November 26, 2020

Befriending Fear

Mental Health & Wellbeing

Ask any member of my family or any of my friends and they’ll know…I am afraid of everything. Even from my earliest memories, I recall myself as always being jumpy and scared of a lot. As a child I feared insects, monsters under my bed, losing grip of my mom’s hand, and even to this day, the dark. As my experiences and exposures to life have grown, my fears have also “matured” and even darkened. I feared how others viewed me, I feared failure, and I feared loneliness.

My personal relationship with fear consisted of me running from them. I remember not being able to handle the extreme unease that came with giving fear any word in the conversation. It overcame my body and made me freeze. I didn’t want to re-experience those feelings, so instead, I learned how to run. Now, as a Clinical Resident studying mental health and therapy, I’ve been reintroduced to fear; relearning what it means to welcome in and “befriend” fear. I’ve found the following book to help navigate fear.

My Friend Fear

Author and illustrator Meera Lee Patel tells of her emotional journey and friendship with fear in her beautifully illustrated book, My Friend Fear: Finding Magic in the Unknown. Through vivid watercolor paintings, Patel invites her readers to consider what life might be like if we welcomed fear instead of running away from it. She empowers her readers to engage in a conversation with the fears that so naturally come with many of our experiences and previous hurts. Through this book, I’ve been given the opportunity to feel safe in the thoughts that have once caused the most distress.

“Fear is a light that’s meant to guide us.”

I believe that our experiences play a significant part in shaping the way we view the world and how we interact within it. Once we’ve experienced something unpleasant, dangerous, or painful, our minds have this natural reaction to process it and register it as a fear. Modern culture encourages us to live without fear, to live fearlessly, but in actuality, the experience of fear is meant to inform us. Neurological studies have recognized networks in our limbic system that, when stimulated, produce fear. Experiencing fear is a normal brain function.

In her book, Patel acknowledges that “fear is not a consequence𑁋it’s not a punishment we receive for doing something wrong or behaving badly…It is not something that we feel because we lack the strength to overcome it𑁋in fact, fear isn’t an obstacle to overcome at all. Fear is a light that’s meant to guide us.” Throughout these pages, readers have the opportunity to consider what fears have been informing them, withholding them, and even protecting them.

“Fear is a friend, and it’s here to support you.”

Imagining what it looks like to sit with our fears is not an easy task. It’s taking a risk to re-experience something that we felt wasn’t safe. Patel suggests reframing this task as a relationship. Like all friendships, the one you have with fear is a two-way street, requiring time, hard work, and honesty.

There is value in sitting with your emotions for a moment. As Patel writes, “there is value in truly hearing them before acting.” We can relearn how to sit with our fears and welcome what conversations come alongside it. Within my personal relationship with fear, that might mean sitting and talking about loss and relational trauma. For others, this might mean sitting and talking about separation or failure. At times these conversations may even bring up irrational fears that we were never aware of. Once identified, we can further the conversation and talk about what might be the root of our fears. Our fears can be responded to differently than we what we’re used to.

“We are not alone in our fears.”

As Meera Lee Patel suggests, we are indeed not alone in our fears. You are not alone in your fears. What does it mean to sit with our emotions? It might mean recalling and retelling a personal experience. It might mean identifying the physical sensations that our bodies experience while distressed. It might mean tears that have never had the chance to fall, finally getting to fall. You don’t have to do it alone. Let’s sit with your experiences as they are and allow proper exploration and healing to take place. Healing and empowerment is possible.

Befriending fear and welcoming other emotions can be overwhelming. If you’d like support while sitting with your emotions and experiences, please reach out to myself or one of the therapists here at Optimum Joy today!

Written by therapist Melissa Del Carmen

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