All of us experience some level of fear in our lives. The degree to which fear shows up and impacts our lives depends, in large part, on how we observe and even engage it. You see, the moment we begin to observe fear, we have given ourselves some distance from it, a little bit of separation from it, and we can begin to see it from a little bit of a higher perspective. By doing so, and incorpporating other techniques, we can begin to put fear in its proper place — the backseat.
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.
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
Published on Sep 18 @ 10:04 AM CDT
Do you ever respond to a situation in a way that doesn't seem appropriate or helpful? Maybe your response is over-the-top or perhaps you don't have enough of a reaction. In either case, getting to the root of your reaction will help direct you to the most appropriate remedy for the reaction. One way to do this is by identifying how you were feeling about yourself in that situation? This question brings the focus back on self and shows you how you are interpreting the situation. And it is the meaning you make of a situation, rather than the situation itself, which often determines your response. And when you understand the story you're telling yourself, and where that story comes from, you have the power to make a change!
“It has been 4 hours, and you regularly have to go after 2. You WILL go to the potty!” I said firmly, with much greater intensity than I would have liked. My two-year-old son felt the tension in the room and of course, dug his heels in even more and resisted going potty for several long hours after that, not to mention the repeated screaming, melt downs, and time outs that would soon follow.
But if I’m being honest, seemingly the worst part about the situation was the anger rising in me. The “I can’t think straight, nothing else matters, this is the end of the world” kind of anger. The kind of anger that leads you to be the kind of person you would never let anyone else be to your kiddos. The kind of anger that you feel horrible for later, and perhaps most upsettingly, the kind of anger that didn’t fit the situation.
The worst thing that could have happened was my little guy goes potty on the floor. And then we clean it up together. What was so scary about that, that it made me lose my mind?
Well quite literally, that “losing your mind” is exactly what happens on a neurological level when we feel triggered in some way. And this neurological process leads us to feel like we are in a different situation than we are in, that the threat we are experiencing is actually much greater, and thus we may start responding more intensely (or less intensely) than is appropriate for that situation. My reaction no longer fits the present moment because my brain and body are telling me I am somewhere from the past.
Before I go further, I want to be clear that there are many reasons that our reaction may not meet the needs of the moment. Perhaps we are lacking some key information that would help us make a good decision about something, so we respond less optimally. Maybe we’re really hungry, or didn’t get a good sleep last night, or are juggling too much at work, and these things are making us more susceptible to reacting negatively. We’re also human beings with a sin nature inside of us (Romans 3:23; Romans 7:23), and a real enemy outside of us (1 Peter 5:8), that are trying to keep us from living the lives God intends for us to live. These, and many other factors, may be contributing to the negative feelings we experience inside of us and the negative choices we make relationally.
The root of our reaction will help direct us to the most appropriate remedy for the reaction. And sometimes, our reaction doesn’t fit the present moment because the root for our reaction is in an entirely different situation all together.
Think for a moment about the last time you noticed yourself feeling about, or responding to a situation in a way that, perhaps in retrospect, didn’t seem to be very helpful or appropriate for the needs of the moment.
How were you feeling about yourself in that situation?
This is a much different question than “how were you feeling in that situation.” The latter often leads us to answers such as “I felt frustrated because he did that to me!” or “I felt sad because of what happened.” Often our answer to this question shows a focus on the external; what someone did or didn’t do, what happened or didn’t happen, rather than our internal meaning of the situation. When we focus externally, we can end up feeling powerless and out of control to change anything because the outside world often is not in our control.
The question, “How were you feeling about yourself” in a particular situation brings the focus back on self and shows us how we are interpreting the situation. And it is the meaning we make of a situation, rather than the situation itself, which often determines our response. And when we understand the story we’re telling ourselves, and where that story comes from, we have the power to make a change!
So, if you were to fill in the blanks, “I am…” when you think about that time you responded in a way that didn’t fit the situation, what would you say? What was the underlying belief or feeling about yourself in that situation?
