In last week’s blog I talked about the things in life we have fear of that we don’t actually need to fear. I call these Paper Tigers. This week, I am talking about things that ARE valid fears. For example, a hot burner on a stove. A healthy fear of being burned keeps us from touching the burner.
Yes, that’s a softball example; we are justified in avoiding things that can physically harm us. And there is probably not much internal stress involved when we do have fear of many of those things.
I believe there are two other categories into which we can place fear. The first is the category that encompasses those things for which we should have legitimate fear, but that we need to face (as opposed to avoiding like the hot burner). Let’s call this category “Real Fears.”
The second is the category of those things that have some risk. These things are different from the Paper Tigers. Paper Tigers, once we examine them closely, actually cause no risk. What I am talking about placing into this category are things that fall somewhere in between Real Fears and Paper Tigers. Let’s call this category “Risk Factors.”
Here’s a quick overview:
Paper Tigers: Things that seem scary to us in life, but actually will not cause us any harm. For more on Paper Tigers head on over here.
Real Fears: Things that we really do need to be wary of because they could cause us harm, but that we can face either by using caution – e.g. avoiding the hot burner – or, by using bravery and/ or mindfulness.
Risk Factors: Things that we are wary of because they contain an element of risk, but that are not necessarily harmful. These are things that we either are not sure about or that we know there is some risk of harm, but the risk is minimal.
What are some examples of Real Fears other than the potential of physical harm? Transition and loss are two examples of things that fall into this category. Big changes can definitely encompass an element of fear. Whether it’s a long-distance move, a divorce, being laid-off from a job or empty nesting, transitions can be scary.
Loss also causes fear. When a spouse or other family member dies or leaves, when a house or business is foreclosed or shut down, the loss can be devastating. These are the things that we justifiably fear, but that we also need to dig down deep to find our courage to face and get through.
These types of transition and/or loss can rock people’s worlds. I know because I’ve lost a business and a home as a result of the economic crash as well as friends to cancer. I’ve transitioned out of a career for which I studied and went to school for many, many years. I moved from my beloved home town over 3000 miles to the other side of the country. And, I’ve lived with people with serious mental illness.
All of these things were terribly fear-invoking. They were so fear invoking at times that I felt nearly paralyzed. HOWEVER… I lived through the challenges. I learned from them. AND I found joy in life again.
Here are the lessons I learned that I want to share with you!
- Even though things are frightening there is always hope.
- Even when you feel like you cannot do something or face something, you can.
- Dig down deep and find your inner strength.
- Ask your higher power for courage.
- Gather your people around you – it is especially during times of fear that you need the support of your tribe.
- Use meditation & other mindfulness techniques.
- Practice yoga and exercise.
- Read inspirational and motivational literature.
- Listen to/ watch inspiring podcasts, Ted Talks, documentaries, movies, etc.
Most of all I DO NOT BELIEVE that things happen for a reason! If that helps you feel better and more able to process your fear, then by all means use that theory.
We are in control of our MINDSET. How we react to things is more helpful to our wellbeing than saying, “things happen for a reason.” When I think, “things happen for a reason,” it creates a fatalistic mindset. On the other hand, when I think, “I have control of my emotions and actions,” it helps me to dig deep, find my courage, and overcome my fears!
This category of fears can often be the most difficult to move through. This is the category of fear that encompasses the “gray areas.” That is, these are the fears that are in the no-man’s-land between Paper Tigers (things that you can cast aside as not worth wasting your fear energy over) and Real Fears (those things that you need to work hard to find your courage for and to overcome).
One of the most common things I see coming up in the Risk Factor category is the question of choice. When we as humans are faced with making a tough choice it is often daunting for us. Here are some common fear-inducing choices people face:
- To leave a current job where you are unhappy.
- To move to a different place in order to find a better quality of living.
- To end a relationship that is not fulfilling your needs in the hopes of finding a new relationship.
When taking a deeper look into these situations, you can see that there is an element of risk involved. Yet, these situations are not as deeply emotional as what we looked at in the category of Real Fears. They are often more about making a leap from what you know into what you are not sure of.
Special consideration is definitely warranted in order to come to your decision for these types of choices. Proceed with caution, but do not allow fear to hold you back!
But wait, how do you proceed with caution about what you don’t know???
- Research: This step helps with most decision-making processes. Research possible places to move. Research possible new jobs. Get to know as much about your options as you can.
- Assess You Current Situation: Take a deep look at your current situation. Make a list of all of the positive things you can say about it. Ask yourself the important questions like, “am I taking my current partner for granted?” Or, “am I sweating a lot of small stuff about my current job and/ or place of residence?”
- This exercise can be very enlightening. In some situations it can help you realize that there is a lot more positivity in your current situation than you are aware of. Or, it can illuminate that you are truly ready to move on.
- Don’t settle for “the-devil-you-know.” Sometimes as human beings we get complacent. Maybe we don’t like conflict. Maybe we are just so scared of change that we settle for being uncomfortable. I have often heard my clients say things like, “it’s not that bad,” or, “my friend so-&-so has it worse,” when they are afraid of trying something new.
- This can result in you being treated like a doormat. Try not to be so complacent that the-devil-you-know walks all over you!
- Acceptance of Either Path: Finally, my dear friend Pastor Stephanie Lape, once said to me: Jen, what if I were to say that everything will be okay no matter what choice you make? That was truly profound. Because it speaks to the heart of the matter. We don’t know the future. Maybe the choice to change will bring about wonder and delight. Maybe staying where we are will be comforting and stable. So follow your instincts. Are you more curious about the path you do not know? Or, are you more comfortable than curious?
Yes, there are many things in life which are Paper Tigers, things we do not need to fear.
And, there are many things in life that are Real Fears. With those we need to proceed with caution and dig deep to find our courage to get through them.
Finally, there are the gray areas – the areas that fall somewhere between real fears and paper tigers. Approach these with thoughtfulness and self-awareness.
MOST IMPORTANTLY: Use mindfulness practices to keep your mind and heart peaceful through whatever fears you come across during your life’s journey.
- What are your fears?
- Can you find Paper Tigers amongst them?
- What do you need to support you in passing through your real fears?
- What discernment do you need to think through your risk factors?
As always I am grateful for your comments and shares!
Love & Light
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