Getting to know your fears

Getting cosy with your inner gatekeepers this Halloween season

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A woman lies in the dark with her face in her hands.
A woman lies in the dark against a black background. Her hands are over her face and she looks scared. Photo is by Melanie Wasser on Unsplash.

October is here, and with it the season of ghosts, ghouls and things that go bump in the night. It’s all-too-easy at this time of year – especially in a year like this one – to focus on what’s scary, and convince ourselves they’re the things that will always keep us stuck.

It’s something I hear from clients time and time again, but the more of those clients I work with, and the further I go on my own journey, the more certain I become that our fears aren’t monsters that are there to keep us stuck.

The more I work with them, the more I realise that our fears are often nothing but the gatekeepers to our potential; helpers that might just offer clearer signposts to the road ahead, if only we take the time to stop and get to know them.

I know, I know, that may not sound like the most appealing of prospects but let me explain a little more.

Did you ever play computer games? As a kid I was a big Sonic the Hedgehog fan. When it came to navigating through each level, I was pretty good. But when it came to the end of level face-offs with Sonic’s arch-nemesis Dr Robotnik? Then I was always scuppered… Until I took the time to get to know the bad guy.

I realised that if I sat back first time around – getting the odd hit in where I could but otherwise watching the bad guy, I could learn his movements, his tactics and his weaknesses. Then second time around, that information fresh in my mind, he became way easier to beat.

In many ways, our fears our similar.

They know us inside out, meaning that they come into each encounter with us armed with everything they know will leave us cowering in a corner and feeling our smallest.

 But what if we evened the odds and took the time to get to know our fears a little more? For me, there are four big steps that can help us to do exactly that:

What do they have to say?

Our fears have some interesting ways of talking to us, usually through lowlight reels of the worst moments of our lives and biggest fears about the future. What are they saying? As uncomfortable as it may be, paying attention is where we get to know our enemies.

Listen to the lies your fears try to tell you and watch the memories and worst case scenarios they bring to your mind, then pay attention to how each of those make you feel mentally, emotionally and physically too.

Where are they talking rubbish?

Why yes, I did once fall on my butt in front of a group of cool, older boys; something that the voice of my “not cool enough” fear reminded me of many, many times over the years as it tried to keep me small. And for a long time I listened. Until I came to the realisation that was only one occasion – an occasion where the ground was muddy and I was wearing ridiculously high platform sneakers (the Spice Girls circa 1997 had a lot to answer for) – and that otherwise teen age was actually pretty good at staying calm, collected and upright in the face of coolness.

And yes, it’s true, there was undoubtedly that one time when you also fell on your face, said the wrong thing or made a choice that didn’t work out exactly as you planned. But what about all the other times? What if you were to call bullshit on those memories by listing all the facts that disprove them as the norm and reminding yourself just how powerful you really are?

A former client of mine attended a workshop from Google, within which she was encouraged to keep an “I am incredible” list. Why? So that on the days her fears got a little too loud, and she found herself cowering in the corner she could return to that list and remind herself just who those fears were trying to take on.

What’s the real why?

Here’s where that signposting I mentioned earlier gets really interesting. Because if we can dig under those painful memories and sharp threats our fears throw at us, we can start to truly understand them.

There’s a technique we often use in therapy called Socratic questioning; it invites us to respond to answers with a series of whys, asking the client to dive deeper and deeper into their motivations until eventually they get to the root of the problem.

I call our fears gatekeepers because often they are the things holding us back from the treasure of our full potential. And while that potential is undoubtedly brilliant and will take you on the road to your wildest dreams… it also likely means making changes in your life, some of which may be more than a little scary.

By pulling the fears underlying those worrisome whispers out by their roots, you can not only start to understand and overcome those fears so much more easily, but also get a much clearer view of the beautiful path of potential that lies ahead of you.

What’s the alternative?

One final thing to ask your fears once you’re done with getting acquainted: What’s the alternative? What would you rather I do if the action I’m suggesting is just too damned scary?

Undoubtedly the answer will be along the lines of staying exactly where you are; safe and comfortable in a place where nothing changes, ever, for the rest of your life. Which sounds easy enough right? Or not.

For starters, if there’s one thing we know about this life of ours it’s that nothing ever stays the same… We only have to look out at the Autumnal colours in the trees to remember that the world is eternally changing and our lives, they can only ever change with it – anything that tells you otherwise is more than likely lying to you.

But if you’re asking about making a change, if you’re having the kind of thoughts and considering the kind of moves that have the gatekeepers to your dreams shuffling uncomfortably and shouting out their terrifying warnings, then you already know that. And not only do you know that life has to change, I’d wager a part of you already wants it to change, and is way too excited about the potential lying in wait for you to let a small thing like fear hold you back!

So there we have it, four steps to getting cosy with your fears this October. Simple, eh?

OK, maybe not totally simple. In fact, if those four questions sound more than a little daunting then don’t be put off; these fears are the things that have held you back for weeks, months, maybe even years so it stands to reason that getting to know them will feel scary.

But I can also promise you it will be worthwhile; because the liberation you’ll feel when you make your way past them and race off like Sonic towards the next level of your own fulfilment? It’s greater than any of whispers that might suggest otherwise.

And remember this isn’t something you need do alone; working with a therapist can be a great way to not only gain some trusted back up when it comes to diving deeper with your fears, but also gaining a new perspective that might just help you overcome them once and for all.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.


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