Here are some examples sorted into categories:
Self-defectiveness: I am not good enough; I am a bad person; I am not lovable; I am inadequate; I am worthless; I am weak; I am permanently damaged; I am shameful
Responsibility: I should have done something; I should have known better; I should have done more; It is my fault
Safety: I am not safe; I can’t trust anyone; I am in danger; I can’t protect myself; I am going to die; It is not ok to feel or show my emotions
Control: I am not in control; I am powerless; I am helpless; I am weak; I cannot be trusted; I cannot trust myself
When I think back to that potty training moment where I lost my cool, the feeling I had about myself, or the meaning I made of the situation, was “I am powerless.” And truthfully, there was absolutely nothing I could do to make my little guy use the potty. Nothing! No matter how hard I tried, I could not control whether he goes on the floor or in the potty. Bummer!
But this potty training moment of not being in control hooked in a part of my brain which held a memory of another time I was not in control. A time where the stakes were much higher, and the damage was much greater; a moment that caused deep pain. Perhaps the first time I felt “powerless.”
And folks, herein lies a link between the past and the present. Now, my mind no longer thinks am I safe in the bathroom with my toddler entering the exciting phase of learning to potty, but is telling me I am back in the past. Hence, I start responding intensely and inappropriately in the present, to neutralize the threat of the past.
So for your situation, what was the meaning you made about yourself? And when was the first, or an earlier time in your life, that you felt that way? Or, where did you learn that message about yourself? The answers to these questions can often lead us to the root of our reactions. And when we know where the root is, we have greater ability to nourish that root the way it needs to grow.
Our reactions are often the only things we can see. It’s like a plant that springs up from the ground. And when our reactions are unhelpful or inappropriate for a particular situation, we can feel discouraged, embarrassed, or shameful about our behaviors. It’s like noticing a plant that’s leaves are withering, fruit is damaged, and looks ugly, and judging it as a bad plant.
But what if we could see this plant compassionately, and curiously? Rather than judging the plant as bad or wrong or needing to be fixed, what if we started getting curious about what its roots looked like? What kind of soil has it been growing in? Maybe there’s something beneath the surface that needs a kind gardener to nourish and bring healing to, to enable the plant to blossom as it is intended.
So the next time you find yourself responding to a situation in a way that doesn’t seem to fit, try practicing curiosity about the meaning you are making about yourself, and where that is actually coming from. You might find that you are actually responding to a situation from the past, which can lead you to uncovered depths of you that are hurting and need the love of Christ. And it is when we shine the loving light of Christ onto these roots that we have the power to take responsibility for them in effective ways, rather than letting them wreak havoc in our lives beneath the surface.
Bridget Butterworth MA, LPC Intern
Supervised by Sarah Walters MA, LPC-S
Published on Sep 14 @ 11:24 AM CDT
Feelings are hard. And right in the middle of them is fear. It is interesting how many of our actions are based on fear: fear of the unknown and the uncertain, fear of change, fear of loss, fear of rejection, and the list goes on. To deny that we have fear is not the same as denying fear its power and authority. It requires courage to do so, but, like all of our emotions, it can be helpful to lean in and discern what our fear is telling us. In order to do so, it's helpful to understand what the Bible has to say about fear as well as to have some tools to tap in to.
I've been thinking recently about the feelings I'm feeling. And the feelings I see other people feeling.
Feelings are hard, y'all. Seriously. And right in the middle of them is fear.
It is interesting to me how many of our actions are based on fear: fear of the unknown and the uncertain, fear of change, fear of loss, fear of rejection. Feel free to add to this list; there are plenty more.
By the way, our actions, and the actions of others, that are based on fear don't always look like fear. In fact, most of the time, we as human beings have learned to disguise our fear as hostility, aggression, dismissal... But, if we dig deep enough, there's almost always fear in there somewhere.
Do not be afraid.
It has always been comical to me that the Bible so often says, "Do not be afraid." Oh. Ok. Thanks.
I'm not sure I would go so far to call it a command, but it is certainly a heavy theme throughout scripture. In fact, there's a popular notion that the Bible reminds us to not be afraid 365 times. I would argue that it is really more than that, but, regardless of the number of times we're reminded, the fact that we're told not to be afraid implies two things:
- Somehow, we have a choice.
- Just because we feel afraid doesn't mean there is something to fear.
Don't worry about digesting those things yet; we'll unpack them later. First, let me also say this:
- Emotions are real.
- Emotions are legitimate.
- Having emotions is not evidence of weakness.
