Is it possible?
This article is cross-posted from my weekly newsletter, The Sunday Soother, a newsletter about clarity, intention, and useful tips for creating more meaning in your life that goes out every Sunday morning. Subscribe here. I am also a coach who works with sensitive people so they can stop second-guessing, make decisions confidently and live the life they’ve always dreamed of. You can learn more about working with me here.
Happy Sunday, Soothers. I don’t remember a lot of my childhood, but I have a distinct memory of bedtime when I was around the ages of 5–7 or so. I would pull the covers up to my chin. I would pile all of my stuffed animals on top of me in a little pyramid, or line them up against the wall.
And I would wait and hope that these protections would help me when a robber inevitably broke into the house and tried to stab me.
Yes, these are fucked-up things for a kid to believe and yes, I had these thoughts frequently as a child. Even though there was absolutely no reality to them. I grew up in a very safe neighborhood in Washington, D.C., with a house that had, you know, doors that locked, with good parents, security of all kinds, and plenty of safety around me.
And yet, it was all the fear that felt truthful.
I think back often to little scared Catherine and have so much compassion for her, and also realize that in many ways, that as an adult, I’ve been thinking different versions of the same belief that a robber was going to break in and stab me through my duvet.
I’m going to be broke.
I’m going to lose my job.
I’ll never find anybody to love me.
They’re going to make fun of me.
I’m going to get sick.
Everybody around me is going to get sick.
I will always be left alone.
These thoughts, much like the thoughts little Catherine had about a break-in, have no basis in reality, and yet in my adult life, they have often been the primary drivers of my brain, looping around like doomsday butterflies.
The pandemic, which started around the same time I began my business, has whipped these thoughts up into a frenzy, and sometime earlier this year, a new, smaller thought began to emerge. Actually, it popped out in some stream of consciousness journaling I was doing and stared me boldly in the face:
“I’m so fucking tired of being afraid all the time. And not only that, I’m boring myself.”
As you can maybe tell from my robber-stabbing-me childhood belief, I was scared almost constantly as a kid; scared of everything from strangers to not being part of the popular crowd. My fear ruled my life.
And it was a stark realization to understand that not much had changed over three decades later.
There’s a story or metaphor I’ve read somewhere about the fear tiger. The gift of humans is that our imagination, coupled with our ability to think ahead, allows us to function at an extraordinarily high level, the same gift that would allow us to plan ahead to escape or prepare for a possible tiger attack that could keep us alive in the scenarios when the tiger is real.
The problem of humans? Once we think about the possibility of a tiger, we’ve created the fear in our minds, even if there is no tiger within hundreds of miles, and we begin operating as if that tiger was our reality; in short, we’re consistently operating as if a tiger is about to attack us whether that’s reality or not, such is the power of our brains.
This year, engaging with my “fear tiger” and discarding it has been a primary focus of my self-work, and I’ve used a few practical tools to actually make progress on it. I’ll be sharing them and writing about them in next week’s Soother, because maybe they will help you, too. (They are all free, all accessible, and all relatively quickly implementable, after a bit of research.)
Many of us are going to be engaging with the fear in our heads that doesn’t quite match up with the reality in the world going forward as we make the transition from lockdown and quarantine and social distancing to vaccinated gatherings, hesitant hugs, and attempting to shake off residual fear from the last nearly year and a half. Our intellects and logic will know that things are technically “safe” in ways, but our bodies, or the fear tiger in our mind, may not be ready to catch up to the present reality. But if we have tools we can use to better align with the present reality, and disengage with fear-based thinking that’s not necessarily rooted in reality, my hope is the transition can be slightly smoother.
It’s worth noting that my work on my fear, this is a work of privilege, because as a well-off straight white woman, the reality is this: I don’t have much to actually be scared of, while so many people do, from the reality of losing their jobs to literally being killed by the very force who has convinced us that they’re somehow keeping communities safe.
But I figure if I can figure out a way to be brave more of the time, then I can use that to stand up and help protect those who have a real reason to be frightened. I can use courage to effect change. I can show other people who have also let fear dictate their lives that we don’t have to make decisions from this place, that we can begin to create new worlds that are based off of the question of, “What if?” followed by a dream, rather than “What if?” followed by dread.
I want the dream; I’m tired of the dread. And I’m ready to begin to try to make that shift. How about you?