False Evidence Appearing Real

Somebody left these four words as a comment on Alanis Morissette’s Facebook page in response to our interview. I looked at the words for a minute then spelled out the acronym: F.E.A.R. Oh, yes. Yes yes yes. Fear is certainly False Evidence Appearing Real. It’s often extraordinary how much fear distorts our perception of reality. I’ll give you an example from my own life and then some current examples from my clients and E-Course customers.

I’ve been somewhat over-focused lately on a mole on my older son’s back. Now, he’s always had a constellation of four moles that create a perfectly straight diagonal line from his left shoulder blade to his lower back. I’ve loved these moles since he was a baby and have often marveled at the fact that they seemed to foreshadow his passion for science and outer space. Seen through the lens of love, my husband and I have smiled at the moles throughout the years and named them “Constellation Everest.” In short, they’ve always been a warm source of joy.

Then, a few months ago, a friend of mine went to see her dermatologist to have her moles checked. She has a family history of skin cancer so she’s vigilant about checking her moles. I didn’t think much of it until she told me that she was taking her young son as well and, as it turned out, the doctor expressed some concern about one of his moles. It never occurred to me that a child could develop skin cancer. My radar just wasn’t attuned to that topic. Until now.

The next thing I know, one of Everest’s moles looks bigger. Really, much bigger. Every night when he and his brother take a bath, the second mole in Constellation Everest blares out at me and seems just a fraction of a millimeter bigger than it did the night before. It’s no longer beautiful and sweet; it now appears menacing, a harbinger of doom. There are nights when my stomach literally drops in panic at the sight of it. I even went so far as to measure it a few weeks ago so I would have a baseline from which to check my calculations. My fear-mind is absolutely convinced that there’s something wrong. And even as I write this, I have to keep my fear-mind in check, as it just popped up saying, “Well, now that you’ve written about this in your blog, it probably means it’s true. It’s not fear; this is reality.”

False Evidence Appearing Real.

Breathe. Wow. Sometimes I can really scare myself. Especially when it comes to the health of my kids.

Okay. I’ve worked enough with the fear-mind to be able to pull myself out of it. When I breathe into my deepest self and connect to God, I know that he’s fine. My fear has attached onto the mole as its latest place to hang its hat. Fear has to hang its hat somewhere; it doesn’t like floating in amorphous space untethered from its space pod. My anxiously engaged clients hang their fear on the questions of, “Am I making a mistake? Do I love him/her enough (or the right way, or at all)?” My pregnant and new motherhood clients hang the fear on, “What if something is wrong with my baby?” My married clients, who haven’t quite taken the leap from attaching their joy and aliveness onto their partner to taking full responsibility for their well-being, hang the fear on, “It would be better with someone else. Someone else would make me feel passionate and happy.” Fear likes the tangible. It also likes to project onto somebody else. This gives us the illusion of control.

What is that we’re so desperately trying to control? Loss. Feeling out of control. The unknown of the future. Taking full responsibility for our well-being. The fear-mind says, “If I’m hyper-vigilent about Everest’s mole, I can control the future. I can avoid unbearable loss. If I let go, something bad will happen.” It’s a lie, of course. It’s pure fantasy and illusion. The truth – the difficult yet ultimately liberating truth – is that the future is out of my hands. The fear-mind of the anxiously engaged says, “If I analyze my partner to death, I can avoid making a mistake. If I walk away from love, which is a risk, I can avoid the possibility of loss.” Again, it’s pure illusion, but fear’s mission is to keep you separate from the risk of love. Love is vulnerable. Fear, as awful as it feels to be in its grip, is safe.

I’ll say it again: Fear distorts reality. Seeing life through the eyes of fear is like walking through a fun house with wavy, distorted mirrors. One of my clients, who has been struggling to remove his negative projection from his wife, spent several months thinking that she was fat. The ironic truth was that she was actually thinner than she had ever been since he met her, but his fear eyes added fifteen pounds to her frame. Isn’t that extraordinary? That’s how powerful fear is.

The antidote to the fear-mind is the faith-mind. The faith-mind says, “I surrender to the future which is out of my hands. I surrender to this moment and to accepting that which I cannot control. I let go of negative thoughts and anything that prevents me from living each moment as fully as possible. I choose to see the reality of now, what is only before my eyes. I choose to see this moment through the eyes of love. What does love see?”

Ask yourself right now. Wherever you are, close your eyes and ask yourself, “What does love see? What is fear trying to protect me from?” And let me know your answers.

20 comments to False Evidence Appearing Real

  • mandy

    I laughed when I got to this part: “Well, now that you’ve written about this in your blog, it probably means it’s true. It’s not fear; this is reality.”

