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Demoting Fear to the Backseat
Sep 18 10:04 AM

Demoting Fear to the Backseat

Sep 18 10:04 AM
Sep 18 10:04 AM

Right now, there is a lot of fear pulsing through our collective veins. In talking with friends and clients, I’ve heard many people express concern for the future of their children, the future of the church, and the state of our country. On top of that, there is the fear of getting sick or passing the virus to someone who is compromised. There is no shortage of things to feel threated by today if we’re looking. I asked my 4 year old the other day what she is scared of and she replied, “Monsters.” I asked if she had ever seen a monster and she said “No, I just feel like they are here.”

The truth is that we are all fighting different monsters. We’re all pretty sure that something is around the corner, waiting to take us out. None of us are exempt from this feeling, though we experience different levels of it. So know that you are not alone.

I want to make the argument that we don’t have to make what we fear go away in order to continue to flourish as people, and to continue to move towards being the person we each want to become, to move closer to the people that God wants us to become.

But before we talk more about that, let’s FIRST talk about the function of fear or — I’d like to say — the gift of fear.

Fear is a biological response that our body has when it senses real or perceived threat. Fear is helpful and beautiful as it’s meant to help us survive and do what is necessary to stay alive. Fear tells our bodies to do everything you need to do to stay safe even if there is no actual threat to our lives. What each person experiences as threatening is completely unique to that person. One scenario will send one person into a tail spin of anxiety, while the same situation hardly affects another.

In truth, you can’t really get rid of your fear. It is hard-wired in you, and that’s a good thing. God created us this way. However, you can learn to live above it. You can learn to get “higher” than the fear you feel.

How?

You get to know it. You engage it, and get curious about how fear shows up in your life. The moment you begin to observe fear in you, you have given yourself some distance from it, a little bit of separation from it, and can begin to see from a little bit higher perspective than you could before.

And so you get know to know this fear, in the same way that you might get to know a person. What is this character like? How does it see the world? What does it want and how does it try to drive you to behave? What does it feel like in your body?

Fear moves through you in the form of biological sensations and thoughts that drive us to protect ourselves and loved ones, and you have the ability to observe it, and get curious as to the way it may lead you to act.

Here’s the thing you start noticing when you get face to face with your own rising fear. It tends to be a very one-dimensional character. Fear has a way of missing the forest for the trees and has no way of seeing the full picture. It can only see in black in white. It magnifies threat, expects the worst case-scenario and catastrophizes the future. Why? That’s its purpose. Its only job is to keep you hypervigilant so that you will stay safe, reduce your risk, and ensure your survival.

What is so profound about doing this very intentional observation of your fear is that you begin to realize that you are not the sensations of fear that run through your veins or the thoughts that run through your mind. You also are not the character that fear would have you play.

You are not a captive to it, nor are you its slave.

So get to know your fear in a non-judgmental kind of way. Acknowledge it, befriend it, extend grace to it, and it tends to calm down. It tends to lessen in intensity when we bring a watchful, kind eye to it as it arises. It feels less of a need to take control.

Anxiety and fear are contagious. Guess what else is contagious? Calm.

As a society, we collectively drink from the same pool of emotions, and everyone also contributes to it in what they bring emotionally. If you bring fear or anger towards others who are fearful (which is essentially just your fear of other people’s fear), then that is what is added and rises in the collective pool from which we all partake. If you bring calm, reason, compassion towards the fearful, then these qualities mix into the pool. The pool changes by the quality of what each of us bring. Each person is responsible for what they contribute.

In short, you don’t have to be fearless to be who you want to be. I don’t think that’s always possible. The trick is to be in a better relationship to fear. Take it with you.  Let it be in your backseat, without letting it drive.

Know that what you do matters. How you respond today matters. You are not small. You influence every person you come in contact with on a day-to-day basis. So we each must ask ourselves — what does the world need more of right now? How does God want to use you to bring heaven to earth?

Go and give that.

Sarah Walters MA, LPC-S

 

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