The power of fear never ceases to amaze me. When I initially entered the fear forest after my first panic attack at age 21 (three months before graduating from college), I prostrated myself at fear’s feet. I handed over my thought processes and became a complete victim to whatever fear told me was true. For several years, most of this occurred unconsciously as I hadn’t found my way to the right support. Until I learned how to challenge fear’s arguments, I was a helpless pawn under its rule, a victim in a dark forest. It was, in short, misery.
Eventually, gratefully, I found my way to the couch of a brilliant psychotherapist. He was the first to say things like, “You’re a victim to your feelings. They rule your life.” Huh? Of course I listened to my feelings. They had been my guideposts my entire life, the clues by which I made my decisions. It took me months to assimilate the concept that feelings are just feelings and not necessarily the truth. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t listen to our feelings and attend to them daily (if not hourly). But I had not comprehended the difference between feelings that were created by my thoughts which then created massive amounts of anxiety and feelings that were a response to the natural rhythm of life.
The concept didn’t really take hold until I met the man who would become my husband. After the initial free-ride of relationship bliss wore off and fear grabbed me in a stronghold of epic proportions (yes, everyone who finds their way to me thinks that their relationship anxiety is manifesting as a worse-case scenario, but I promise you I’ve been there), I was dragged into the underworld and forced to examine the level to which I handed fear my power. When fear said, “You don’t really love him,” I believed it. When fear said, “He’s just going to engulf you and steal your life force,” I believed it. When the critical part of me went into overdrive and picked him to shreds, I did nothing to stop it. Just a few months after we started dating, our tender relationship was hanging on by a thread. We even broke up (for 24 hours), but something in me couldn’t let him go. Some part of me knew that he was everything I had ever wanted in a partner, and if the relationship was going to last, I was going to have to fight.
Under the guidance of my therapist, I slowly learned to challenge fear and call its lies out onto the mat. In a life-changing session with him, I learned that fear was actually distorting my perceptions of my partner. This was astonishing to me! Fear was so powerful that it could actually alter the way I was physically seeing him! I learned that when we see life through fear-tinted glasses, it’s like walking through a fun-house where everything becomes distorted. Except that it’s not fun at all; it’s torture. Fear wanted to convince me to run because in fear’s mind, love is dangerous. Love means loss. Love mean losing myself or losing the other person. Love means risking my heart and breaking down the layers of control. Real love means that I have to be accountable and vulnerable and, since I had never met someone with whom I felt safe enough to do this, almost every fiber in my body and soul wanted to run.
But I didn’t run. Thank God, I didn’t run. I worked my tail off every day and wrote hundred of dialogues between the various characters of my mind, with the voice of my Wise Self responding. There were many moments when fear would dissolve and I would see my partner through clear eyes, standing before me with the beauty of his soul radiating out like the rays of the sun. I would see his kindness that runs through him like a river and emanates out of his warmest eyes. I would see his acts of caring, which are too numerous to list here. I would see his creativity, his soulfulness, the poetry of who he is. I would see that he’s everything I’ve ever wanted and needed, and I would be flooded with love and gratitude. Fear might rear its ugly head the very next hour, but those windows of clarity were what gave me the inspiration and the knowing that I had to keep battling through the fear voices and fighting for love.
It’s now one of my greatest joys to help others work through their fear voices and learn to choose love. When clients share their daily dialogues, I analyze them line by line, helping them see where fear has taken hold and how they can challenge it. I hold out a lifeline for them, a context that says, “I know it’s horrible right now, but if you stay with this you won’t regret it. There is nothing more worth fighting for than a shared life with a loving partner.” If it’s possible for me and the hundreds of people I’ve counseled, it’s possible for you.
I’m in awe of fear but I no longer allow it to rule my life. I won’t lie to you: Fear still occasionally takes hold and I still have to work with it until it releases its grip. But it doesn’t happen daily or even weekly. For the most part, I live my life with immense amounts of gratitude and a solid knowing that none of this would be possible – not our two boys, not our home and land, not my thriving practice, not the inner hum of peace that permeates most of my days, not the sweet and enduring love in our marriage – had I not said no to fear and yes to love.
To receive the roadmap that has guided thousands of people through the stranglehold of relationship anxiety, see my Break Free From Relationship Anxiety Course.