Friday, August 1, 2014

Face the fear and win back your life

One thing I learned when I worked on my fear of flying is just how wide your life opens up when you confront and overcome the big obstacles inside you.

We're all so committed to the idea of soldiering on through the worst and then feeling somehow diminished when we can't, it wouldn't surprise me to hear that every single person on this planet carries a burden of grief or guilt or some other awful pain we just can't bear to deal with.  Probably I shouldn't divide those two things because an awful lot of grief is born of guilt, which links them very effectively.  Regardless, a lot of us have something in our psyche that drags us down even if we haven't survived something that's beyond horrific.

And what I've noticed is that we change our behaviour to keep from having to deal with it.  To the point that we don't even get to be the people we are, but turn into a human pretzel of avoidance.

My fear of flying is an obvious example of that.  I didn't get on a plane for about 15 years, which meant giving up many opportunities I would have enjoyed, just so I didn't have to deal with a wall of fear (and which turned out, rather unexpectedly, to be a big bonus lump of grieving for my dad that was super easy to dismantle.  so grateful I sorted that out.)

Other problems are just as obstructive.  Some people are so determined not to look too hard at why they feel badly about themselves that their every action and conversation is geared toward making them look fantastic - partly to others, but especially to themselves.  Even when you can see past these tactics with compassion to the sadness underneath, it's hard not to get tired of the behaviour - and yet, those same people have hugely wonderful things to offer if they could only look at why they think they're so awful, and why they really aren't.

Thinking you're a bad person seems to be more difficult to resolve than feeling badly about less than stellar decisions.  If you've done something you regret, you can say Yikes, don't wanna get into that situation again!  But what hope do you have if you're bad?  Why bother trying to be better?  This is especially heartbreaking because very, very few of us who fear we are bad people actually are - if you care enough not to want to be one, you are obviously a good person in a bad spot.  Humans are so much too quick to criticize themselves.

Here's the thing.  Most of the power of the horrible thing inside us comes from the fear we have of looking at it.  We give so much weight to the fear of how hard it's going to be to resolve that issue, and how much it will hurt, that we pile a million distractions on top of it.  Out of sight, out of mind!  Except that it isn't, and the fear grows there in the dark.

Fear is scary, I will offer no argument about that whatsoever.  So is the fear of how we will respond to the fear.  I remember my doctor asking me what I thought would be the fallout from crying or throwing up while panicking on a plane.  Isn't crying or throwing up enough?  I asked her.  Eh, she said.  Somebody will have tissues.  There are barf bags in the pocket of the seat in front of you.  Life goes on.

Some of us are so used to blocking our awareness of that inner knot of nastiness that we just take it for granted there are things we can't do, and don't ask ourselves what is up with that.  So I guess my advice today is that if you find yourself walking a long way around an issue or an event, or knocking yourself out to buy a particular thing you're sure will make your life better somehow, or breaking your heart over an opportunity that didn't work out - take a chance and ask yourself that question.

What's up with that?  What is about that thing that has you folding yourself up into a pretzel over it?

And keep asking yourself until the question becomes the answer.  What's the worst thing that will happen if you cry in public?  You'll cry in public.  And somebody will hand you a tissue.

And that's me for this week.  I hope you have a great weekend lined up, and I'll see you here on Monday!


Leslie said...

Thanks for this Mary...just the thing I need to read right now in the face of all my fears!

Mary Keenan said...

Glad the timing was good! For me too... right now I'm looking at another flight on an uncomfy-for-me prop plane, versus a very very long drive, and you know which one I'm leaning toward. Hope the fears squish down to their true size (i.e. totally manageable) very soon for all of us :^)