Fear is very powerful in that it keeps most of us from doing, trying and achieving. Fear wraps around our hearts, invades our heads, and tells us to stay safe, to stay where we are. Fear often protects us in situations that would cause great harm, of course. However, fear can crossover from being helpful, to limiting us from living the lives we want.
I experienced fear firsthand, this past week. After I wrote the blog on shame, guilt, and embarrassment and started to see the increasing number of views, I felt fear. Sounds rather ridiculous – gee, a positive experience somehow turns into something to fear.
My fears were about a wide range of things, and I will share them in hope that I will be among friends as I do so. I feared judgment – that I exposed a part of myself that I do not often share. I feared success and failure –how do I top this? I feared– that as a working counselor, someone will find out that I have been faking it. Of course, what follows all of that is - how can I possibly help clients when I have my own fears? How can I be effective if I fear?
I spent some time this week thinking about these fears and with the help of a trusted friend; I was able to dismantle some of them by focusing on what I know to be true about myself. I was able to provide myself with enough evidence to reduce the fear – to a manageable level – soon to disappear, over time. I looked hard at what exactly it was that I feared, and then I thought about all the training I had and began to imagine what it must be like for clients who fear, but do not have a way to understand the meaning.
I found that the lessons I learned about myself and fear became a gift that enabled me to be compassionate and supportive to clients as they shared their fears. One client revealed that she feared if she took time to care for herself, her family would fall apart, and everyone would be angry with her for the way their lives turned out. A young woman, faced with the constant fear that her husband may not return, shared that she spends hours documenting their days together before he left as a way to ward off the possibility of never seeing him again. A client working in a helping profession shared her fears of “knowing” she did not have the life she had dreamed of as a young girl (marriage, children and a house) and feared that she failed and did not deserve happiness. Imagine the absoluteness of each of their beliefs, little room for any deviation or movement toward change. Each of these clients had allowed fear to put their lives on hold. Their fear paralyzed them – not to keep them safe from an actual threat – but to maintain their own belief that they could not possibly bear a different outcome then what they have and know right now.
Isn’t it true for most of us that changing, accepting, and charging forward into the unknown is far scarier that staying just right where we are? That even if we allow a vision of something different to slide into our heads we might never get back to where we started. That we often try so hard in life to keep things the same, knowing that the familiar feels like that treasured, old, soft sweater from years ago. Fear runs rampant – it rabble rouses –it stirs things up – it makes life smaller than it needs to be and it makes us sad, depressed, anxious, hopeless and helpless. It takes a great deal of courage to meet fear, look it in the eye, and tell it to spend time elsewhere. It is no longer welcome here.
How have you helped your clients come to terms with fear?
Kathy Renfree is a counselor in a community mental health setting, teaches in a graduate counseling program as needed, and is looking forward to building a private practice.