Jul 21 • 4M

138. The Fear Is The Whole Point

We need fear to teach us lessons.

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Invariably when someone asks me for tips on how to to scary things, they are really asking for ways to make those things less scary and less uncomfortable.

When people ask me how to be brave, they are often asking me how to not be so afraid.

Both questions are understandable without a doubt. Both both questions are also completely missing one of the foundational concepts of recovery from an anxiety disorder. When we become afraid of how we feel and what we think - when anxiety and fear become the source of more anxiety and fear - the way out of this dilemma is to unmask the irrational nature of this fear. Recovery is essentially learning that while anxiety can feel really scary, there’s no danger and therefore no reason to be afraid in the end.

If we accept part of the essence of disordered anxiety as fear without actual corresponding threat or danger, then the way out that pickle is to break the link between the anxiety itself, and the perception of impending doom or harm. When the link is broken we are left with simply experiencing anxiety as an unpleasant and unwanted sensation, but not an emergency.

Odds are you’ve been trying everything you can think of to break that link with thoughts, ideas, words, quotes, memes, and soothing techniques. Has that worked? I’m guessing that since you’re reading this, it has not, at least not consistently or for any length of time.

Now you’re left with an inconvenient alternative. Facing the fear rather than trying to think or talk yourself out of it. I understand that nobody wants to do that, but we most effectively break that faulty mental link between anxiety and danger by allowing the danger to happen, then seeing that it never actually does. That means facing what you are sure is dangerous (even when it is not), which means being AFRAID. The fear is a key part of the experiences that teach us the lessons we need to learn. Without the fear, we learn nothing, and we remain stuck.

So being afraid is not your problem. It’s really the solution to your problem. This means that you have to stop grasping for ways to get around fear or stop it from happening, because you can’t have that and recovery at the same time. Seeing the presence of fear as failure is putting yourself in an unfair and untenable situation, and totally misses the point of why you are trying to do scary things to begin with.

It’s not natural or intuitive to welcome fear, or to see it as a teacher or ally. We are wired to see fear as an enemy. Hell, that wiring is part of what created the problem you’re trying to solve right now. But in this case, our way out is to put aside our natural drive to avoid fear … and move toward it.

When you make your life smaller and smaller to remain calm and to feel safe all the time, you are stuck. If you are working on your recovery and you are afraid, you are on the right track!

Yet another statement that must look downright absurd to anyone not well versed in the mechanics of disordered anxiety. I feel like an absurdity machine sometimes, but there is wisdom in the absurd for folks like us, so let’s embrace it rather than running away from it.


Have you listened to this week’s episode of The Anxious Truth podcast? Check it out out on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, or my website and YouTube channel.