Or, Embrace Your Fear And Throttle It With Everything You've Got
We humans tend to play with our fear a lot. We play Chicken, racing toward it and seeing who will be the first to turn away - us, closing our eyes during a horror movie, or our fear, disappearing when we finally face it. We play all kinds of little mind games with it, convincing ourselves that everyone has fear, there's nothing we can do about it, we just need to "suck it up." We steep it in denial, cover it up with different names, convince ourselves it isn't really there or it's not worth dealing with.
For once, let's let go of these crazy games. Let's just accept for a moment the possibility that we can free ourselves from fear. I've been working on this for the better part of a year, on a New Year's resolution to let go of fear, guilt, shame, and controlling assholes. I've had a lot of success with it, and now I feel like I'm down to the dregs of the fear. I'd like to share with you some of the tools that have helped me the most in this journey.
There are four major emotions: sad, mad, glad, and scared. Everything else boils down to those four. For example, you can certainly say that there’s a difference between shame and terror, or guilt and nervousness, but they’re all different flavors of fear. So are anxiety, procrastination, control issues, hopelessness, codependence, stress, avoidance, dissociation, anger, and many others.
Usually, feelings are great. They teach us everything about who we are, what we need, and what we’ve experienced. The problem is that when we don’t have the tools we need for dealing with our feelings, they can run amok and take over our lives. And very few people get these tools in childhood - instead, most people's development is undermined through some kind of neglect.
In this writeup we’re going to focus on learning some tools for right-sizing our feelings. And we're going to focus on our fear, because fear has a way of inflating things out of proportion more than anything else. For example, anger can be very healthy on its own, but when mixed with fear it can turn to rage. Sadness can be very healthy alone, but when mixed with fear, especially in the guise of shame, it can turn into depression.
So let’s talk a little about fear. We’ve all seen how traumatic experiences can have surprising ripple effects throughout our lives. When we are children we think the world revolves around us. EVERYTHING is about us. At that age, that’s a healthy way to be, but it means that we also believe that any traumatic experience is somehow our fault. We take on the blame in our minds for these traumas, and we assume that our lives are supposed to involve this pain and punishment. And then we repeat the traumatic experiences later to punish ourselves and to try to control our own abuse.
For example, many if not all people who experience some kind of abuse have mean internal critics. We beat ourselves up in the hopes that it will prevent more traumas from outside - because we’re afraid of pain and we’re afraid of ourselves for supposedly causing this pain. So we get this vicious cycle:
fear of +---------- pain
The great thing about vicious cycles is that they need all the parts to be present in order to work. So once you figure out what’s happening, it’s easy to knock one piece out so the whole thing falls apart.
The first thing we’re going to do is learn how to discharge some of that dangerous extra fear. The first tool we’re using is something called EFT.
EFT stands for Emotional Freedom Technique. It basically involves tapping a series of acupressure points which release emotional and physical pain, and it's the main thing I use when I work with clients. To start, think of something big that scares you. Be as specific as possible. For example, if you are afraid of performing badly at work and getting in trouble, or of having your house broken into, try to think of a specific time that something similar has happened that scared you, or imagine a specific experience like that happening.
There are two parts to EFT: a setup phrase and a series of points to tap on.
The Setup Phrase
The simplest way to do this is to use the following format: "Even though... I love and accept myself completely as I am." You don't have to believe it, you just have to say it. This helps keep us from subconsciously sabotaging ourselves and clinging to the old fears.
"Even though my boss yelled at me yesterday for not finishing my work on time, I love and accept myself completely as I am."
"Even though I keep bouncing checks and I'm scared that I won't be able to pay my bills, I love and accept myself completely as I am."
"Even though I'm a terrible driver and I'm sure I'm going to crash on the freeway and die, I love and accept myself completely as I am."
You can make it as long as you want:
"Even though I hate my job and I suck at it and I'm sure that they're going to fire me and I deserve it and I'll never get another job and I'll get evicted and run out of money and die in the gutter, I love and accept myself completely as I am."
And you can use any variation you like:
"Even though my wife is really pissed off at me and I'm scared she's going to leave me, I am a good person."
"Even though I failed my math test and I am scared my parents will be mad at me, I am still an awesome kid."
"Even though I am scared that I will flunk out of medical school, I am really smart and determined and I know I can do this!"
You say the setup phrase three times while rubbing what my teacher called "the karate chop spot" - about halfway up the outside edge of either hand.
There are thirteen points in this basic version of EFT. You can use either hand to do them, and do them on either side of your body - it doesn't matter whether you do your left arm or your right, for example, or even if you switch sides halfway through, as long as you do it somewhere!
1. The inside corner of your eye (next to the nose)
2. The outside corner of your eye
3. Just under the eye
4. Above your mouth (on that little divot under your nose)
5. Below your mouth (under the lower lip)
6. Just below the end of your collarbone (either bump where the ends of the collarbone meet)
7. The monkey spot - about four inches below your armpit on the ribs, theoretically where a bra strap might be. (Called the monkey spot because you can fling your free arm over your head and tap this point and look like a monkey!)
