Weekly Tools, Tips, and Thoughts from your Therapist

Are You Blind to Your Fears?

Blindly walking in cactus gardens - that's no way to live

Everything we do in life is motivated by feelings - we are either trying to, or expecting to, feel a certain way or avoid feeling a certain way. We are motivated to act or not act based on the beliefs we have about how it will make us feel.


In general, we are motivated towards things that will produce positive emotions, like happiness, pride, or affection. And we are repelled from things that will make us feel negative emotions, like fear, sadness, or anxiety.


Sometimes in our attempts to get away from negative feelings we begin to fear experiencing those feelings, layering the actual experience with fear. The fear encourages us to stop looking at the experience, and soon we aren't even sure what we're avoiding, but we know it is fearsome. In other words we are blind to our fears.


Everyone has fears, and you could think of them like having cacti in your garden. Being blind to your fears is like walking blind in your garden, not knowing when you might walk into one of those cacti. If we are able to open our eyes, to look at our fears, then we can firstly avoid walking into those cacti, but potentially we can remove the ones that are getting in the way, and stopping us from cultivating a beautiful garden.


How might you open your eyes? One way is to make a list of the things that you are aware of fearing. Even this task might seem frightening at first - What might I find out? That I am a scared-y-cat with an insurmountable mountain of fears? - but that is exactly the concept we are talking about. Fear is holding you back from getting clarity on your fears. What is the worst that could happen from writing down your fears?


Once you sit down with a pen and paper, begin by grounding yourself. Take three deep breaths to settle your mind and become aware of the sensations you are experiencing (the floor under your feet, the seat under you, the sounds around you, take in the room around you). Remind yourself that writing down your fears is not dangerous, and that you are choosing to take a step of wide-eyed courage, rather than walking blindly into cacti. You are strong, you are brave, you can overcome them.


To start, I'd encourage you to write down any fears that come to mind without prompt. Then begin to think about the different areas of your life one at a time (family, friends, work, projects, hobbies, education, personal history, upcoming events, etc), and begin to consider fears that might be holding you back, causing you to procrastinate, avoid certain situations, indulge in coping strategies, or experience emotions including anger, stress, overwhelm, annoyance, or the desire to withdraw.


As much as possible be as specific as you can. If it is your boss that you are afraid of, rather than writing "boss", consider what about the relationship is fearful. I am afraid of talking to my boss is quite different from I'm afraid that my work will never come up to my boss' standards. Getting this specific will help in the future. When you decide that you don't want to be held back by that fear anymore, you've already got the beginnings of a plan.


Give yourself time. Let this document be one that you can come back to, to add things or take things away. Come back to it as a reminder to open your eyes, and as a way forward.


Consider what you could do if you were not afraid. Not afraid to fail, not afraid to feel afraid. That would be one beautiful garden, definitely one worth opening your eyes for.

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