Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” I agree but I would go him one better: “The only thing we have to fear is the fear of living and choosing for ourSelves.”
Lately, I’ve been thinking about fear and its power in my life. I started by making a list of all the things that I fear: snakes, heights, speed. And I don’t much like spiders, either. That list was easy to make. Those things are easy to avoid. And I know that, if those things were the only things which I fear, I could and would have taken a healthy bite out of life. I would move forward with confidence, knowing that there is nothing for me to fear.
The list of what I fear goes far beyond snakes and spiders and heights. I fear insolvency. I hoard things and pinch every penny and often feel on the brink of being unable to manage the financial aspects of my life. I fear being ridiculed, being laughed at, being at the mercy of others, being ignored or marginalized. I fear being excluded – not being chosen for any team or, worse yet, being the last one chosen. I fear being unworthy of others’ time and energy. I really fear being alone. Especially, I worry about losing my best friend whom I’ve known for over 58 years. I remember when she was diagnosed with Melanoma and I didn’t know what my world would look like if she was no longer in it.
I fear feeling defective and not fitting in. I fear losing control of any situation and appearing foolish and embarrassing myself in any public forum. I fear having my trust betrayed. I fear not measuring up, being good enough. I am so afraid of being judged and found wanting.
I hate feeling condescended to, being managed, being lied to, feeling betrayed. I hate feeling that I cannot trust others or count on them. Most of all, I hate being told that what I feel, and see, and hear is either not real or doesn’t matter. When I experience these things which I hate, immediately the emotional dominoes kick over for me. Hate begets rage begets guilt begets fear of my internal state.
If I were to distil the fears which have ruled my choices in my life to their essential essence, what I truly fear is being vulnerable and feeling powerless. I know from long experience what it is to feel powerless and at the mercy of others.
Most of all, I fear the intensity of my emotions – feeling irrational and the victim of my emotions. I have lived my life for so long trying to be rational and not expressing what I am feeling in the intensity and fullness of it that I have come to distrust mySelf. I have lived my life, for so long, cloaked in the vain attempt to manage my fears.
In the end, and as I look back over the choices I have made in my life – choices driven by my fears, I know that I have lived so much of my life terrified of own my truth. I have been too terrified to trust myself.
And so, I have developed a superpower in order to control my fear and terror. This is the ‘me’ that I have projected to my world. I have worn this persona for so long that is has developed in monolithic immensity. What is my superpower? That I can do everything by myself. That I don’t need anyone. That I can survive on my own. My superpower is based on my need to move away from what I fear and to control the chaos, confusion, and vulnerability I have felt growing up.
In order to ignore my fears and not give them voice, I have held myself as safe behind the concrete-like carapace of my superpower. And, in the end, I have created more of what I fear.
That is the ‘Catch 22’ of my fear and my superpower. In order to manage my fears, I have adopted my superpower. “Look at me. I’m big and tough and strong. I can do anything. I don’t need anyone’s help.” I have worn it like a suit of invisible armour behind which I have felt safe from “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” so that I can “take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them”.
Yet, what I fear has not ended. It has not even diminished. All that I have feared throughout my life and which has driven the choices I have made has only grown in magnitude and intensity. And as what I have feared and tried to manage out of my life has grown in what I have perceived as its power to hurt me, my superpower has had to grow and become more dense in order to resist my ‘external forces of evil’.
And, as is true for every superpower, there is a kryptonite that exists in tandem with it and which has the power to poison me and the persona I have presented to the outside world. For me, the kryptonite has been that, even as I have held myself separate from others, I have become even more lonely. I have felt even more rejected. And I have had to control the need to lash out at others so that they can feel what I feel and they can hurt as much as I hurt.
I know now that, as scary as it feels and as much as the thought might terrify me, the only way I can end the power of what I have feared throughout my life to drive the choices which I make is to give up the superpower I have developed to manage those fears. The only way that the kryptonite which counters my superpower and which has the power to poison me can lose its ability to hurt me is for me to give up my superwoman persona.
I know now that I need to always say what is there for me to say – to express my truth in the moment as the impulse in me moves me to do so. The only path for me to follow is that which is present to me now. I know that I am more than able, without artificial or self-created ‘protection’, to deal with whatever comes up for me as I am true to mySelf.
I end this with a poem by Robert Frost. It reminds me to be true to mySelf and to trust mySelf and my journey. It also reminds me that I always have choices which fill my soul – that my choices do not need to be driven by fear of what might be but can be driven by the culture I want to create and by the possibilities that I choose to explore and that source my true self.
The Road not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
and sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
and looked down one as far as I could
to where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
and having perhaps the better claim
because it was grassy and wanted wear;
though as for that, the passing there
had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
in leaves no feet had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less travelled by,
and that has made all the difference