It is my belief that every emotion serves a purpose (and many professionals in my field would agree with this). The emotion is not the cause of harm, it is the response to the emotion that results in dysfunction, harmful or at-risk behavior, loss of relationships, and suffering.
Fear is an interesting emotion to me. In Brene Brown’s new book, “Atlas of the Heart”, she explains that abuse of power is a result of fear, it is the behavior that follows avoidance of deep personal fear and pain. In understanding my own co-dependent behavior, I’ve realized I take it upon myself to unburden others of their pain and fear, but the only result is that they avoid what’s causing their pain, and I feel like a failure for never actually helping them. I also, in doing this, avoid my own fear and pain. Also, to clarify, I don’t belief the majority of people in my life abuse my co-dependent behavior. I see this as a feedback loop that I get stuck in… I find people who need to avoid their fear so I can fly in and take it for them.
Making myself uncomfortable so that others can feel more comfortable seemed like a super power to me. I’d tell myself that, “I can bear it all so others don’t suffer”, and in doing so I thought of myself as some kind of hero (I see now that I was really feeding my own ego). As I began to realize that this behavior was only hurting me, and was a sign of my low self-worth, I’ve started making small adjustments to combat the fear that, “I’m not good enough”… “I’m not worthy enough”… “I’m not lovable”… and so on.
The fear I felt was a driving force in my thoughts and behavior. This is why I love Brene Brown, she puts clinical terms and theories into language that is relatable and understandable. In her book she explains the connection between thoughts, feelings, and behavior (which is a basic concept in the evidence based practice of cognitive behavioral therapy). If I want to change my co-dependent behavior I also need to look at what my thoughts are about these fears, and really understand the behavior that I adopted to avoid these fears. In doing so I can gain insight into myself, which is the first step to big changes!
Looking at ourself can be scary (insert BIG FEAR here). But it’s also the only way to avoid burn out, self hate, harmful and at-risk behavior, and unhealthy relationships. The fear doesn’t always go away either, sometimes we have to gain tolerance for it, this is why understanding ourselves is so important. When I set a boundary with someone, or say no, it triggers that fear in me. If I don’t honor that fear and say, “hey, I know that saying no makes me feel like I’m not being a good daughter/wife/sister/mother, but it’s more important to me to honor my own needs right now”.
Some ways that you can explore FEAR and how it plays a role in your life is by first identifying when you are feeling fear. What are you most afraid of and what does that feel like in your body?
When you can identify what if feels like, physically, to experience fear, then you can explore your thoughts about fear. What stories do you tell yourself about what you’re afraid of? What assumptions do you make around these fears?
After you have identified your narrative about fear, explore the behaviors that follow. What are you doing to avoid this fear? What are you doing to combat those assumptions you’ve made about your fears? What behavior is consistent in your life when you feel fear?
Have you collected all the data? Now use this data to make decisions… where do you need boundaries?Where do you need new skills? Where do you need to explore more? If this seems daunting to you talk to a therapist about it. Therapists are trained professionals that know how to walk you on this journey and guide you through your fears.