All emotions — fear included — are natural and necessary parts of our existence. "Emotion" is a Latin word, combining two roots: "e" or "ex" meaning "out" and "move?" meaning "move." Emotions are important because they are part of the mechanism that God placed within us to create movement. Emotions tell us when something needs to be done. Emotions tell us when it is time to "move out" of ourselves and to initiate change in our environment.
But that doesn't mean our default reaction is our best reaction. In fact, it rarely is.
OK, so if we're not supposed to "be" afraid, what are we supposed to be? What are we supposed to feel? What are we supposed to do?
Great questions. Consider this:
"Fear" in Hebrew is yare', and in Greek is phobe?. Both simply mean to be afraid, but there's also an element of reverence. Reverence, of course, is a recognition of power and authority, which leads us to an interesting idea: if we're operating out of a place of fear, and we allow ourselves to continue to operate out of that place, we're granting and recognizing the power and authority of fear and of our circumstances.
Operating out of a place of fear feels restrictive and limited. Part of the reason it feels so scary is because we feel like there aren't any options, and there's nowhere to go. I'm not suggesting that "the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself." In fact, just the opposite.
To deny that we have fear is not the same as denying fear its power and authority. It requires courage to do so, but, like all of our emotions, it can be helpful to lean in and discern what our fear is telling us. Fear, as an emotion, is not to be feared. The fear that FDR spoke of in his inaugural address is paralyzing, nameless, and unreasoning. That doesn't mean we have to be those things, too.
Let me say one more thing about choice: it may be hard to see our choices around fear, but let's consider these ideas in light of other common emotions. Consider, for example, anger. It's ok to feel angry. Ephesians 4:26 doesn't say, "don't get angry." It says, "Be angry and do not sin...." As hard as that is to do, we're not designed nor intended to act on our every emotional whim.
That being said, what are we supposed to do with our emotions? If we're not to allow them to dictate our actions, what are they there for?
I like to think of emotions as a sign. As I mentioned earlier, emotions create momentum and a drive to act — much like an exit sign on the highway points to a place to go. But these signs don't always point to the right place; if you followed every sign you saw, you would never get anywhere. In the same way, following the direction of every emotion is not going to lead us to the places where we are meant to go.
But, unlike exit signs on the highway, emotion signs are always meaningful — not necessarily because of what they are pointing to, but often because of what they are pointing from. More accurately, emotions can be thought of as a two-way sign — while part of the emotion is pointing outward, part of it is also pointing inward. And there is almost always value in exploring what our emotions are telling us about ourselves.
Why? Because, as Colossians 3:15 tells us, we are to "let the peace of Christ be in control in [our] heart[s]... and be thankful." That's hard to do if we are allowing our emotions to tell us where to go, or if we're suppressing our emotions and pretending they aren't telling us anything at all.
I feel like it is important to add a point of clarification here: if you touch a hot stove, your body, in an effort to protect itself, will attempt to resolve the situation before you even have a chance to think about it. Similarly, there are times where our fear is telling us to do something very immediate because, if we don't, we'll be seriously harmed. Please don't read this post as an argument that you need to delay or postpone action — and endure further harm - just because you sense fear. Like every other emotion, fear comes from a place within us that wants to keep us safe. It doesn't always know how to do that, though. If you're afraid, and you feel trapped, please don't feel like you have to figure it out all on your own.
Get some perspective.
One of the key characteristics of fear is paralysis; if you or someone you know is paralyzed by fear, recognize that that is a really hard place to be. And it is totally normal. For many of us, our desire to fix (and avoid) the feeling kicks in, and we miss the opportunity to hear what is really going on. The scriptures that tell us to "not be afraid" might give us the impression that we shouldn't fear - but the real message is that we don't have to. If we're stuck in fear, that doesn't mean we've done it wrong. Maybe it just means we haven't read the sign. So let's slow down, take a deep breath, and be kind to ourselves. It is worth noting that some of the most reassuring and comforting phrases in the Bible come after a reminder that we don't need to be afraid.
Let the peace of Christ be in control in your heart...
Interesting. "Let." This isn't something you do. It is, instead, something that you don't do. Get out of the way by practicing self-kindness, seeing yourself as your Father does, and giving yourself space to feel what you're feeling. In doing so, you can begin to feel less paralyzed by your emotions and, instead, begin to find the courage to discover parts of yourself that you might not otherwise see.
