There’s something about labels. On the one hand, I feel really uncomfortable with how our society uses labels to keep us in our places. I’m the middle child, so I’m invisible; I’m fat, therefore I must be lazy or jolly or… She has Borderline Personality Disorder. What the hell is that even?!
Labels feel like a way to keep us down and stop us from rising up from where we are. They are both our captor and our excuse.
And yet, we like to give things a name so we know what we're up against. Putting a name to something makes it feel more manageable. It becomes a known entity, something we can choose to accept or not. And if not, we can choose to overcome the name or label.
Ten fears that may resonate
A while back, I wrote a blog, “10 Fears Journaling Can Help You Bust Through”. I made some changes to the list, based on what I’m hearing from members of my Let’s Talk About Fear facebook group. There are hundreds and hundreds of fears, but most of them have their root in a major fear. I’ve done my best to distil down the emotional fears (the ones that aren’t based on fears like spiders or flying) to the ten below that I feel are the most prevalent.
Fear is fear, my friends. It’s either fear or love, but getting specific about what we fear the most, will help us sort out how to work through fear.
Fear of FAILURE
If we have a fear of failure, we avoid failing not because we cannot manage the basic emotions of disappointment, anger, and frustration that accompany such experiences, but because failing also makes us feel deep shame.
Shame is a toxic emotion. Instead of feeling guilty about our actions or regretting our efforts, shame makes us feel bad about who we are. Shame hits us at the core of our being, our identity, our self-esteem, and our feelings of emotional well-being. So, we avoid failing by not starting, or not completing what we set out to do. In this way, we don’t have to fear perfection.
Fear of SUCCESS
Fear of success and fear of failure may appear to be very closely related, but fear of success is rooted in feeling unworthy instead of shame.
Have you ever found yourself on the precipice of success only to find that things suddenly go wrong? It’s like we do it to ourselves. Call it self-sabotage or my preferred, self-protection, the fear of success is deeply rooted — like a dandelion when you don’t get the entire root, it keeps showing up.
Here are some symptoms of fear of success:
We avoid or procrastinate on big projects, especially projects that could lead to recognition, potentially setting ourselves up to fail.
We convince ourselves that we're not worthy of achieving our dreams.
We may even be aware that we feel we don't deserve to enjoy success in our lives.
We feel guilty about any success we have, no matter how small, because our friends, family, or co-workers haven't had the same success.
We don't share our accomplishments with others.
We compromise our own goals or agenda to avoid conflict in a group, or within our family.
We believe that if we do achieve success, we won't be able to sustain it. Eventually, we'll fail, and end up back in a worse place than before we started, so, why bother?
Fear of REJECTION
Fear of rejection makes us feel unlovable, or that we’re destined to be alone, or that we have little worth or value. We don’t want to experience hurt and pain, so we withdraw from people rather than risk rejection if we reach out. We hold back from expressing our authentic feelings. We abandon others before they have a chance to reject us.
Fear of LOSS
We cannot love something or someone without fearing its loss. The inevitability of loss always exists when we feel love – whether for a person, a thing, or an experience. But sometimes we become paralyzed by the fear of the pain we expect to feel for this loss, so we try to protect ourselves against it. We might try to hold tight to the thing, by taking a picture in our head and keeping it exactly that way. We make sure the relationship stays positive, avoiding conflict at all costs. This tends to make the object of our love more of a possession. We are no longer fully open and connected. Inevitably, the love dies.
Sometimes we defend against the pain of loss by staying emotionally distant from people and then feel empty or dead inside.
Fear of UNCERTAINTY
Fear of uncertainty is the panic that sets in when we don’t know EXACTLY what’s going to happen next. We want to move through life with the confidence that comes with knowing that something is definite. It’s not the “not knowing” that’s the problem — it’s the possibility that what happens will bring us pain, suffering, loss.
When faced with the unknown, we become anxious. Possibilities are tinged with terror. What if he’s not right for me or this thing I’m trying doesn’t work? What if I let him down/what if I fail? What if I get hurt? Our instincts were telling us to run, to end the relationship/quit this new risky venture right now – then at least we would be in control of the outcome.
