Changing Our Relationship with Fear

Changing Our Relationship with Fear...

We all know fear – or at least the feeling of fear that shows up as a racing heart, tightness in the belly, sweaty palms or swirling thoughts. We avoid the situation or lash out in anger, expressions of the fight or flight response that evolved to help us survive real and imminent danger. We would not want to wish it away, for that would mean sure death.

However, in our world of relative safety, this millennia old survival response begins to also construct fears. “What if”, “I have a feeling that”, “Something tells me” are largely a figment of the imagination of a psychological self that simply strives to safeguard a failing sense of self-worth. We end up reacting in ways that limit our ability to grow, experience life and live with freedom and boldness.

How then do we tame our fears and move beyond the conviction of impending disaster? The answer, handed down the ages from contemplative traditions, and now tested and researched by science, is the following: We need to face our fears.

It sounds deceptively simple. And yet, putting it into practice takes courage, vulnerability and the willingness to face the memories, beliefs and experiences we have long silenced. However liberating the outcome, the journey isn’t wrought with roses. Years of avoiding our fears has strengthened the neural networks that convince us of our inadequacies.

So here is a simple technique to begin the rewiring process – one that will luckily not get rid of fear, but which will allow you to bring conscious attention to it, so that you learn to recognize it, and then offer it the kindness and care it really seeks. This will give you the courage to step up and respond in ways that are aligned with your highest self – and in the process build your inner self-worth.

Recognize the feeling of fear

Most of us skip this first step – which is why we get run over by our emotions. In those fleeting moments before an emotional hijack, our body is our best indicator. Perhaps it’s a racing heart, or tightness in your belly. Perhaps it’s tension in your shoulders or stiffness in your jaw. Connecting with these bodily feelings is essential so you don’t let fear run the show.

Listen to its thoughts of insecurity

Fear will rarely pat us on the back and applaud our capabilities! It’s language is one of helplessness and rejection – sometimes as a whining child and sometimes as a bully. Listen to it regardless, because thoughts impact feelings and behaviors. “They’re going to leave me” will either lead to clinging or shutting down – but surely not to opening up with genuine love and kindness.

Enter its world with empathy

There are universal fears we’re born with. And then there are the experiential fears that grow through our early experiences. When we were little and helpless, these fears were very real. Today though, they are likely untrue and surely unhelpful, but just as real in our adult minds.

Offer it the kindness it seeks

This is the game changing dialogue. Pushing aside our fears, or avoiding them, simply makes them grow and become us. Talking to them as to a fearful child, asking them what they really need, and providing them with a warm embrace is often enough to calm them down and put us back in the driver’s seat.

So here’s the challenge:

The next time you feel fear in your body or your mind, ask yourself “What am I avoiding right now?” Connect to the voice of low self-worth that doesn’t believe in its competence or lovability, and give it the assurance that it’s safe. That it’s competent. That it’s loved. That it’s enough. That you’re enough.

And then armed with this inner strength, go out and do the very thing you would do if the fear were no longer running the show.

Do write your comments below and let me know how it went. I’d love to hear from you!

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12 comments… add one
  • Leslie Brim April 1, 2016, 6:58 pm

    This made me realize how fear is running my life. I didn’t know what this feeling was.

    • Homaira Kabir April 2, 2016, 1:31 pm

      Its wonderful to understand the feeling isn’t it? Its creates the distance you need to listen to your real voice.

  • Judy April 2, 2016, 6:49 am

    I have fear of conflict and that if I confront someone they will leave me or stonewall and noth
    INR will be gained to heal or promote understanding.

    • Homaira Kabir April 2, 2016, 1:42 pm

      Dear Judy – it could have something to do with your past experiences – even very early ones. It creates very vicious (and sometimes self-fulfilling cycles) because you begin to act in a way that presumes the outcome you fear.
      I will be offering a 5 week course in early June on building healthy relationships. I think its so needed because we all have a lot of baggage – and unless we understand it, we only carry it forward.
      Its a journey – and I can see you’re already on it. Be patient and your self-worth will soon begin to shine. All the best!

  • Judy April 2, 2016, 4:44 pm

    Please send me the information for your course on building healthy relationships. I truly value your advice and support and want to continue with your work. Do you have workshops or retreats that one could participate in?
    Thank you!

    • Homaira Kabir April 3, 2016, 6:19 pm

      Thank you Judy – I’m very touched! I sense you will benefit greatly because it begins from within – understanding our own minds and behaviours – and then coming into our relationships from a place of inner strength. It is online – the weekly lessons will be via video with reflective and experiential exercises to do over the week – all at your own pace.
      My website launches mid May and all the information will be there. Stay tuned and I’ll also let you know by email once its launched. Take care!

  • Deb April 4, 2016, 11:05 am

    It’s very interesting to read your article – I also have a fear of conflict and would like to break the cycle and become more confident. Please send me some information on your workshop.
    Regards Deb

    • Homaira Kabir April 4, 2016, 1:52 pm

      Hi Deb – Good on you for wanting to take charge of your life! All my programs are online – the courses run for 5 weeks – weekly videos and exercises on a variety of topics related to self-confidence. The first one coming in early June is on romantic relationships.
      The coaching programs are offered through weekly Skype calls and ongoing communication through a platform called basecamp where we email, upload exercises and set schedules and timelines. Its based on cognitive behavioural techniques, mindfulness practices and scientifically validated to strengthen you with inner confidence.
      My website launches mid May – I will announce it via the newsletter (and also email you) – would love to help you in your journey!

  • Kjerstin April 17, 2016, 7:22 pm

    It’s intriguing how the universe works. How it aligns to give you what you need when you need it if you pay attention. We were touching on acknowledging our fears at yoga last week, being curious about it and asking it what it needs rather than the fight or flight response that usually clicks in with fear. Your article is timely, I particularly liked your statement that as parents we sit with a fearful child and calm them and ask them how we can help. Why on earth wouldn’t we treat ourselves as gently! I will look forward to your course in May with an open heart. Thank you for your many insights, Homaira.

    • Homaira Kabir April 18, 2016, 3:37 pm

      Thank you Kjerstin for your warm words!
      Yes, we really see more of the world when we pay attention! Makes you also think how much we miss out because we’re only attentive a small percent of the time…
      I’m so glad the article helped – nothing like the same concept being consolidated from multiple angles.
      I too am really excited about my new website launch in May and the course in June. I know you’ll find lots more that may help.

  • Cathie November 11, 2016, 9:59 pm

    This article is very insightful. I feel like I’ve been living in fear for so long that I’ve lost touch with everything else, I’m not even sure there is anything else. How can I recognize the underlying thoughts & emotions?

    • Homaira Kabir November 12, 2016, 11:35 am

      Dear Cathie, you begin by getting in touch with your body. You’ll find many online body scans that can help you do so. Here’s a link to one thats backed by research. The reason for getting in touch with your body is that you’ll learn to recognize fear before you act on it, and can thus create space between stimulus and response. And that’s the greatest power any one of us can ever hold. In that space you can listen to your thoughts – and challenge them if needed or simply hold them with compassion without acting on them. Its a process. I hope this helps!

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