I am afraid of fear. It seems like a crazy thing to say I know, but the physical sensations of fear; the hammering heart, the nausea, the dry-mouth, the muscles shaking, these are all sensations that I would do pretty much anything to avoid. Feeling fear is telling myself a story that I am powerless and vulnerable, or that I am under attack and need to defend myself. It's a primal emotion, and - for me - the sensations that go with it are every bit as overpowering as the emotion. Because deep down I think I have always believed Paul Atreides; that fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
But fear is not the little death. Fear can be experienced and embraced and passed through just like any other physical sensation. Feeling fear does not have to make me feel weak or out of control, allowing myself to feel fear completely has made me stronger and calmer and - because I was willing to truly experience it - like I can face anything.
Feeling the sensations of fear, allowing it to entirely fill me up and burn through me like a fever is not something I've ever really considered doing. If I feel fearful I tend to do one of three or four things:
I distract or numb myself with TV, alcohol or food,
I cry/apologise until the person invoking the fear tells me 'everything is ok'
I retaliate as forcefully as I know how, usually with sarcasm
I crawl into a corner and tell myself and my friends that I'm misunderstood
I make myself fearful of anger. When I imagine people are angry with me I immediately make myself fearful. I imagine that their anger means they no longer care for me, that they are withdrawing their love, and I tell myself a story that I must deserve their anger and that there is nothing I can do except draw myself into a ball and weakly protest. I tell myself that I am misunderstood, but that explaining will do no good. Their anger means they don't love me any more.
It's a very simple response that I imagine comes from sensing my father's withdrawal from me and my siblings as children when he was angry, and the long stony silences in which I imagined any number of things: above all his disappointment leading to his not loving me any more. I tell myself that I have repeated this scenario many times in my life, always giving in to the debilitating fear rather than leaning into it, and then asking for the reassurance I need. Instead I was always rocketed back into the status of vulnerable child the minute I started to experience the fear sensations.
A friend of mine recently described how - like her - I had always seemed 'distraught' at the thought I had caused others pain, and seemed to see this as something that should be applauded: as if it showed some special level of empathy and caring. The odd thing is that I used to think the same thing, that I was too sensitive, too empathetic, but the truth was much simpler. I was just terrified of disapproval, so terrified that the idea of someone's hurt feelings sent me into a state of terrified paralysis. Because their disapproval of my actions threatened everything they felt about me, it meant that they would leave me and never love me again.
I know that's not true any more, and what's more I am no longer fearful of fear. Fear is not the little mind-killer. Fear is just a set of physical sensations that I choose to react to in one way or another, and although I cannot control other people's reactions to me I can learn how to control how I react to fear.