Fear tends to get a mixed reception in the world today, with opinions largely depending on the circles in which people spend most of their time. There are some for whom it’s perceived as the gatekeeper to everything they want in life, others mark it as little more than a warning sign, instructing them to avoid something completely or to take an alternative route. Rarely do the masses acknowledge fear for fear’s sake, or recognise it as a state in itself, rather than a means to an end.
The perceptions of fear as gatekeeper or warning signal, whilst highly effective, carry with them an element of sadness not always fully appreciated by those holding the perceptions. They do so because they fail to recognise fear as the marvel it is, the wondrous tool that our mind and body use to communicate with us. Once we step back and detach fear from everything we so easily link it to, only then are we able to study it for what it is. Only then is it possible to appreciate fear as the true gift it is.
A hello from fear
The type of fear being discussed is not the sort found on a bungee jump or diving out an airplane, it’s not orchestrated or invited in as a thrill. What we’re dealing with here is the fear that shows up unexpectedly, in situations over which we have little control.
As with all feelings, fear will present itself in extremely different ways, depending on the individual experiencing it and the situation they’re in. Sweaty palms, heart palpitations, immobility, aggression, tears, hyper-ventilation, vomiting, shaking, these are some of the more obvious physical expressions we may encounter.
On the flipside, it can be as subtle as voices in our head telling us we’re not worthy of something, or not good enough for an opportunity that comes our way. Often it will show up under a guise of self-protection and self-preservation, for reasons more rooted in evolution than the present moment. When it does this, it leaves us grateful to it for not allowing us to fail, be wrong, or make a mockery of ourselves. This can often be a huge detriment to our lives and the experiences we need in order to grow.
Becoming friends with fear
Learning to become familiar with your own symptoms and fully immersing yourself in them, instead of immediately trying to escape, can be the beginning of understanding yourself on unprecedented levels.
It’s true that the hardest action to take sometimes is to sit inside a feeling or emotion, especially if it’s painful, traumatic or challenging to your fundamental sense of safety. Having said this however, just as you might sit silently and patiently with a raging lover or a distressed friend, by simply holding space and remaining present it’s possible to deepen your bond. You can also deepen the knowledge about yourself and the relationship you share. Give fear the same time and patience as you would any other good friend. Use all the strength you have and know it to be worthwhile.
The intentions of fear
Every feeling that we have serves a particular purpose in our evolution as individuals and consequently our wider consciousness as a species. If we can accept that love enables internal growth, then fear could be seen as enabling huge internal communication. Both are on a scale that is difficult to surpass. The difference between them is that the fear isn’t something we speak about fondly, as we do love.
Unless we’re already tuned in to the importance of fear, it’s not something we genuinely seek out and in fact it usually finds us unawares. To begin to build a relationship with it rather than in retaliation to it, one needs to learn to treat it like any other communication we might encounter. In the same way it’s advisable to be fully present and conscious when we engage with others, for example, the way a person moves, their pauses in speech, their intention, so too should we be aware of all the elements involved in how fear chooses to communicate with us.
Working with fear
The best way to use any feeling is to fully embrace it, to learn all the different strategies, tools and skills that are helpful when exploring it. There are few hacks to fear that will serve you half as well as aiming straight through the heart of it.
When you find yourself in a place where you’re either feeling your usual symptoms or anticipate the onset of them, take an active part in the communication and begin a conversation with yourself. Ask, what does this feeling say about who I am, in this moment in my life? What is it telling me that I’m missing or have too much of? Where are the vulnerabilities in my mental or emotional armour that have allowed fear to shine through so brightly? What is it showing me about my psychological and physiological make up? What is it showing me that I have forgotten to remember?
For a moment, forget about escaping the distress and make a study of yourself. Go deep enough, for long enough, until you’re able to separate the fear from its message. Recognise they’re separate things, in the way that the love you experience with a person is different from that person.
Respecting the relationship
If love is what keeps us all connected and is what makes the world go round, then fear may be described as what keeps us disconnected and stagnant in life. Whilst there may not seem like much to respect in a feeling capable of this, without it we would lose a key player in our survival kit.
Fear has, since the dawn of our time, had the key function of keeping us safe. Although some of its manifestations can now be somewhat extreme in contrast to the moment at hand, learning to respect it and become familiar with its purpose does make fear, ironically, something to be less afraid of.
To begin your relationship with it, on equal and mutually beneficial terms, take a moment to sit alone with yourself and ask, what are my usual fear symptoms? When did they last show up uninvited and how did my body and mind react to the moment? Start the dialogue and see where it leads you. Stay as much in your body as you can and draw your answers from the feelings evoked.