We just got done with Christmas. In the Bible, the story is told of ‘shepherds in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And the angel of the Lord appeared to them and they were “sore [very] afraid”.’
And then the angel says something interesting. He says, “Fear not…”
Now, is that a fair request or command?
Can the shepherds choose whether seeing a glorious heavenly personage makes them afraid or not?
I didn’t used to think so. If someone says “boo!’ we have to go “aaahhhh!”. If I see a spider, I have to feel a jolt. If I lose my keys, I must worry. And if I think about seeing my father after failing….
But is that true?
Do I have any control over my emotions?
I ask because this because the answer to that question will give you information about your conception of emotions.
How do you think about emotions?
You might view your emotions as part of the machine of you. You have ideas about what lever pushes what button that triggers fear to happen. Or what happens once fear is ‘triggered’.
Your conception probably came from childhood and might have a lot to do with your parents.
Does a certain stimulus (or none at all?) result in fear automatically? unavoidably? See the spider —> Instant terror?
Or is there an opportunity for you to influence whether the ‘fear’ switch gets activated?
Your conception of fear will have much to do with your relationship to fear. Is fear something that controls you? Stops you from doing what you want? Maybe makes you do things you don’t?
Is it a partner in your life? Or a tool?
Or, is fear something that you manage?
Can you make a choice about your relationship to fear? Can you have a ‘define the relationship’ talk with fear? Can you change that relationship? Or is it simply ‘the way it is’?
What about your experience of fear? If you had never heard the word ‘fear’ until today…If you had never seen someone else label an action or response with or as a result of fear, what would your experience of fear be? How does it feel?
Where does it move or live in your body? If you had to describe the experience of the feeling with a shape and a color, which colors or shapes would you use to compare it to?
Does it feel cold or hot? Instant or slow-to-develop?
Your experience is unique in the entire world.
I want to share a bit of my journey with fear.
I grew up in a family where most people, but definitely the men, didn’t really have or at least show emotions. The only place it was acceptable for a man to cry was at the pulpit when talking about Jesus or his family maybe.
Besides that, I had two men in my life both of whose feelings I never saw.
I started reading pop psych materials at a young age due to my mom’s library and found that there were these things called emotions.
I didn’t feel them, though. I thought that I was ‘beyond’ emotions until my 30’s.
I thought I was courageous. I could do things that terrified others such as public speaking and living alone in a foreign country and it didn’t bother me.
In truth, I didn’t really have much of a relationship to my fear at all. As a result, I did things that were scary and also that were foolish and felt little emotional response to any of it.
My emotions weren’t handled or processed. They were just repressed. And, ironically, they ran my life.
I was afraid of being alone—but I didn’t know it—so I committed to relationships that didn’t serve me and stayed in them much longer than served either of us.
I was afraid of my father’s alienation. So I kept my professional accomplishments below his.
I was afraid of rejection by my spiritual community and God. So I denied my true feelings and needs.
But I wasn’t aware of any of that.
It wasn’t until I started getting body-based therapies that I felt my emotions for the first time.
And when I finally felt them, it was like getting hit by a tsunami.
When I felt anger, I didn’t feel anger. I felt RAGE. It felt as if feeling it would KILL someone or destroy the world.
I didn’t just feel sadness. I felt inconsolable anguished grief. I sobbed for hours.
I didn’t just feel fear. I felt total consuming paralyzing terror.
That’s what it felt like as I began to access these emotions. My initial impulse was to try to put them back into the bottle I had been keeping them in…they just felt too dangerous. And, I couldn’t express them to anyone I knew…it was too much! I knew they couldn’t “handle me” like that—again, more messages from my childhood.
As time progressed, I learned to access these oceans of emotion over and over, and each time I did, a piece of the total mass would release.
I did all of the cathartic screaming and pounding mattress exercises that body-based psychotherapy teaches. I also learned to sit with extreme emotions like sadness or jealousy for hours until the energy purged from my body.
I thought I was doing well.
But life still wasn’t giving me the results I wanted. Blaming outside me didn’t change things, so I looked even more deeply inward.
A powerful coach and dear friend told me last year: “You need to get control of your anger or it will block everything you want to do.” I wondered what he meant.