...and be thankful.
Bear with me here; this reminds me of Philippians 4, where Paul tells us to, "not be anxious about anything" (6a). Anxiety is a precursor to fear, like fear's little brother or something. Paul says when you notice yourself feeling anxious, let that anxiety be a reminder to you to take very precise action: "through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God" (6b).
When we're paralyzed by fear, "just pray about it" feels pointless — but remember this: when you're struggling to take action, even a little action in the right direction is better than no action at all. Paul's prescription here is not to just pray, but to petition — which means being very direct and clear with what you're requesting — and to surround your requests with... wait for it.... thanksgiving.
Thank God for what he will do. And for what he has done. And for who he is. And for the fact that he's always, now and forever. And that, even though anxiety, fear, and life circumstances often feel incredibly overwhelming and powerful, God is infinitely more powerful. And, he loves you.
Thanksgiving is a struggle, but it is important for lots of reasons. And here's one: Paul says, if you follow his advice, "...the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:7).
Scripture isn't telling us that our feelings don't matter. The Bible doesn't say that our fears and anxieties are unimportant or that we should just ignore them or push them down and deny them. Nor is it suggesting that we should be able to muster ourselves and overcome our fears by our own will.
But there is something amazing that happens when we can step away from our fear, recognize what is going on inside of us that makes it feel so potent and so powerful, and then find the capacity to be thankful despite our circumstances: we gain perspective. That perspective allows us to hear what we could not hear, to see what we could not see, and, more often than not, to recognize options that we did not know were available to us.
So, take action:
In this moment or season, what are you afraid of? How are you struggling to try to control or minimize your fears? Be kind to yourself about those struggles, then ask God to take them. Be specific, honest, and vulnerable.
What has God done that you can choose to be thankful for? Make a list. Keep it handy.
Finally, what characteristics of God are you most thankful for right now?
Bryan Snead, M.A., NCC, LPC Intern, LMFT Associate
Supervised by Cristy Ragland, M.A., LPC-S, LMFT-S
Published on Aug 31 @ 1:20 PM CDT
One thing we can be certain of in life is that there will be uncertainty. And, for most of us, with uncertainty comes fear and anxiety. Since living with anxious thoughts is not only exhausting, but it is also not God's desire for us, it is helpful to understood helpful tips and tools for experiencing peace even when our life, and even our world, feels uncertain.
If you are anything like me recently, you too may have thought or felt that the world is spinning entirely out of control. We have suffered through the pain and challenges of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing wrongs, and sins of racial and ethnic prejudices and add to it the societal instability. It feels utterly overwhelming and hopeless at times.
A few months back, I remember waking up feeling overwhelmed by all the chaos in the world. I vividly remember driving into work, telling myself, "Certainly today will be better," only to find that our circumstances grew worse throughout the day. Again, I told myself, "Well, tomorrow will be better," only to wake up to more pain and uncertainty. What became clear to me was that I was looking to the circumstances around me for my stability.
The truth is we all seek certainty. Our brain craves it. Many studies have shown that we are calmer anticipating pain than uncertainty. How fascinating that uncertainty can feel scarier than actual physical pain. On some level, I think we all know this to be true. Anticipating a negative outcome can so often be harder than the result itself. I recently had a personal example of this struggle while waiting for biopsy reports to come back for my husband. In many ways, the waiting was worse than receiving the diagnosis.
Why is this? When we face uncertainty, the brain reacts with a fight-flight response. It will often overestimate danger and triggers hormones that tell the body to watch out, leaving you anxious and worried about the future.
So, returning to my anxiety during these uncertain times, I recognized that I was seeking certainty in my circumstances. As a believer and a mental health professional, it could be very tempting to berate myself for these experiences. Instead of ignoring or shaming myself, I asked myself, "How do I face today's challenges with gracious uncertainty?" These thoughts came to mind.
