In our society fear isn’t often a welcome visitor.
Many of us design our lives around avoiding the places, people and things that provoke a clenched heart, a racing mind, a feeling of unease. And with good reason! It is horrible to feel these things.
But in avoiding them, our lives become smaller, and in a way our fear of having fear governs us. It becomes a goblin in the corner that controls where we go because we’ll go wherever it is not! And if there’s a few fears we don’t want to face, our lives get even smaller. I see that when we say no to a dinner invite, to going for a new job or trying something new.
Yet our bodies and our personal evolution need the “activation” that fear gives us to feel alive. We need our blood pumping fast, our synapses firing, our whole system On. But we don’t need it to be such an overwhelming fear that we shut down and need to run and hide or to fight in order to feel ok again. It is the fine line between a healthy dose of fear and novelty, and the right amount of safety that creates the alchemy of transformation.
Saida Desiltes, a pioneer in women’s sexual health, talks about this line as our Erotic Edge, the places we fear to go but that actually hold a Huge amount of life-force for us. The erotic edge is “the life force that animates us; the bridge between the natural world and who we are”. And as she explains, if we don’t dance near and interact with our erotic edge, or be willing to play with novelty, we become less alive, less juicy, less pumped to be here.
So how do we find this line between excitement, fear and safety and navigate it to bring us aliveness? How do we break free of our fear of fear?
Imagine with me that you have a fear of public speaking and you are tired of hiding away and avoiding it. You are frustrated and even a little desperate to shift out of this fear because its effecting your work life and your dreams to use your voice in the world.
Now I’d like you to imagine two very different approaches to facing this …
In the first approaches, you attack this fear by putting your hand up to go on public radio. You figure big is better and will blast the fear out of the water. You feel anxious and terrified the whole week leading up to your radio debut, you have trouble thinking straight and have regular “superego” attacks (self-judgemental thoughts) as you obsess over all the mistakes you could make. You go in for the radio interview and it’s all a blur. You come out of it not knowing what you said or how you went, but full of adrenalin and buzzing energy through your body. You feel proud of yourself but deeply exhausted.
Now imagine with me another approach.
This is where you look for the line of safety and “just enough fear”. You look for a way to face your fear in stages and with support. With speaking on the radio as your goal, you decide to join a small group who read classic and original poetry together. You make a friend there who also wants to go on the radio, you feel comfortable with this person and build a sense of safety with them. Over time you take bigger and bigger risks, reading out your own poetry, speaking out in different contexts in your work life, strengthening your voice and your sense of yourself. When you feel ready, you book in a radio interview with your friend as cohort. You call each other for support through the week before and you feel a mix of exhilaration, fear and aliveness. You have a good time in your interview, maybe you don’t say so much, but it is overall a good experience. You feel proud of yourself, full of energy and ready to take on the next challenge.
The difference in these two approaches is the permission to go at a pace that is both activating and safe. In other words.. something that is manageable, and something we can integrate as we go and use to create new brain pathways of enjoyment and reward rather than fear and avoidance. Transformation can come from an easy and steady movement towards our fears, or it can come by trying to push through the fear with our will. I prefer the path of kindness and maintainability, a slow purr rather than an explosion. You know, the explosion approach can be compared to the phenomenon of break-up then make-up sex. As so many friends have shared, the make-up sex is often so hot, charged and potent, but it is also dependant on the drama for its potency. And it’s exhausting. The slow purr approach depends on slowness, connection, and safety as well as challenging the edges, and then the potency is something that can be maintained. Then we get connection, depth, pleasure and the availability for presence and love.
Depending on what you choose to do and the level of fear/excitement involved, you can liberate yourself, your fears and your body, or you can traumatize yourself and shut-down, disassociate or become chronically activated. I have come to understand that to our nervous systems, fear and novelty go hand in hand and the fear response is very similar to the excitement response. A sense of alertness is created for “novelty” just as much as for fear, and the purpose in both is to invigorate and prepare us to respond in this new or uncertain environment. Fear and excitement enliven us. They wake us up.
“Nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous and hurtful than believing I’m standing on the outside of my life looking in and wondering what it would be like if I had the courage to show up and let myself be seen”. – Dr Brene Brown
When we were kids, not many of us were supported to face our fears in a manageable way. In the rush of life, our parents either pushed us into scary situations or allowed us to avoid them because it was all so much “easier” that way. As adults, its our job to change our relationship with fear in order to bring more Life into our life.
I hope you’ll join me in dancing just a little bit closer to your novelty and fear and creating more aliveness in your life. If you feel like you would like support in facing your fears in a safe and life affirming way, I’d love to help you. You can find out about what I do here, and contact me here
Over to you:
What challenges have you had with fear or facing fear in your life? And what success have you had in building safety? Have you experienced transformation by facing a fear? I’d love you to leave a comment below, and let us know.
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