    I recently went through something very similar (the fear was about my own health and I can honestly say I am the furtherest thing from a hypochondriac!)and I even had that same exact thought when I wrote about it on my blog! It’s funny (well, not really) how easy it is to be taken over by fear. I found that once I got the courage to talk about it with a few people who were close to me (I had this absurd notion that if I spoke it outloud it would become real!) the fear began to dissolve and now I’m happily on the other side.

    Your posts are so incredibly helpful. As someone who is approaching her wedding date (end of this month!) I find each of your posts to be exactly what I need to hear. You are doing important work and I am thankful for you!

  • Wow… this is so accurate. Going back to my post on the eeyore article, when I think about the possibility of becoming boring in the relationship, I feel this need to keep it exciting. Like if we havent spoken in a few minutes I will start panicking and try to think of something to say. I want to control the situation because if I dont control it and the relationship becomes boring then who knows what could happen? I am so afraid of our relationship not being real or not being good enough, or falling apart, or it not being marriage worthy that I am constantly trying to control it and manipulate it. I just need to let go… if only it were as easy to do as it was easy to type. :::sigh::: 🙂

  • KD

    Sheryl, I am so grateful for your work and especially the idea that fear and anxiety hold us back from embracing life. We create this mental picture in our heads, and because these thoughts and feelings exist in our minds, they MUST be true. Not so.

    Byron Katie echoes many of the same sentiments you share above. Her approach is to ask yourself 4 questions:

    – Is it true?
    – Can you absolutely know it’s true?
    – How do you react – what happens – when you believe that thought?
    – Who would you be without that thought?
    — And lastly, turn that entire thought around.

    If you ask yourself these questions with regards to the situation, being health issues or engagement, you can begin to let go of the stress that’s holding you hostage. It’s about letting go.

    Great post. Thank you.

  • KD – I love Byron Katie’s work and I think I’ll post what you wrote here separately to make sure everyone sees it. The four questions are a very effective way to work with the fear voices.


  • Sarah

    For me fear is all about keeping me small, preventing me from growing as an individual. It’s protecting me from experiencing the loss of life as I’ve known it, from stepping into the unknown of the future, especially living in a way that’s new and exciting. Fear is protecting me from risking growing to the next level, personally and interpersonally, and tells me that if I do grow my relationship will fall apart, that I don’t know how to change with someone. Fear is keeping me from feeling the love that I already have in my life, even if it’s changing (thank goodness it’s changing!), and tells me that I can’t do this with someone who has been more supportive than I could have ever asked for. Love sees that I have a great person in my life, and fear tells me that I better cling to him or else I’ll lose him or won’t want to be with him anymore. But Love is winning – I can love him and let him go (if that’s what happens); I can love him and still do what I need to do in life. Love is helping me redefine what it means to be in a partnership – that we can walk in the same direction in life but not have to be stuck to one another. Enough of this fear!

  • amy

    Hi Sheryl- Happy new year and that’s just what it is! Old fears can be kept in 2010….I found you through Alanis’ FB page. For some reason I have been drawn to her music since the birth of her son. She has exposed and explained a lot of her feelings in her music as I tend to do in my diet:)
    Get a great doctor and go visit him/her often….. and get all your moles checked! Enjoy your family and your year.

  • Anna

    Hi everyone,
    I purchased Sheryl’s book on engagment anxiety and feel that in addition to this site and blog it helped me get through my wedding and current marriage transitions. I am grateful to you Sheryl and everyone who has the courage to share their experiences – otherwise I would feel alone and abnormal.

    I dont feel fortunate to have this never ending anxiety but feel that it is here for a reason – a lesson, a challange to make me stronger, an initiation like Sheryl mentioned and maybe to build my faith.
    The article on fear really hits home as I feel that every week I have small or big fear come up that I must deal with. In the grips of it I feels so real, so powerful and try to feel it but remember that this is not reality.

    I look at my wonderful, strong, calm husband who glides through life in peace and humor. I hope that this rubs off on me and I ask him how he handles fear, transitions?

    He mentiones that he has fears but tries not to focus on them, break them down if they are not realistic and finally just live in the now the present….that is all there is.

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you!
    I have just spent the weekend delving into this topic and have subsequently blogged until my fingers are raw. In my current installment I speak about the thoughts that get away from you…”I have become the master of manipulating a thought (and that’s all they ever are) and growing it into a monstrous ravenous beast that will devour any and all things in its path.”

    Thoughts are amazing things. They can also, if left unchecked and unchallenged take on a life of their own. And then time and energy is expended finding ways to justify them as true.

    I so appreciate your distinction between a fear-mind and a faith-mind. I have (as you know) grappled with the idea of my own faith. Letting go and giving myself over to life as possibility and one full of hope has been my journey.
    It is so wonderful to have these reminders that bring me back to ‘truth’. You are a gift.

