I’ve been putting off writing this blog because honestly I think I am a little afraid to write about fear. I know – the irony. It’s also been a busy time of year with all of the end-of-school activities for the kids. So it’s been hard to find the time necessary to write about such an important and deep topic.
But now, on a beautiful Saturday morning, with a thunderstorm brewing on the horizon, it’s time.
Thunderstorms are such an apt metaphor for fear. They loom…They are impending… and then they BOOM & CRACK & GUSH! But, in general, if one takes proper precautions they are not dangerous. They will not hurt us. In fact, I love thunderstorms. That’s not to say that I don’t have a healthy fear of them – especially if I’m driving. But again, if I’m prepared, I take caution, and yes, if I’m brave, I can weather even a ferocious thunderstorm (even the emotional kind 😉
To me, proper caution is the key to dealing with fear. That is honestly more complex than it sounds though. What does proper caution mean when it comes to fear?
I like to look at it as a scale or spectrum. The spectrum ranges from those things that we really do not need to be afraid of to those things that, yes it’s okay to be afraid of, but we can handle by practicing caution and tapping into our courage.
Let’s start with what I am going to call the lighter end of the spectrum: The Paper Tigers
The relation of the term “paper tiger” to fear comes from the Chinese term zhilaohu which refers to something that seems threatening (something to be feared), but in reality is not. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paper_tiger
There are many things that we humans fear that are actually paper tigers. I often find myself worrying about things that I either have no control over or that I do not actually have any idea of what the outcome might be. It is at these times that I remember to take a step back and look at what I am worrying about from all sides. In essence, I am assessing if it is a paper tiger. If I look at it from all sides, and there is no substance to it, then it is a paper tiger. In other words, it only looks scary from the first impression. Here are some things that are often paper tigers:
- The “what ifs?”
- The “I shoulds.”
- The mountains that are really mole-hills.
The What Ifs:
The problem with “what ifs” is that you really cannot predict the future. Sometimes the “what ifs” take the form of the road not taken. Perhaps this manifests in the form of past regret: If only I chose a different path life would have been so much better! Perhaps it manifests as future regret: If I make the wrong choice in life I will suffer terrible consequences. In both of these scenarios you actually have no idea what would have happened had you made a different choice in the past. Nor, do you have any idea what your future holds. So make the choice that your instincts tell you is the best choice with the knowledge you have right now!
The I shoulds:
The “I shoulds” can be even more harmful to one’s stress levels. In the past tense the “I shoulds” are much like the “what ifs” in the past tense. In the present tense, the “I shoulds” can be extremely self-critical. Self-talk that takes the tone of criticism levied at oneself – “I should not be starting my own business! What am I thinking? Businesses fail all the time!” – is not only a hindrance to living life to its fullest, but it is also keeping your body in a state of chronic fear and stress. Stop “shoulding” all over yourself and be okay with the choices you are making. Even if it means failure! We learn from our failures!
The therapeutic term for making mountains out of mole-hills, is “catastrophizing.” That is, creating a catastrophe in your mind when one does not exist in reality. One of the common mole-hills that my clients turn into mountains is health. Many people have a lot of anxiety about their health when they are actually in perfectly good health. The slightest cough and they start to worry that they are going to get pneumonia.
True confessions here! When I was in graduate school I had to go to see a therapist because I was completely overwhelmed by my own catastrophizing. I put myself through college and was going into debt to get my doctorate. My parents were not in favor of me doing this and let me know that they did not support my choice. Between my fear of debt and my parents’ criticism I was a basket case! I felt like I had made a very bad choice and that I was stuck in graduate school because if I did not finish the degree I would not be able to pay back the debt!
In hindsight, I am paying back the debt and not technically using my degree. I caused myself a mountain of stress because I made a mountain out of the mole-hill. Debt is not fun, but it is also not the end of the world.
Another way to think about this is to use the word FEAR as an acronym:
Sometimes we look at life and see things as really big and scary. But, what we see is actually false evidence. This is the same concept as the paper tigers. Again, I have found that the best way to deal with this is to take a good, hard look at what seems to be so intimidating. I often also enlist the opinions of my trusted friends to ask if they think what appears to me as frightening is really just false evidence.
Whether you are examining your fears to see if they are Paper Tigers or if they are manifesting as False Evidence Appearing Real, it is well worth it to go through the process of examination to separate out the things you are wasting your energy on from those things that are real and need your attention.
- Make a list of your fears.
- Examine them closely to see if any are Paper Tigers or False Evidence.
- Those that are not real you can go ahead and cast aside.
- If you need help figuring it out enlist the help of trusted friends, family or a trained therapist.
Stay tuned for my next blog on fear: CONQUERING THE REAL TIGERS!
What types of things are you able to discard as Paper Tigers?
Be Brave my Peaceful Living Warriors!
Love & Light,