So many of us these days are riddled with fear. It’s running the show in our lives, and taking the wheel in most of our decision-making. But the funny thing is, most people don’t even know it. This is partly because, in our culture, we tend to dress up “fear” in the more socially acceptable clothes of “stress.” And stress … well, goodness… stress is practically a badge of success in our culture of busyness.
We’ve been taught to think that fear is for losers. We see it as a weakness – something we should hide from others and deal with it alone behind closed doors. But fear shouldn’t remain hidden or elicit shame. Now more than ever, our fears need to shamelessly take center stage so we can let fear illuminate everything that is in need of healing in our lives, so we can finally be free.
But fear is tricky, and it shows up in all kinds of disguises. And until you see it for what it is, it’s impossible to interact properly with fear.
How can you tell if fear is stifling your life and slowly breaking you down? Here are a few thoughts.
1. You find yourself striving in vain for an impossible-to-achieve standard of perfection.
When you’re afraid (of criticism, failure and rejection), you’ll kill yourself trying to be perfect. Of course, the mask of perfection also separates you from what you most want: real intimacy, to be known, loved, and accepted for your true self.
2. You settle.
When you’re afraid to take risks and go for what you really want, you convince yourself that your less-than-juicy life – your relationships, your job, the dismal state of your thinking – is as good as it gets. When fear runs the show, you forget how to dream and stretch your comfort zone. You compromise in the name of being “realistic.” But settling isn’t realism; it’s a devastating symptom of the fear that what you hope is possible really isn’t.
3. You say yes when you mean no.
When you’re afraid to disappoint people or get rejected if you don’t say yes, you’ll fall into fear-based, people-pleasing, self-sacrificing behaviors that lead to unhappiness and resentment. But when fear is no longer weighing you down, you say no when it feels self-loving. As they say, “No” is a complete sentence. There doesn’t need to be an explanation everyone agrees with. This doesn’t mean you won’t devote yourself to generosity and service. It means the service stems from a genuine love-based, rather than a fear-based, motivation.
4. You say no when you mean yes.
When you’re afraid, you’re unlikely to take any risks at all. You’ll feel the longing to start your own business, go out with your dream date, take that bucket list trip, start a family, or take an educational class. But you’ll say no because you’re afraid to fail, afraid to succeed, afraid to get rejected, afraid to stir things up, afraid to get out of your comfort zone.
When you face fear rather than running from it, you’ll start letting your soul take the lead, taking leaps of faith and saying yes when you really want to.
5. You numb yourself with alcohol, drugs, TV, sex or unnecessary busyness.
Fear causes inner pain, a soul sickness that can show up as depression, anxiety, helplessness, hopelessness, frustration, sadness, loneliness and exhaustion. In order to avoid this inner pain, you engage in addictions and other numbing behaviors. This only puts a temporary Band-Aid on the pain, while increasing feelings of low self-esteem that just escalate the inner agony.
When you’re not afraid to be quiet with yourself, to face your inner demons, to heal from the core, you’ll no longer need excessive amounts of alcohol, cigarettes, junk food, painkillers, or other numbing distractions. You’ll have the courage to do the transformative work that leads you to freedom and life-saving solutions.
6. You get sick (often).
Fear isn’t just an uncomfortable emotion that holds you back from following your dreams. It also triggers physical stress responses in your body that put you at risk of disease and make it hard for you to physically heal yourself. Fearful people are more likely to have heart attacks, cancer, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, inflammatory illnesses, chronic pain and even the common cold. They’re also more likely to experience milder physical ailments, such as insomnia, obesity, low energy, headaches, body aches, and decreased libido.
This isn’t meant to frighten you. It’s meant to wake you up, give you hope, and inspire you to embark upon the journey of transformation from fear to freedom.