"The only thing we have to fear is FEAR itself."
- President Franklin Delano Roosevelt from his 1933 Inaugural Address
I was chatting with a couple of friends recently and they each revealed frustrations about someone significant in their lives being consumed by worry. One friend's wife lives with constant concern over the well being of their children out in the world, and another lamented over his mother's inability to let anything go. The commonalities between them were plentiful and included lots of ways in which my friends observed that this constant worry gets in the way of the ladies' ability to simply sit back and enjoy life. They're so busy setting their minds to figuring out plans B, C, D through Z, "just in case something awful happens" that they are completely missing all the wonderful things happening in front of them right now.
As my friends and I talked about the frustration they feel at the anxiety their wife and mother internalize, it occurred to me that these women are working to avoid something by replacing it with something else. Whether they recognize it or not (and in the case of these ladies, it sounds like "not"), they're both consumed by FEAR and their method for dealing with it is to INSTALL CONTROL.
Ugh. Fear sucks, doesn't it? It's insidious and can seep in without us even knowing it. We learn over the span of our lives through our experiences what we need to be afraid of, and then reinforce those fears by limiting ourselves in situations that present opportunities for us to overcome them.
Every time we say, "no, I'd rather not try that new thing over there" we're giving into our fear. Relying on "I just don't like change" is another way we proudly wave the fear flag. Have you ever said, "Oh, I can't do that..."? Big fear hiding right underneath that statement.
What about installing control? My friends' wife and mother seem to feel better when they can predict the outcome of a situation. They take comfort in knowing how to react in advance of something happening. And when things don't go according to plan, major frustration and disappointment set in. For them, it's all about maintaining a sense of order in their seemingly chaotic worlds.
I can remember very clearly years ago living in this space of feeling constant FEAR and INSTALLING CONTROL to overcome the discomfort being afraid created within. I'd stay in shitty relationships out of fear of being alone, and install control by allowing myself to remain with the wrong partner because I knew that he certainly wasn't going to leave ME, so I could always predict the outcome. I'd set expectations for social engagements and then end up wildly disappointed when someone didn't fit the role I'd created for them in my head. This cycle of frustration and disappointment was devastating to deal with at times, especially since my whole goal with installing control was to avoid ever having to feel anything negative.
Isn't that ironic? When we let FEAR guide our choices in life and insist on being in control of outcomes because we don't want to feel pain, we're actually completely blocking any ability the universe might have to present us with happy, fun options. And by blocking happiness and fun, we're just living with status quo. And if FEAR is our status quo, that certainly doesn't feel good, does it?
Even if we're INSTALLING CONTROL to avoid discomfort, we're not likely enjoying ourselves very much because we're constantly observing situations and waiting for inevitable disaster to befall us. And if you think about it, are we really as in control as we think we are?
When we insist on expecting to know what's coming so we can prepare for it, we're giving the idea of "faith" a big old "F**K YOU!" Whether it's Faith with a capital F, like Faith in God or the Universe or "Source", or if it's faith with a little f, like faith in your loved ones, or faith that the right thing is going to happen no matter what, when we insist on being in the driver's seat, faith can't even get in the car with us. That's a pretty lonely, solitary place to be...
So how do we interrupt that cycle? Or perhaps help our loved ones do it?
It all comes down to awareness.
When we have awareness of how we're thinking, feeling and behaving, life just opens right up. Having an understanding that "FEAR" is what we should be afraid of because of the ways it causes paralyses and loneliness in our life allows us to be open to a million other possibilities and amazing potentialities. It provides us with perspective and a new view of our world in the present moment, so we can truly enjoy what we have RIGHT NOW.
If you're living in this cycle of FEAR and find yourself INSTALLING CONTROL to manage it, try these 3 steps to bring more awareness into your life right now:
- Pay attention to your feelings. They are the best indicator of our thoughts and point a giant foam finger at any limiting beliefs and fears we may have. Knowing what our limiting thoughts and beliefs are is half the battle to installing new ones.
- Install a new thought. It's been said that two competing thoughts can't occupy the mind at the same time, so if your thoughts point to fear, redirect your mind to something more empowering. Envision smiling, happy faces all around you; recall a happy memory; picture your favorite person, place, animal. Anything that will move your mind from FEAR to LOVE should do the trick.
- Allow yourself to go down the rabbit hole. Even though it sounds a bit counterintuitive, try a little session of "and then what will happen?" to play out all of those worst case scenarios. Face the fear head on, look at all the possibilities of what might happen, and I guarantee that at the end of EVERY POSSIBLE OPTION you'll end up with, "and we'll all always be OK". (Yes, even if death and dismemberment happens to be the end-game of your worst case scenario.) The other benefit to playing out each possible outcome is that by saying these things out loud and acknowledging your fears exist, you will undoubtedly see how mostly irrational and limiting they actually are. By shining a spotlight on the ways in which the fear doesn't serve your life you can get past it that much more quickly.
If you're not the one who struggles with this but you witness a friend or loved one trying to manage fear through control, try these steps on for size:
- Be an example of empowerment. Don't enable their fear by agreeing to change your choices or values in life to fit in with their fears. You can, in a respectful and loving way, ensure that your behavior reflects your commitment to yourself and your fearful friend to live an empowered life. By making choices that reflect courage and faith, you are a living example of what you hope your friend will become.
- Go down the rabbit hole with them. Be a beacon of safety and their flashlight of reality by working through the worst case scenarios with them. As I mentioned above, often when we give ourselves permission to look at all the awful outcomes in the light of day, they tend not to look so awful in the end. By providing a safe space to see that and by being their loving guide down the rabbit hole, you can help your friend see how ineffective the fear really is in their life. Now, the key words here are "safe" and "loving". This is only effective when those factors are in play. It's imperative that you set aside any sense of mockery or frustration YOU might feel in order to provide that opportunity for them to see for themselves how limiting their fear actually is for them.
- Love them anyway. By setting your own frustrations aside and putting down your own need to control or influence this person in your life, you're allowing them to just be themselves. This allowing can be freeing for both of you. By giving them permission to just BE, without judgement or ridicule or pity, you're embracing all of them. Sometimes all it requires in order to make a shift in thinking and behavior is knowing we're not alone.
I want to hear from you!
Have you ever let fear limit your choices in life? Do you struggle to help friends or loved ones eliminate fear from their own realities? Have you got any other wise, helpful tactics to offer to our community when managing situations like this? Please share in the comments section below so we can all benefit from your experiences. And if you find value in what you're reading here at AmyBirks.com, please share with your friends and encourage them to sign up for my weekly newsletter. We're all better off together, aren't we?
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With love and inspiration (and a new appreciation for our 32nd president),