For all of us, fear is the number one saboteur in everyday life. It wears many masks and is as subtle, powerful, and damaging as an ocean rip tide. Unfortunately, we are taught, from an early age, that acknowledging fear means personal weakness. The truth is we all have fear but only a few are aware of its powerful presence; remaining unaware leaves the door open for fear to take over and destroy personal happiness. Even when we are aware of the subtle, destructive power of fear we can easily be overcome, getting swept away in its mighty undercurrent.
Fear serves many purposes some of which are healthy for us. It keeps us from crossing the street in front of a moving vehicle or sticking our hand into a lion’s cage. However, the scientific research is clear about the destruction fear causes to our emotional and physical well being. Fear is the opposite of faith; it is also true that in any given situation we can not feel fear and have faith in an outcome, at the same time. Culturally we have managed to soften the taboo status of fear by using other words to describe it; common words or feelings we use in our daily lives to disguise fear are stress and anxiety.
Whether we admit it or not, a major source of fear is emotional or physical rejection by friends, family and strangers alike. This yearning to be accepted by others is an intricate pattern we develop while growing up to soothe feelings of inadequacy. While most were raised with the knowledge that they were loved many did not feel as though they were accepted, or even liked, for who they were by friends and/or family. This disconnect leaves us with a feeling of emptiness. So we spend time and energy, throughout the course of our lives, filling the depleted reservoir with the approval of others, rather than filling it from within. This drive is so subtle and strong that it mimics a rip tide carrying us off our intended path until we are so far into the water that we can no longer see the artistry of love and peace waiting, patiently, for us on the shoreline.
The fallacy is that gaining acceptance from others does not provide the deep emotional relief we are seeking. Think about it, suppose you are popular and have many friends, or dress very chic and receive a lot of compliments, or lie to present yourself in a different light. These things may give us temporary relief but in the long run, that feeling of being special will have faded leaving us still empty inside. To be very clear, we actually seek these temporary fixes as a way to validate ourselves and escape the emptiness; but do they really work? Think about all the things you do, in your daily life, to be or feel accepted by others.
The long term solution is self acceptance. We do this by acknowledging our feelings of inadequacy and working to heal those wounds so we may feel comfortable in our own skin. If we did not feel as though we were liked for who we were as children, we must realize that lack of approval was about those around and not us. Realize, if our caregivers did not accept themselves how could they accept us? The same holds true today; if we feel rejection, it really is about that person and their baggage not our own. We all make mistakes and none of us are perfect, but we are all lovable. Start today by making choices that are truly fulfilling, choices that leaves us feeling proud of ourselves; for then we are on the right track to finding the lasting sense of wholeness that is our natural state.
The next article will suggest solutions in winning the battle with fear.
Cynthia Pickett, LCSW, LADC