. I'm afraid of this or that helps remove some of the shame that is attached. Then visualize and hold in your awareness what you would like to have happen, and how you would like to feel. So what exactly do we fear most?
- We Fear Embarrassment and Shame - We are fearful of looking silly or doing or saying something that leaves us feeling exposed. Public speaking is a great example of an activity that many of us fear. As children, we quickly learn that not all of our actions are applauded or embraced which often left us feeling bad about ourselves or embarrassed, instead of unique, creative or human. How can you "self talk" your way out of fearing embarrassment?
- Remember that it's courageous to speak your mind and have an opinion, even if others may not agree.
- Is your question really that silly? Reality test on that one. Get a second opinion if necessary and ask a trusted friend. Someone else is probably wondering or feeling the same way.
- What's the worst thing that can happen scenario? You say something silly and that makes you human. You can use that as an opportunity to break the ice, laugh and forgive yourself which gives others a chance to warm up to you, and do the same in future similar circumstances. You seem real and human! You may very well give someone else permission to be less than perfect. Remember perfection is an illusion.
- We Fear Rejection - Most of us have a deep-rooted need to be liked, accepted and valued. Rejection is a part of life and growth -- you can't be liked and loved by everyone! Give that one up. Furthermore, it's exhausting trying to win the approval of the masses. So how can you reframe rejection so that it's not a tragic event?
- Remember that rejection hurts, but as a result, there is almost always a great opportunity for personal growth. It's just one more experience that can enrich our lives.
- Don't get caught in the web that is the stuff of others. Remember that people have their own experiences and reasons for treating us a certain way. Their behavior may have nothing to do with us. Let them have their junk -- and don't take it on! Boundaries.
- We Fear Failure - Fear of failure, for many, may mean that you are not "good enough" and therefore you won't or aren't lovable. How can you conquer this fear?
- Become best friends with "good enough" which may sound perfectly awful to many, but is a realistic and compassionate goal. Sometimes you'll be able to meet your "ideal" but often you can't. Learn to embrace the concept of "good enough" when something didn't turn out exactly as you planned.
- Become aware of the pressures of others (and yourself) to sustain some unrealistic level of success. Again, if this fantasy about you belongs to another, don't take it on. Easier said than done as you may have internalized the unrealistic ideals of others. A supportive therapist can help you understand this and create realistic goals and boundaries for yourself.
- Know that when you avoid failure you're often avoiding real life experiences. It may feel protective to avoid finishing a project, thereby avoiding all the possible outcomes, but ultimately not a great way to live your life. Living life, full on, can be a rich experience. Avoid watching life from the wrong side of the fence.
- Remember that all successful people have experienced failures, no matter how they define them. Using a failed venture can give you important lessons about how to discover improvements for the future.
- We Fear Success - This is my personal favorite and the one that leaves everyone scratching their heads. Yes, I said success. Okay, tell me exactly why would I be afraid of achieving something? When you achieve, have success, thrive -- you stand out. This can, for many, feel really scary, isolating and lonely. For some, it evokes feelings of defeating and abandoning others. This leads to conflict and anxiety. Who has been left behind, while moving ahead? What meaningful connection has been severed in the psyche? This may mean achieving more than a sibling or parent which can create anxiety and conflict. You may not even be aware that you play down your assets in an effort to avoid the jealously and envy of others. Marianne Williamson gave us this beautiful quote "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you..." She goes on to say that we actually give others permission to shine when we don't hold ourselves back (paraphrased). So how can you become more comfortable with your own achievements?
- Remind yourself that you are really worth it now even if events in your past made you feel otherwise.
- Understand how holding yourself back causes you harm, which triggers a nasty cycle of regret and self-hatred.
- Notice that it's more fun to shine the light for others, be a beacon, create a path, if you will.
- Know that the skills that help you handle success will come with time, especially as you have more positive experiences. It's okay to be a beginner or to not know something.
- Learn to ask for help! There is no shame in that.
Many psychotherapy approaches effectively treat fear and worry including psychodynamic psychotherapy, CBT, and my favorite form of treatment, EMDR Therapy.