Monday, December 7, 2015

Making Sense of What Scares You

What are you afraid of? I just googled "fear of the unknown" because I had read that all fear is basically fear of the unknown. Hmmm. I wasn't sure about this statement, because it's pretty clear to me that my fears revolve around suffering, and the vast unknown is clearly made up of all kinds of experiences, including happy surprises, future successes, new and delicious tastes, etc.

This business of the unknown reminded me of my friend describing her gym "boot camp," and how she loved it because it was different every day. She never got bored because they were always mixing it up. Various, random people ran the class, and the goal was to keep it new and fresh---every day.

I frowned. I realized I wouldn't like that because I want to know what to expect. Not in all situations all the time, but regarding exercise, I would prefer to know what's going to happen and what's to be expected of me. If I've been to a Pilates or yoga class before, I'm likely to return, but getting myself there the first day demands courage. Why? I'm not sure---it's just the way I'm wired.

You might be thinking, "Wow. Not an adventurous bone in that poor woman's body!" But you'd be mistaken. Interestingly, if you told me, "Hey, I'm a hypnotherapist, and I'd like to do an experimental guided visualization on you where you go out of your body and explore parallel lives and alternate universes!," I'd be closing my eyes and deepening my breathing even before you could finish the sentence. I'd be all over that.

I guess you could say that we each have our strengths and weaknesses. As a psychotherapist, I think of human beings as having four main aspects to their lives: mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual. Most everyone would agree that the first three are universal, while some might argue they are not spiritual, or that this is not a part of their experience. But I define "spiritual" as simply how we each see ourselves fitting into the bigger picture, and everyone (hopefully) knows there's more to life than just self+cell phone, which means we each have a spiritual component to our life.

Just as with subjects in school, you're stronger in some areas than in others, and that's normal. You might be robust in two or three areas, and weaker or more vulnerable in one (or two) of them. This is likely where your fears crop us, and it can be helpful to to see these fears within a context, so that you can address and get extra attention or help where it's needed.

For instance:
  • Those who experience vulnerability in the mental or cognitive realm might lack confidence in their ability to cope with everyday life, decision-making, and feeling like a competent and contributing member of their family or society.
  • Emotionally skittish folks may avoid intimate relationships and/or revealing too much personal information. They may even sabotage good relationships or shut people out because they can't cope with the emotional demands. 
  • Those who don't relate as much with the physical aspects of life may be overly cautious about their movements, being seen, visiting new places, or the physical safety of themselves or their loved ones. 
  • And people with an aversion to spirituality may be afraid of the great unknown or having faith in something outside of themselves. They may lack the hope and faith that makes others' lives rich and meaningful. 
This week, I ask you to look at what scares you. Try to see it from a larger perspective, and consider what you might be able to do to reconcile or remedy the fear. From this new vantage point, you might feel compelled to work on strengthening the muscle that's keeping you feeling weak.

(Note: If you have a major phobia, you are probably either dealing with a particular trauma---from this life or beyond---or you are channeling all your free-floating anxiety/fear into one neat, but miserable, package. It's the psyche's way of trying to contain and control our fear. This might require therapy or other outside help, so please do what you need to do to address the phobia).