Looking at ourselves and the world through the lens of the 21st century.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

What Am I Afraid Of?

This week, Christen brought up the topic, “What Are You Most Afraid to Do?”. If you listened to the podcast, you know that she was hoping we could unpack some of those fears to get down to the root cause and maybe (hopefully) work through those fears. It made me think of this line from Frank Herbert’s “Dune” about fear.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” 1

The line is a mantra of sorts, recited by the characters when they face extreme tests of their courage, and it rings quite true. Oftentimes, we are afraid of what we can’t see or what we can’t know, and those fears cause instinctual responses like “fight,” “flight,” or “freeze.” Have you ever heard the term “a deer in the headlights?” Have you seen an animal freeze as you approach or run away at the sight of headlights from your car? Humans, tend to react the same way unless we allow our higher brains to take control and reason through the situation. Our ability to reason is one of our greatest gifts and also one that we tend to neglect.

In the podcast, we discuss the idea that fear, especially fear of failure, is one of the main reasons most people don’t reach their goals. Whether it is fear of failure, ridicule, pain or bodily injury, or change, our fears keep us rooted in a fight-flight-freeze mentality that prevents us from moving forward and achieving our highest goals. 

Fear is the mind-killer. When fear takes control, you become unable to act or think. Everything you see, fee, and do is tainted by your fear. You become extra cautious. You question yourself and your judgment. You might even stop doing some of the things you normally would do. Fear becomes a little death as it destroys your self-confidence, happiness, and maybe even your independence.

In confronting your fears head-on, you can put the worst behind you. I remember an episode of This is Us where two of the main characters had a “What’s the Worst Thing That Could Happen” game they played to help sluff off their fears. They took turns telling possible endings to the situation that got progressively worse until they landed on what both agreed was the worst-case scenario. By imagining all the things that could go wrong, they realized that most of those scenarios were never going to happen and that what likely would happen was something far less drastic.

As a new widow, I’ve been playing that game with myself lately – more than I’d like. I have deep-rooted fear about my ability to take care of myself and move on with my life now that Mark is gone. How can I increase my income to compensate for his loss? How can I conserve the money I do have so that I don’t wind up homeless and penniless like my mother did? How do I manage the upkeep of the house and all the chores that Mark took care of in addition to all the things already on my plate? What does my life look like going forward? All these thoughts put me in that same fight-flight-freeze pattern, dulling my senses and exhausting what little strength I have left to face each day. 

On the podcast, I talked about how most things that frighten me now are not the same things that frightened me when I was younger. I’m no longer afraid of speaking my mind (most of the time) or speaking in public. As we mature, we seem to shift our fear from being an outcast to fear of physical pain and discomfort. We lose our indestructible mentality and become more comfortable being ourselves.

I’ve found that some fears are the same, just in a different wrapper. At 21, I became a single mom with a part-time job, a car that often didn’t run, and an apartment I couldn’t afford. That was terrifying, but I made it through that. Looking back at that time, I can safely say that I am far better off than I was back then, even if I still have only a part-time job, a mortgage, and two cars that sometimes don’t run. I faced those fears back then, and now I can turn my inner eye to the path that those fears took, seeing clearly that none of the things I feared back then ever came to pass. My child did not starve, we weren’t evicted from our home, and she wasn’t taken away from me. My life went on – I went on, and the life I built with Christen (and eventually, Mark) belonged to me, not to fear. 

Now, as I contemplate moving forward in a life without Mark, I realize that I must once again face that fear. I cannot let it control me; I will never move forward if I do. I have to let my fear pass over me and through me so I can look back again and say, “I did that. I survived. The fear is gone, and only I remain.”

1 Frank Herbert, Dune

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