For a long time, I thought the only way to deal with fear was to muscle through it, to somehow beat it into submission. The end goal being fear’s permanent exit, I would emerge victorious, free to move on and succeed.
I’m not sure where I picked this up. Probably, like we pick up other beliefs, in bits and pieces growing up, from people we’re around, the idols we admire, the media we consume. Of course, the other part is our personality, and what we naturally lean toward.
Recently, though, it struck me that this crush-it approach has flaws I hadn’t considered before. Because I couldn’t always, in fact, “crush it”, I thought I was flawed, wasn’t trying hard enough, or wasn’t strong enough.
The Militant Approach: Fear is the Enemy
This in-your-face approach feels aggressive, which might perhaps be handy at times, but doesn’t resonate with me, no matter how popular the memes. Do I really want to be constantly at war with fear—something I have to face every day—and be battle-ready at any given moment? It seems unnatural and unnecessary, not to mention just the sound of it drains my energy.
It also feels incomplete. As I get older I tend to be wary of all-or-nothing approaches in general, this one being no exception. I asked myself: If I have to wrestle with inner demons (side q: why “wrestle”?), do I want only one weapon in my arsenal?
The Tough Love Approach: Fear is Useful, But Risky
Not all types of fear affects us equally. Some come in waves, and some fears we feel more intensely than others. One thing we know for sure is that there’s no getting rid of it. Fear can paralyze us, preventing us from living more fully, and yet, we know it is useful and serves as an important guide.
So what do I want my fear to do? If it has to come with me, I want it to take a backseat, not drive the car.
All the while I was bombarded with that tough, bicep-pumping approach, I was never satisfied with it. So when I discovered this more civilized and still effective way, my ears perked up.
This sometimes-tender, loving-but-firm stance toward fear seemed revolutionary. You mean I can deal with my insecurities, anxieties, even those gut-punching, soul-crippling thoughts without having to ready the armies?
Just the idea of another option was amazing in itself. It meant I didn’t have to be on the war path, ready to beat fear till it was on its knees. I just had to ready myself to move forward, without waiting around for fear to leave.
I could face it, talk to it, be respectful yet firm, tough yet kind.
I could strip the veil of ambiguity, one of fear’s super powers, and call it what it was.
I could use the knowledge it was giving me if I stayed calm long enough to realize it.
Maybe this sounds too soft? Maybe some people feel empowered only with testosterone-filled fists pumping in the air like you just don’t care.
How to deal with your fear
Or maybe it’s not about having to pick one over the other. Maybe, with one approach in each pocket, you use however much of what works for you, whether you’re trying to gather up the confidence to speak your mind or whether you’re about to speak on stage.
It can be a daily battle, or a constant conversation with feet firmly planted.
All I know is, each time it tries to take over, I try to get it to buckle up and behave while I’m driving. The trip with fear is (hopefully) a long one, and I need to keep my eyes on the road.