    With love and deep thankfulness – Sophie

  • Barry

    Some really great responses here – I especially like Sarah’s comments on fear holding us back from growing.
    I found Sheryl’s site through some of her articles on Inner Bonding. A process I am trying to work through to address many of my own fears and insecurities that I have only now begun to acknowledge – brought about by a major crisis in my 12 year marriage. As I sit in limbo, giving my wife all the space and support I can to decide if she wants to continue our marriage or explore a new direction, there are plenty of new fears around too. Giving credence to them, and building all kinds of possible scenario’s in my mind are not helpful – yet sometimes hard to break away from. Fear is debilatating, but at the same time it can give a seductive comfort in allowing one to avoid looking at the real truth.
    Grounding myself in the now, living from a place of love and acceptance, and focusing on my own growth are the only real choices I have right now. They are the only real choices we ever have, if we are to be honest with ourselves.
    Thank you Sheryl for your work here – it is incredibly helpful!

  • KD

    Barry – never really thought of it that way, but this idea resonates with me:

    “Fear is debilatating, but at the same time it can give a seductive comfort in allowing one to avoid looking at the real truth.”

    Some of us have a really hard time confronting the fears, as much as we think we’d like them to go away, because they are really hard to deal with. Whether it’s our issues, our partner’s issues or both, we tend to stray from harsh reality because fear is a good enough scapegoat. But instead of calling it fear, we call it ‘I don’t like the way he chews his food’ or ‘her laugh is annoying – I can’t deal.’

    Thanks for sharing. As you said, at some point or another, it’s really out of your hands. Good luck with everything.

  • I remember thinking that exact thing during engagement – that if I didn’t pay attention to the fears, then I was ignoring something big, grand, and surely important. These fears just seemed way too important to ignore at the time, but the problem is, when you’re focusing on problems that aren’t really there, you drive yourself nuts trying to find a resolution to the fears.

    I can’t express enough how much fear overshadows our true thoughts and feelings regarding transitions. Fear didn’t (and still doesn’t) allow me to truly enjoy engagement/other life transitions because I become so focused on feeling fear that other feelings aren’t allowed to happen.

  • Natalie

    I LOVE this post. Like Anna, I found Sheryl’s work during my engagement… well, honestly, right before my wedding. I used her information and read the book in my first few months of marriage. I connected with some amazing women whom I now feel have become friends, although we haven’t met in real life. Because of all these factors and some therapy on my own, I know I’m someone who struggles with fear… who catastrophsizes things when they don’t need to be… who can become paralyzed by some small thing blown way out of proportion in my mind. And it’s all because of fear.

    Every “reason” Sheryl listed, I’ve felt. I’ve lived it. I will again. Tools I’ve learned help, but that doesn’t mean that fear doesn’t still “win” sometimes. But knowing this and accepting it in a way is freeing.

    I love what Sarah wrote… thank you for that.

    And Sheryl, thank you for this post. I needed it today. 🙂

  • magda

    Fear is almost like a plant. If you give it enough attention, it will grow into something wild that can’t be controlled, unless you try to eliminate it. I’ve been engaged for 7 months, have huge anxiety, make myself believe that I don’t love my fiance, that our engagement happened too fast, so on. Then I try to come up with answer from the past to see if I really loved him, if we had a connection. The actual truth is that I need to look at now and stop trying to figure out what was then. It feel weird around my fiance just because I’ve been upsent for so long, and the only life that I’ve lived was the anxious life. So without the anxiety, who am I? Is that the liminal stage?

  • Janelle

    WOW!! Hi Natalie! I just saw that you commented on this post. I don’t know if you remember me, but I wrote on here when I was engaged and you wrote back to me. You helped me sooooo much during my engagement with your comments, so thank you! I have now been married for 6 months. Married life is so much better then engagement life, although I do struggle with the fears from time to time. How long have you been married now? How’s everything going?

  • I look forward to seeing most of you over in the new Conscious Weddings E-Course Forum. I’ve invited Natalie and Anna to join the conversation as well and I know you’ll benefit from their wisdom and compassion as much as past brides have.

  • Hey E-Course Participants (which is most of you): Let’s move this discussion over to the new Conscious Weddings E-Course Message Board!

  • seekingclarity

    How do I get to the e-course message board?

  • It’s a password-protected forum for e-course participants (and specially invited members of the old board). If that’s you, email me and I’ll let you know how to gain access.

  • chelsea

    Very powerful story Sheryl an it’s true I can say from experience I find myself trying to run away a lot, from my relationship,an school.not entirely sure as to why. Sometimes I just feel ifs the easiest to do a no one would get hurt that way.

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