Fear-mind has a special genius for trying to prove that it’s right. It’s like we all have this aspect of our personality – some call it ego, other call it lower self – that has secretly attended law school and graduated at the top of its class. This character, terrified of change, will gather such convincing evidence to support its case that it would win in any court of law, or at the very least in the court of law that takes place inside your mind. It seeks and researches and googles in order to prove its conviction that whatever it is you’re struggling with is because you’re in the wrong relationship or you actually will harm a child or you really do have a life-threatening illness. In other words, Fear is hell-bent on proving that there is something really wrong with you, your relationship, or your health.
From what I understand, there are many reasons why we come equipped with this aspect of our personality that makes it quite difficult to accept life on life’s terms and step into the river’s flow more easily. From a physical safety perspective, there is certainly an aspect of fear that is healthy: it’s the part of us that is cautious while driving and thinks twice before stepping onto frozen ice. From a psychological perspective, we can understand that when we’ve been hurt early in life we erect barriers and walls around our hearts that say, “Woah, hold on. Are you sure it’s safe to risk your heart again?” As one of fear’s job is to circumvent the possibility of risk – of getting hurt either physically or emotionally – it makes sense that it would clamor for our attention when risk skirts our shores. The problem is that, especially if you’re highly sensitive, this natural and healthy tendency ramps up into overdrive in the face of any risk, making us more risk averse than the average person. And without being willing to take risks, we will never step outside our comfort zone and live life to its fullest. We won’t try new things, we won’t change our routines and, mostly, we won’t love fully. Life becomes very narrow when we choose to listen to Fear’s endless warnings and live inside our safe bubble.
One of Fear’s all-time favorite tactics is to use your anxiety as evidence of its point that something is wrong. It’s circular thinking, and it goes like this (using the example of relationship anxiety): “The depth of my anxiety is evidence that I’m in the wrong relationship.” I recently worked with a coaching client who said to me, “I wouldn’t be so anxious if the relationship wasn’t wrong for me. I’ve been struggling for months and it seems obvious that the problem is that I’m in the wrong relationship. My anxiety keeps telling me that something is wrong, so it must be true.”
This, of course, is the cardinal error when working with anxiety: to take it at face value. If we interpret the anxiety as evidence that something is wrong and bite the top-layer and most obvious hook that the thing that’s wrong is “the relationship”, we’re sunk down the rabbit hole. If, instead, we understand that the depth of the anxiety is commensurate with the depth of your own need to turn inward and attend to your pain, everything changes.
Fear-mind wants to say that the depth of the anxiety is evidence that something is wrong.
Wise mind understands that the depth of the anxiety is commensurate with the need to turn inward and commit to your inner work, not just in theory but in practice.
This applies to all kinds of anxiety. When health anxiety takes over, for example, Fear will gather evidence based on symptoms to prove that there’s really something physically wrong. Even if you’ve just received a clean bill of health from the doctor, Fear will still find a way to argue the case for “something is really wrong” or “I don’t feel right.” I’m very attuned to when Fear drops this line, both with my clients and in my own psyche, for there’s almost invariably a metaphor wrapped in the conviction. When I inquire further, I quickly learn that the “something is wrong” has to do with the sense of discomfort and groundlessness that arises when we’re struggling, either in the midst of a significant life transition or deep in the darkness when our soul is inviting (sometimes dragging) us toward change. When everything inside is unraveling, when life as we’ve known it dissolves, when our physical body manifests outwardly the shift, crumbling, and alterations that are occurring internally, it can certainly feel like “something isn’t right.”
Understanding Fear’s tactics is one of the first steps we must take in order to break free from its grip. When we can say, “That’s my fear-mind,” we’ve already distanced ourselves from this part of psyche as opposed to fusing and identifying with it. The naming diffuses the power. Once we’ve named it, we can then ask, “What is it that’s truly needing my attention? What aspect of Self is holding out its hand and asking me to grab hold?”
One of the fastest ways to shift out of the mindset of “something is wrong” is to connect to one of your practices that connect you to the fundamental “okay-ness” that rests at the bottom of your well of Self. We all have this place, and everyone has a different way of reconnecting to it. For many people, it’s the place that rises to the surface in nature, which is a direct mirroring reminder of our true nature. For others, putting on music and dancing when nobody is watching is the medicine that shakes the fear-mind out of the tangled places and sends you directly into your essential nature. These on-the-spot remedies can help enormously when it comes to doing the deeper work. They cleanse the palate and dust out at least the top layer cobwebs of habitual fear-mind so that we can create enough internal space to connect below mind where our guidance lives.
When we can call Fear onto the mat then decode the metaphor, this is the moment when we can dive into the soul-work that anxiety invites. This is when our journaling takes a different turn, and instead of perseverating on the top-layer presentation (I’m with the wrong partner; something is truly wrong with my health), we can ask, “How am I growing? What is changing inside of me? What is needing my attention? What grief, fear, vulnerability is asking to be held?” With fear out of the driver’s seat, Curiosity steps into the pole position, Wisdom gathers up her robes, the light of Clarity shines into the dark forest, and together they guide our inner explorations into our most tender regions, watching with utmost love as we unfold into our next layer of growth.