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Knock down your worries by adjusting the way you see them.
Many of us live not just with fear but from fear. You may be a former dancer whose fear of appearing less than perfect prevents you from setting foot in a studio; maybe you’re someone whose fear of being hurt has robbed you of relationship after relationship; or perhaps your fear of being laughed at by peers sidelines you from trying a new class.
In small measures, fear keeps us safe. I’m glad for the fear that cautions people not to walk on a frozen pond or to think twice before picking a fight with a boss. But living from a place of fear is a different matter altogether. When our fears become irrational or overstated, they become emotional thugs, beating the boldness out of us and demanding we shrink from opportunities, relationships and a life fully lived. We live from fear when we make decisions out of fear, decide what we will do or not do out of fear. When we live from fear, we don’t risk, and when we don’t risk, we don’t grow. That’s too high a price to pay. If fear is the thief, then the ransom is personal potential.
So, what are we afraid of anyway? If we are to stop living from fear, first we must root out the source of these traitors. A few of you have fears born of trauma and you beat them back bit by bit, heroically, just by surviving, by taking another breath. But all of us have fears born merely from living with the painful misperceptions that seem to be woven into the very fabric of our culture.
At right, I use the apt acronym FEAR to spell out the common misconceptions that are fertile ground for the fears that bind us. Kicking these faulty beliefs to the curb—accepting ourselves as we are, allowing ourselves to be imperfect and make mistakes and believing the best in others—will allow us to flourish, rather than fear.
Facing the Four FEAR Fallacies
Failure — the other ‘F’ word
Simply put, we regard mistakes as signs that we are flawed, that we should be ashamed. Who wouldn’t be afraid if we viewed mistake-making as being right up there with the mortal sins? Reframe: We need to fail to learn and grow.
Expectations — our own and those of others
We hold ourselves to high standards and mistakenly believe
others hold us to those standards, too. We think anything less than
perfect is failure.
Approval — or rather disapproval
We fear losing the approval of others, of displeasing them and thus losing our place, our sense of secure belonging (in a friendship group, family or workplace). So we keep our true selves hidden and wear the masks we think will win approval.
Ridicule — the fear that others are laughing at us
We have a very misplaced idea that others are watching and judging—just waiting for an opportunity to mock our missteps and profit from our misadventures. Do those people exist? I guess. But most of our friends and co-workers are as vulnerable and human as
Liza Finlay is a registered psychotherapist and author of Lost & Found: The Spiritual Journey of Women at Midlife.