Name that Fear and Claim It
by Kari Pederson
I loved watching the game show “Name That Tune.” For those of you unfamiliar with this television gem, contestants were forced to guess how many notes they needed to correctly identify a song. Some participants knew a tune after one or two notes, but I never did this very well.
No big deal, right? Just stay away from bodies of water and everything will be fine. Except for the irony that I LOVE water as much I hate sharks. This paradox constantly pushes me to confront my fear in order to do something I really enjoy.
Before I could deal with my fear, however, I had to change the way I thought about fear. Handling fear effectively is really two topics: understanding your fear and finding the best tools for dealing with it. This month’s column is an invitation to claim your own fears and make peace with having them.
1. Ready, Set, Go?
Step one on the path to understanding your fears is to decide if you feel ready to examine them. If you are dealing with a tough issue or important deadline, or are feeling vulnerable or exhausted, it might not be the right time to open this Pandora’s box. Waiting until you feel ready to look at your fears is not only a smart choice but an honorable one.
2. Fears can protect and guide us
Fears are natural, healthy and hardwired through evolution into our DNA. Fear kept us on the lookout for prehistoric beasts, hidden dangers and helped the human species ultimately to thrive.
Fear also protects us from modern day attackers. Many assault victims describe a moment before the attack where their brain warned them, “All is not ok! Get away!”
Sometimes fear guides us by not letting us be complacent about important issues. Those butterflies in the pit of your stomach are a signal that something important needs your attention.
3. Embrace Your Fears and Claim Them
For a long time, I kept my fear of sharks hidden. I felt ridiculous having this phobia when I lived in a landlocked state known for its abundance of fresh water. I knew sharks could not survive in a lake or pool, yet I still panicked whenever I thought about what might be lurking underneath the ripples. I was ashamed of my fear, but this extra guilt only kept me from taking positive action. Cut yourself some slack and give yourself permission to own your fears without extra baggage.
4. Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable
While researching fear and courage, I discovered many descriptions of people taking amazing actions while they felt fear. Courage is not the absence of fear but taking action in spite of it. Soldiers, policemen, fire fighters, bystanders and parents routinely put themselves in harm’s way even though they were afraid.
The good news is that most present-day fears are imagined or artificial. We might feel like our giving a presentation is life threatening, but we are not likely to be in actual danger. Fear can make our hearts race, palms sweat, and otherwise feel terrible, but most fearful situations are actually benign.
I find it helpful to remember that these feelings of discomfort are just part of the process of exercising my courage muscles – much like I might expect to have sore muscles after a new physical workout.
5. Allow Yourself the Journey of Self-Discovery
If you are unsure what gets the attention of your inner “fraidycat,” take some time to notice the situations where you feel fear. This self-awareness allows you more control about when you want to face your fear. If you know cocktail parties are a fear trigger, you can skip gatherings not worth the extra effort.
Social psychology research suggests that fears of public speaking, rejection or judgment affect all of us at some point or another. If you share your work as a visual artist or writer, then chances are you will have opportunities to face fear. A little preparation can go a long way in helping you be ready to flex your courage muscles. In next month’s column, we will focus on specific tools you can use to face your fears head on. “Watch out Jaws, I’m coming for you!”
Kari Pederson, MSW, LCSW, is a writer, clinical social worker and wellness coach who has worked with children and adults for over 25 years. An avid student of positive psychology, she loves helping people live their best lives. Kari is a new writer to VoiceCatcher’s community website and thrilled to be part of its mission. This is the fifth installment in her series, Healthy Spirit – Limitless Possibilities.