“Fear is a question: What are you afraid of, and why? Just as the seed of health is in illness, because illness contains information, your fears are a treasure house of self-knowledge if you explore them.”
– Marilyn Ferguson
Fear can come in many forms and can be triggered by many things.
It could be fear of losing one’s job.
It might be more of a phobia response, a strong irrational fear of something.
It could be a fear of interacting with others in social situations (which is far more common than most people would care to admit, you may be relieved to know).
It could be fear of speaking in public.
It could be fear of messing up an important job interview.
It could be any of these or many other more examples.
And it can be highly debilitating, preventing you from doing things you want to do, or causing you to worry and become stressed over the situation.
But what is fear? What purpose does it serve?
Fundamentally, fear is nothing more than a warning that something is wrong deep inside your thinking; it is a sign that you are either focusing on the wrong things or asking yourself the wrong questions.
How can that be? If one has the fear that they might lose their job sometime in the next 12 months, how is that fear a sign of asking the wrong question?!
Well, that fear might well be a sign that they are focusing purely on the job or loss of job, rather than looking at other areas such as what contingency plans can they make to cope with a reduced income, or what positive steps they can take to increase their chances of getting a new job, or how to proactively place themselves in a more beneficial position. Rather than focusing on the risk of losing their job, the fear could be a warning that they ought to focus on how they can reduce excessive spending – which has a benefit even if they do not lose their job.
When I did my first stage work, appearing in pantomime (yes there are photos of that on the web even today, no I’m not telling you where they are!), I was scared and had fears about forgetting my words or getting the dance moves wrong or of people laughing at me when they shouldn’t or worse, of not laughing when they should, all the usual things. And this was early on in rehearsals! Of course, I came to realise that my fears were because I was focusing on the wrong aspects – I was focusing on what could go wrong, instead of focusing on what I needed to do, what steps I needed to take, to make sure that I didn’t get things wrong (and if I did, that I had a fall-back plan to get out of the pickle). Once I realised what my fear was nothing more than a warning and I paid attention to the message, things went so much more enjoyably – I knew what I needed to focus on, and as a result I was better able to enjoy the entire process without all the stresses, and the end result was all the better for it.
And so it is for people who suffer from fear and anxiety when facing social situations. Here, the fear is usually (although not always) focusing on the question of what will the other person think, will they like us, what if we say something wrong, how can we make them like us, what do we need to do…
Which gets extremely stressful, and is ultimately not only unhelpful but actively counter-productive. It focuses the attention on what value the other person places on us, and in so doing we place responsibility for our own sense of value and self-worth into the hands of someone we have quite probably not even met before – why would we want to give that sort of power over us to a complete stranger? And even if we are OK with handing that power over to a stranger, it still leaves us with the problem that we can never truly know what another person really thinks, thus we can never be truly sure of how they value us – and if our own sense of self-worth depends upon knowing how a stranger values us, then we are placed in an impossible position as a result.
But just suppose we listen to our fear and realise that we are focusing on the wrong things? Suppose we consider that our fear is reminding us that rather than focusing on trying to get the other person to like us and focusing on how we are valued by others, we instead focus on liking, even loving, ourselves first? Find things about ourselves that we like and celebrate them. Be regularly and consciously aware of our own true value to ourselves, realising that we are a worthwhile person in our own right. And once we develop feelings of our own self-worth, we can begin to appreciate others for who they are whilst presenting ourselves for who we are; and if one individual stranger doesn’t necessarily like us, it’s not the end of the world – there are many other new people for us to meet, some of whom will share interests with us; for therein lies a big part of the secret, shared interests. We tend to gravitate toward people who have similar interests to us (I don’t mean exactly the same interests, just that we have something in common) which gives us something to talk about as we get to know each other. But in order to be able to explore possible areas of shared interest, we need to be comfortable in ourselves, comfortable enough to know that not everyone will like everything we like, and if they don’ then that’s absolutely fine! After all, we don’t like everything they like either, do we…
So next time you find fear mounting, take some time out to explore what this warning signal is telling you. How are you viewing the situation, on what are you focusing? Is that necessarily the right thing? What other aspects could you focus upon, what other questions could you ask, which when addressed would remove the source of the fear?
The answers are always there, if only we take the time to listen to our own warnings!