If we have the right support then facing our fear can open up a gateway to transforming ourselves and our lives. In fact you could say that the process of turning towards fear rather than running from it is an unavoidable step at some point in the personal development process.
Facing our fear can transform this powerful energy into a friend rather than a foe, an ally which energises us to step up and take our rightful place in the world and to love ourselves and others more deeply. Conversely, if we never face our fear we can block our route to growth and transformation – when we explore only ‘fear free’ ways to live our life we tip toe around our greatest potential.
‘Don’t play for safety – it’s the most dangerous thing in the world.’ Hugh Walpole
Initially this seems counter intuitive. Fear is there for a reason. We have a natural, evolutionary response to fear which causes an immediate automatic reaction. We don’t stop to ‘think’ – that would be ridiculous! If a car is driving fast towards us we jump out of the way. If a tiger is running our way we do whatever we can to get to safety. However, there are certain fear responses that we carry as adults which are out of date and can limit our lives. Sometimes our fear response can actually bring about the very catastrophe we are trying to avoid.
For example: if a man fears his partner might leave him, he might behave in untrusting, suspicious ways, or ask for endless reassurance. He might do this so much that his partner eventually finds the situation too difficult to handle and ends the relationship. This is the kind of situation where fear isn’t serving anyone.
Let’s look at how we develop this kind of unhelpful fear response. Take the following example:
If a man lived with a violent alcoholic mother when he was growing up he may have learnt to fear standing up for himself. The risk of getting hit and seriously hurt if he said something his mum didn’t like may have been so high that he made the wise decision to fear speaking up. This learned behaviour kept him safe, and could even have saved his life.
Fast forward to adult life and he still fears standing up for himself. This is learned behaviour that is not easy to unlearn – The fear he feels is real, but the risks now are likely to be less significant – or even non existent. In fact, it is probably more risky for him not to speak up for himself. He may end up being overlooked for promotion at work, being in a relationship where his needs aren’t being met, being taken advantage of by friends or being ripped off by con artists. Not speaking up for himself is likely to affect every area of his life.
In truth many of us live with such outdated fears. In childhood we learnt to hide certain sides of ourselves to protect from loneliness, rejection, abandonment, neglect, mental cruelty or abuse.
So how can such fear be transformed?
By looking at your shadow. That’s the part of your personality you put away as a child because it was safer to hide some aspect of yourself. As facilitators, we work to bring those shadows back into the light, back into your awareness. Then, you can change things.
When working with the shadow we don’t try to ‘push through’, ‘ignore’ or ‘override’ this fear. We don’t shame or belittle it for being ‘unnecessary’. We would honour the part of this man that holds this fear. In fact ‘terror’ may be a more appropriate word as we begin to understand its roots and recognise how unbelievably scary it is to be brought up by an adult who can get violent without warning. We listen to the thoughts and feelings of this frightened child part.
We would help the man to talk to this part of himself and to help that part to feel safe. This young part needs to understand that he made a wise decision as a child. He was right not to speak up. This helped him to survive. What happened to him wasn’t ok and it wasn’t his fault. He did the best he possibly could have done.
This fear he holds may well have saved his life.
As he begins to understand this he can feel safe enough to look around and see that things are different now. There may still be risks – but they are usually less devastating. Perhaps he risks being harshly spoken to, or he might risk being rejected by a friend. Maybe he risks losing his job – but even that is far less scary than what he experienced as a child. This young part of the man can now start to mature and begin to analyse the level of threat around him in a way that is more appropriate to the current day situation.
In a therapeutic setting where there are no real world consequences this man’s fear can be felt and explored. It is possible for the participant to explore standing up for himself within the safety of this space. The fear will still be there, but it can now be used to guide him through a gateway to a new world. As his body and being begin to learn that nothing bad happens as he speaks up for himself then he will find that the fear begins to give way – a sense of excitement, confidence and power come in its place.
He has passed through the gateway.
Now out in the real world, when a situation brings up fear, he can turn towards that fear and behave in this new way. Feeling the fear and acting anyway, although still scary, will feel enlivening and powerful and transform his experience of the world.
BE GENTLE WITH FEAR
Be gentle with fear. It is a child of the unknown. It has travelled light years to find you.
Do not be afraid to feel it fully. It will not harm you. Let it come closer, let it penetrate you if it must.
Feel its aliveness, its pounding heart, its vibrations and tingles in the body. Until there is no division between ‘self’ and ‘fear’. Until you cannot call it ‘fear’ at all. Until there is only life, raw and immediate, and nameless, and benevolent.
Fear is a breaking open into the unknown, a shattering of certainties. It is the forging of a new path into the vastness of night. It is the thrill of being awake.
Fear reminds you that you live on the edge of mystery. That you drink from the fountain of possibility. That your being is vast. That only the false can die.
Do not push your fear away, or label it ‘negative’ or ‘unspiritual’. Do not pretend it is not there. Do not rush to delete it, or transform it, or even heal it. It is not an enemy, and not a mistake. It holds great intelligence and healing power. It is ancient and wise. Bow before it.
Let fear be fear, fully itself. But do not be afraid. Let the body shake, let the heart quake. And know that you are present. And opening, and opening.
Let fear, so misunderstood, come to rest in your vast heart. Let it walk with you. When it feels unwanted, hold it close.
Standing on the threshold, you take those first steps into the void.
You are shaking but you are so damn alive.
For more information about Healing The Shadow work including individual sessions, group workshops, couples work and authentic communication work please visit Marianne’s website
For further reading about fear see the following articles: