I lived most of my life in fear, yet you’d never know it by looking at me. No, I was as calm, cool, collected, and in control as you can get. I was “the strong one,” as my parents told me. Perhaps I came off that way; however, what was going on inside typically was not calm, cool, or in control. It was anxious, unsettled, and fearful. Imagine me as a duck, looking all composed above the water, but frantically paddling her feet under the water to stay afloat. That was me. Ducky. It was an exhausting way to live. But for me it was normal.
I’m a planner, which is both a blessing and a curse. Ever hear the saying “We make plans, and God laughs”? That is what my planning resembled most of the time. Yet I continued to plan. I now know my need to over structure my life came from my need for control; to plan for every possible outcome and scenario so there were no surprises. Surprises can be scary. Yes, they can be good, but I don’t really like surprises (name one planner who does). Not only can they throw you off balance, but they can rock your world. I discovered this at the ripe young age of 12 when my parents got separated and eventually divorced. That was a scary surprise that turned my life upside down. This is also what I attribute to the beginnings of a life-long fear of the unknown. My dad was leaving our family, and my mom was a wreck, and I was trying to do everything in my 12-year-old power to hold everything together, to keep my parents and my family from falling apart. Spoiler alert – it didn’t work. And that’s when the fear of the unknown crept into my heart and created a permanent home, along with the fear of loss and losing control. These fears became part of me.
I now know that if you’re living in fear, you’re not living in the present. I’m not talking about real fear, the fight or flight type of fear that occurs when your life is in danger. What I’m talking about is the made-up, self-created, irrational F.E.A.R.: False Evidence Appearing Real. The fear that comes from the “what if” stories we create in our head. These are the fears that pull us out of the present moment because we’re so focused on what might (or more likely, what might not) happen in the future. These fears keep us stuck and weigh us down, and this was how I existed. It was exhausting, only I never realized it until I went through a year when there were so many other exhausting things happening in my life that I didn’t have any further energy to expend on my false fears. I ran out of my capacity to let my future-focused fears exhaust me. Well, it wasn’t quite that easy, but it was definitely that simple to understand.
Perhaps you can relate to what I’m saying? Perhaps you are familiar with some of these false fears. If not, let me share some of my favorites (those I’ve decided will no longer drag me down or control my life), how they show up, and what they drive us to do. Once you’re aware of them, you can choose to stop allowing them to be your ball and chain, but first, awareness is key.
Fear of Failure
This is a common one for all high achievers and perfectionists. We do everything we can to avoid the possibility of failing. We overwork ourselves and overwhelm ourselves. We are constantly striving for the next achievement, next goal, next promotion, next degree. We make life decisions and choices that are all about avoiding the possibility of failure.
Fear of Rejection or Disapproval
This one often starts on the playground at school, when kickball teams are being chosen and you’re chosen last… Were you ever chosen last? I was. It feels yucky, like rejection, and no one wants to be rejected. We stay in bad relationships because we fear being rejected. We stay in the wrong career because we fear someone (society? your parents? your spouse?) will disapprove of the decision to make a change. This fear holds us back like a ball and chain.
Fear of What Everybody Thinks
At some point in life we’ve all asked ourselves, what will everybody think? This fear kept me in my second marriage for several years longer than I should have stayed. I had already been divorced once. What would everybody think if I got divorced AGAIN?
Who is “EVERYBODY” anyway? Usually “everybody” equates to a handful of influential people in our lives; perhaps our parents, siblings, counselors, a spouse, or our children.
This fear holds us back; it keeps us from doing what we desire and living the life we want because we are afraid of what everybody will think, when, in all honesty, most people are not thinking about you. Yes, some are. But most are more focused on themselves than you.
Fear of Losing Control
Control-freaks unite! Yes, this was once a big one for me and is for many of us. We plan plan and plan some more. We like to know everything ahead of time: what’s going to happen? When? Who will be there? And, we don’t like it when those plans get changed. We can be quite inflexible. We are overly structured. This is because the thought of losing control is overwhelming. We are afraid of what may happen in this “unknown” space. And yet, other than our behavior and reactions to life, what is truly in our control?
This fear is closely linked to:
Fear of the Unknown
We remain in uncomfortable, often dysfunctional situations because they’re known and familiar to us. We prefer the familiar to the unknown. And yet, what is ever truly known or certain? Life can change in an instant. Fear of the unknown is essentially fear of the future. But the future is inherently unknowable. Fear of the unknown can keep you in a relationship or a career that no longer fits who you are. It kept me in my corporate job for about a year longer than I should’ve been there because I was afraid of the uncertainty of leaving and starting my business. The unknown scared me.
Fear of Loss
This is a big one, for all of us. We don’t want to lose anything, anyone, what we’ve worked for or what we love. So we hold on tight. And yet, it doesn’t matter how tightly we hold on – loss is a part of life. We will lose a loved one, a job, a pet, material items. At some point, we lose all of that, but we still try to hold on tight. We grasp because we fear the pain of loss.
We make decisions and live our life to avoid the losses, which also holds us back and weighs us down. Yet, the losses will come, despite how hard we try to keep them away. If we could loosen our grip just a bit, we might be able to enjoy what we have a little more in the present moment.
So which fear is your favorite? Pick your poison! If you’re anything like me, you have more than one. The key is to become acutely aware of your fears and how they influence your decisions. This is the first step toward not allowing fear to control your life. My next post will focus on how to move through these false fears so they stop controlling you but first, step one: become aware of your most prominent false fears.
This blog was originally posted on The Huffington Post on October 18, 2016.