He had triggered my ‘daddy rage’ and I had unsuccessfully tried to hide it from him.
After working for months with my anger—I will share that story more deeply later—I found fear underneath it.
More paralyzing fear.
I had known for a couple years that I both desired and felt called to do certain things. But I hadn’t…I hadn’t even tried in nearly the way that I wanted.
And other parts of my life still weren’t where I wanted them to be. I suspected fear might be the culprit there was well.
And so I examined my conception of, relationship to, and experience of fear.
When I really dug, I saw many ‘clues’ that there was fear messing with my life in all sorts of places:
- I let my family interact with me in ways that didn’t feel good to me without correcting them.
- Nervous habits and tics always seemed to haunt me.
- Professional and financial results were not good.
- Physical tension existed for no explainable reason.
…just as some examples.
Fear seemed like this amorphous, non-corporeal thing, though. How could it be that non-physical and still ‘run’ so much of my life? How could I sort through it, let it go and live a life if not completely without, then with dramatically less fear?
It was then I began to consider that I might be at fault or responsible in some way for the fear within me. This was a breakthrough thought.
Was it possible that I had chosen to use fear as a mechanism to deal with my life and that it was simply serving in this role? If that was the case, could I simply choose not to put fear in this role anymore—remove from fear the job of running so much of my life and find some other way to live?
With these and other questions and yet no idea where else to start, I began focusing my consciousness on fear. The way I did that was to pray.
So I began asking God for three things:
- To forgive me for my fear and being fearful. This came from the assumption that at some point I had *chosen* fear as a guide and major support in my life and that that decision was either a mistake OR that this decision had outlived its usefulness.
- To heal me from fear. Assuming that, at least in the form that it was in, the fear was not saving or protecting me from anything but was like a wound that was preventing me from living the life I wanted.
- To release me from the repercussions of fear. I began to see how all the fear that I had stored in my body had created a cascade of results and effects that were often the opposite of those I had intended and desired. I wanted all those reversed as well.
When I pray like this, I focus my consciousness intensely on these topics or desires or wishes for a long time. To focus that energy, sometimes I kneel. I look for a position that reminds me of what I am doing and to keep me focused.
As I do so, I feel into the experience of the emotion within my body. In this case, I sensed that focusing on fear tended to draw my attention to a sharp pain and dull ache in my pelvis area. Therefore, I would ‘direct’ my attention at that part of my body while repeating the focused prayers over and over.
I did this for several days in a row for an hour or more at a time.
As I did so, I felt many sensations pass through my body. Especially my pelvis. I received insights and ideas about my challenges and issues.
I felt things shifting in that physical/energetic space within my body and most of the pain ‘released’. I also felt what I can only explain as a ‘lightness’ replacing the heaviness and discomfort.
I also sensed and experienced external changes:
- I said ‘no’ to people in situations where I would have remained silent before.
- Less tension in my body. Pops and cracks that happened every morning just weren’t there anymore.
- I started expressing myself professionally in ways that I hadn’t before.
I wasn’t ‘forcing’ any of this. It seemed to be happening as a result of adding consciousness/praying in this area about this thing.
These effects and this experience indicated that:
- Yes. Both the chronic fear which I have stored as tension as well as the situation-based fear that pops up when I try to leave my comfort zone are not unassailable biological truths but based on conscious decisions (some of which since I forgot and they became unconscious) to harbor and experience fear as a misguided attempt at protection.
- Because I had decided at some point to experience and ‘hold’ fear as a tool or experience in my body, I could also decide to uncreate that experience, release the fear and live life without chronic and situation-based fears.
As I take responsibility and ‘ask for help’ to ‘fear not’, fear has stopped being such a key driving force in my life.
Asking for help also allowed me to develop a healthy humility of how fear was interacting with my life and help me heal in ways I didn’t understand and could not have forseen.
The further I go down this path, the less emotions look like things that ‘happen to me’ or burdens I must suffer (or make others suffer) but conscious decisions or mechanisms that I utilize in order to get the results I want in life, but which sometimes result in unintended consequences.
I look forward to exploring my relationship to fear more deeply as I continue this process.