Fear of DISAPPOINTMENT
Remember when we did something bad, really bad, as kids and instead of getting grounded or punished, your parents simply said, “I’m disappointed in you.” No anger, just sadness, or worse a feeling that you’d betrayed them. Ouch.
On the flip side of fear is that we really, really want something and we didn’t get it, or your parents said no, or you didn’t get that job, or published, or the guy… If it happens enough times, you learn to not want things as much (even though you secretly do) and you grey everything so that you don’t have to desire, which risks disappointment.
Fear of JUDGMENT
At some point in our lives, we moved from being completely free and lighthearted to being afraid of judgemental scorn and gossip. We lost the ability to be free in ourselves because the fear of being unliked, unwanted, or unworthy is too much to overcome. So we learn the rules of polite society and start to judge others and accept the judgment of others as truth.
We say ‘yes’ to the fear of judgment every time we say ‘no’ to what we really want to try, because we don’t want to look like a fool or the object of criticism. We feed this fear by hiding who we are to avoid embarrassment.
Fear of COMMITMENT
Commitment — whether in relationships or life decisions — is a scary word for some people. Commitment can make us feel afraid of losing our independence or being taken for granted. We develop unrealistic expectations or believe there is always something better. Commitment can also make us afraid of rejection and disappointment.
So we flit from one job, one relationship, one place to another. Even though we crave the stability and challenge of a career that takes us somewhere or a love that lasts, we are too afraid to commit to it.
Fear of LONELINESS
Loneliness is a powerful feeling being cut off, disconnected, and alienated from other people, so that it feels difficult or even impossible to have any form of meaningful human contact. When we fear to be alone we become overly needy of other people, or we may stay in romantic relationships even though we feel unsatisfied or suffocated in them.
We may have been, or felt, abandoned at some time in life and came to associate being alone with being unloved or neglected. Or maybe we never learned to be comfortable while alone. However, being lonely sometimes is a part of life. It can occur within a relationship or without one.
Fear of MISERY
No one wants to live in poverty. Poverty is when we don’t have the resources to fulfill our human needs. However, we can be poor, but not unhappy.
But misery is the inability to take care of even our basic personal needs. It’s to feel both helpless and hopeless. That’s why we fear it so much. The fear of losing everything is why we don’t follow our dreams of being an artist, starting a business that will fill us up in a way that no soul-sucking job can.
DO THIS: explore each of these fears in your journal
You probably have at least some resonance with most of these fears, but each may vary in intensity. So, take a moment to rate each fear on a scale of 0 to 10 (with 0 being no fear at all and 10 being it scares you even to read about it).
Next, write about each fear and how much it holds you back. I wager that while you may feel some kinship to each, many of them are those “feel the fear and do it anyway” emotions that give you momentary pause or butterflies, but they don’t stop you from moving forward (for example, I don’t give the fear of misery much airplay in my list of demons, but the thought of success can really frighten me). No need to spend a lot of time dwelling on the fears that you are already able to move through.
When you hit on the ones that you rank in the 7s to 10s, spend some time looking at each in depth. Write some memories about how this fear has shown in your life recently, the proof you have that it exists for you.
Can you remember how this fear first appeared? Is there a specific event that happened to make you feel it?
For example, I track my feelings of unworthiness and fear of success to when I was six. My mother had just given birth to my little sister and I was no longer the littlest girl in the family. I wanted her to pay attention to me, to praise me, so I asked her, “Mom, I’m pretty, aren’t I?” Her response was a sigh (a sigh was the worst), followed by, “Kathy, people don’t like people who brag.” In addition to intense shame for being called a braggart, I felt I was no longer worthy of love in her eyes because she had my little sister to love.
Spend as much time as you can with the fears that you relate to the most.
I ask you to spend time with your strongest fears because next time we’re going to follow our fears to the core and then work on finding our way up and out of their grip.
kathy mercure is a storyhealer, storylistener, and storyteller. Her life’s work is to gently draw stories from her students and help them unblock their writing, find their voice, and heal their lives. Her passion is to support women and men in realizing their true identity as a valued human being, claiming their passions, and speaking their truth as they become their most authentic selves. (Photo by EagleSpirit Soul Shots)