8. The side of the thumbnail
9. The side of the index fingernail
10. The side of the middle fingernail
11. The side of the ring fingernail
12. The side of the pinky fingernail
13. The setup spot
The Basic Recipe
So here's what you do with that information.
First, you pick the fear you're doing EFT on. (You can just as easily use all this on sadness, on a headache, on tension - try it on everything!)
Next, rate the intensity of the feeling on a 0-10 scale, where 0 means that you're not feeling it at all and 10 is about as bad as you figure your fear can get around this issue.
Then say the setup phrase three times while rubbing the side of your hand.
Finally, extend your index and middle fingers together. Go through the 13-point series twice, tapping lightly between 5 and 9 times on each point. It won't work better if you tap longer or jab yourself harder!
Chill out for a few moments and then check back in with yourself. Think about whatever is scaring you again, and rate your fear again on a 0-10 scale.
Repeat until your fear is at a 0.
This is a pretty simple process, once you get the hang of it, but there are things that can get in the way.
The fear gets worse instead of better: Sometimes the problem gets worse before it starts to improve. This is fairly rare. It generally means either that you had been repressing the fear and not feeling all of it before, or that there is something bigger behind the fear. Try listening to your feelings and seeing what comes up. You may decide to change your setup phrase to focus on the deeper fear or experience that you come up with. Or you can try tapping on "Even though I am not willing to release my fear yet ....", "Even though the fear just keeps getting worse...." or "Even though I don't know what all this fear is really about...." until the situation shifts. Give any setup phrase at least two rounds, all the way through from setup to tapping, before giving up on it.
The fear disappears but is replaced by something else: It's not uncommon for people to find that behind their anger is fear and behind their fear is sadness, for example. You may find your fear spontaneously disappears but now you have sadness that you rate at a 9 or 10. It's okay; just change your setup phrase and tap on the sadness.
The fear starts bringing up really scary memories that threaten to overwhelm you: Tap on them. Just keep breathing and tapping. Change your setup phrase to focus on these old memories. Don't worry too much about the wording; as long as you know what you mean, it will probably be fine. Think of someone you can talk to afterward to share the experience with, or call someone and do it on the phone with them. Be sure to make time to do nice, healthy, and comforting things for yourself for a long time after this.
Now that you've successfully done enough rounds on this fear, reevaluating it after each one, until it is at a zero, this is a good time to take a break. Get some water, maybe a snack, do something healthy and comforting, then come back to the computer.
We don’t have to get rid of all of our fear. Fear can be our friend. In fact, it’s really hard to let go of fear unless you can see it as your friend. If you fear fear, you can get stuck in a snowball effect where the fear of fear just endlessly generates more fear. Here’s the biggest thing that’s helped me: Fear is just our way of letting ourselves know what hurt us in the past.
For example, I used to get really stressed out (or afraid!) when my car started acting up. I was subconsciously remembering all the times that I hadn’t gotten problems looked at and had ended up stuck on the freeway with my engine knocking so loud that the whole car was shaking, or stranded somewhere because my engine had been leaking coolant and was about to overheat.
Now that I’ve been taking better care of my car for a while, those scary memories have stopped coming up. I don’t get scared when it acts up because I am used to getting it fixed in a quick and easy - and cheaper! - way, instead of being used to expensive pain and drama.
Now, I used to have that snowballing fear of fear of fear thing all the time. I felt scared about the car and I immediately assumed, deep down, that something bad was going to happen the same way this time. Even when logic and intellect and reality all disagreed with me. Now, though, I find that when I can understand that fear is just a memory of past pain, I can let it go. I can understand that it means nothing about the present or the future. And understanding that makes it easier to trust that these scary things won’t happen again.
It's a lot like having a little kid come up to you, all upset about some scary thing that happened - remember that time that we were in that car crash? Or we thought we were going to lose our house? What if that happens again? Often, we freak out when this happens and get upset along with the little kid. "Oh my god, you're right! What if that does happen again! That's terrible! Oh my god!" And everyone loses their heads.
Instead, we can use these tools to react like adults. We can say to those scared inner kids, "You're right, that really was scary! And you know what? We can do things to take care of ourselves and keep ourselves safer." We can follow our present-day fears back to the past and acknowledge the difficult memories without getting stuck in them anymore. And we can use EFT and other tools to help us detach from the fears.
I'd like to encourage you now to take ten minutes of quiet time to meditate on what your life would be like without fear. You can brainstorm or write or just listen for visions of what your fears have been keeping you from doing. When you're ready, try to make a commitment to something specific that you can do to make those visions a reality. Make it small and concrete, and pick another one when you're done.
And if you like, you can also commit to notice when you are feeling stress, anxiety, shame, guilt, or any of the other permutations of fear, ask yourself what you are really afraid of, and do EFT on it until the fear dissolves. If you keep doing this, it will become second nature and you will gain incredible inner peace. You can live without fear!