1) Remember Jesus's compassionate instructions to us. Uncertainty isn't new. As we read in the Bible, God's people faced uncertain circumstances throughout history. His disciples, those closest to Jesus, faced anxiety and fear as He told them He would be going to the Cross. With loving words, Jesus spoke to them, "Peace I leave with you; my Peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." Remembering God's kindness and compassion toward our fear enables us to face them. I believe the degree I can meet my struggles with kindness and compassion is the degree I can offer the same to others as they struggle.
2) Clinging to God's loving word during anxiety anchors us to His faithfulness. I have heard it said of ships when they get into a storm, drop anchor and be still. Staying in the present moment keeps us from future tripping about what might or might not happen. One beautiful way to stay anchored in the present is to take God's word and literally breathe it in. I invite you to stop throughout your day, breathe in His Peace and, breathe out fear. Anchoring God's word to the breath is a beautiful way to hold on to the hope of His word.
3) Stay connected to God and His people. Did you know that when we talk to family and friends, it releases all those good oxytocin chemicals in the brain? I know you’re thinking, "You don't know my family," but it's true. God has designed us for connection, and part of that beautiful design is the benefits our brain receives from connecting with others and Him. Our Church family is also a considerable resource God has given us during these challenges. I encourage you to invite your friends and family to be a part of our online services, or if your health permits, attend one of our in-person services. This connection is vital to our hearts, souls, and minds as well.
4) Give gratitude for the fleas. What? One of my favorite stories is from the book The Hiding Place. Corrie Ten Boons' sister is challenging her in a concentration camp to practice gratitude. What follows is a less than half-hearted prayer of gratitude for the fleas. What God makes clear later is the reality that Corrie and her sister were able to share the gospel and lead women to Christ before they died all because the guards would not enter their barracks. Later, Corrie sincerely thanked God for the fleas. Part of gratitude is the practice of thanking God amid the fleas. Gratitude may be a challenge for you right now. It's not easy, but it allows us to change our perspective, brings us back to the present, and anchors us to His love and faithfulness.
Staci Reichmanis, MA, LPC
Published on Aug 10 @ 12:24 PM CDT
The COVID-19 quarantine is a different experience for each of us. While there are likely some similarities, each of us has a different and unique take on how we’re being impacted — our daily routine, our family, our friends, and our mental health. Simply put, we’re all experiencing a storm, but we’re not all experiencing the same storm. By identifying your “storm,” you can lean into resources that might be helpful during this time.
My wife shared a great Facebook post with me the other day, and I can't stop thinking about it. The post compared our common experience of stay-at-home to riding out a storm. The fascinating point is this: we're all experiencing a storm, but we're not all experiencing the same storm.
For some of us, this is a period of rejuvenation. Life's pace is slowing down a little bit, priorities are becoming clearer, and we're using technology to connect with friends and family. This seems less like a storm, and more like those times when the rain clouds kind of lighten up, and the sun's rays shine through.
For others, we're waiting for a break in the weather; the rain is present, but maybe not constant. We're ready for the rain to stop and, sometimes, grateful for the refreshment. We're enjoying having dinner as a family every night. Watching movies and playing games. Taking walks. Riding bikes. We're thankful for the opportunity to spend time together, and, if we're honest, kind of ready to have some of our old routine back.
Then there's the thunderstorm: some of us are haunted by loud, ominous clouds of anxiety or anger. The people we live with are driving us batty and we're fairly certain that we can't stand another day with them. And, of course, we can't focus on anything other than the news. Or our aging parents. Or our children. Or our grandchildren. Or groceries. Or...
Still others of us are feeling helpless and hopeless, watching as the hurricane tears apart the life we've built. The roof is coming off, the foundation is washing away, and we can't find any way to stop the damage. Our marriage is crumbling, our kids are floundering, and our incomes and savings are disappearing.
a spectrum of experience
This storm is a wide spectrum of experience - and you may find yourself at many points on that spectrum throughout the day. One minute, you're delighted to be connecting with a friend on FaceTime, and the next you're screaming at your kids and beating yourself up over it. (I know because I'm having that experience, too.)
But here's something we should all remember: all of these experiences are normal, as is everything in between. Feeling these things makes sense in our current climate - but that doesn't mean we're out of options.
Consider what your storm looks like; review these resources and ideas, and, even though it might seem silly, give some a try. You might be surprised.
|If your storm is....||...try...|
a heavy rain
Published on Apr 14 @ 10:26 AM CDT