Most people in our culture are riddled with fear, and it’s running the show in our lives, taking the wheel in most of our decision-making. But the funny thing is, we 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, hell—stress is practically a badge of success in our culture!
We’ve been taught to think that fear is for sissies. We see it as a weakness, something we should hide from others and deal with alone in dark nights of the soul. But fear is not something that should elicit shame or stay hidden. 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 and finally be free. Physical therapist Val Zajicek says PAIN means Pay Attention Inside Now. I think fear is like pain. It’s an emotional and physical signal alerting to you to Pay Attention Inside Now. Rather than running away from it, we need to examine it and let it heal us.
Fear is sneaky, and it shows up in all kinds of disguises, but until you see it for what it is, it’s hard to come into right relationship with fear.
How can you tell if fear is running your show?
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. But of course, the mask of perfection also separates us from what we most want—real intimacy, to be known, loved, and accepted for our true self.
2. You settle.
When you’re afraid to take risks, defy convention, and go for what you really want, you convince yourself that your less than juicy life—your relationships, your job, the dismal state of Mother Gaia—is as good as it gets. When fear is running the show, you forget how to dream. You compromise in the name of being “realistic.” But settling isn’t realism; it’s a devastating symptom of the fear that what we hope is possible really isn’t. When you make the brave move to get to the other side of these fears, hope returns. It’s not the dashed hope of the crushed idealist; it’s the alive hope of those who are creating a new future, one in which we won’t settle for any less than joy, vitality, even miracles.
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 resentment. But when fear is no longer running the show, you say no when it feels self-loving. As they say, “No” is a complete sentence. 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 risks. You’ll feel the yearning to start your own business, go out with your dream girl, take that bucket list trip, have a baby, or take an art 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 let fear cure you, you’ll start letting your soul take the lead, taking leaps of faith and saying yes when you yearn to.
5. You numb yourself with alcohol, drugs, sex, television, or excessive busyness.
Fear causes inner pain, a kind of soul sickness that shows up as depression, anxiety, restlessness, helplessness, hopelessness, frustration, sadness, loneliness, and fatigue. In order to avoid this inner pain, we tend to engage in addictions and other numbing behaviors. But of course, this only puts a very temporary Band-aid on the pain, while increasing feelings of low self-esteem that just increase the inner pain. When you’re not afraid to be quiet with yourself, to face your inner demons, to heal that which longs to be healed from the core, you’ll no longer need alcohol, cigarettes, overeating, workaholism, pain killers, or other numbing distractions. You’ll have the courage to do the deep transformative work that leads you to freedom on the other side of your journey.
6. You procrastinate.
When you’re afraid of putting yourself in the arena because of fear of failure, success, uncertainty, judgment, criticism, or rejection, you’ll tend to stand on the sidelines where you feel safer. When you face fear head on, motivation replaces procrastination. You’re not “going for it” based on a fear-based need to “make it happen.” Instead, the natural inclination towards love and service generates inspired action that leaps you forward towards that which wants to be born through you.
7. You get paralyzed.
When you’re afraid, you avoid making the decisions your soul knows you must make. Your intuition tells you it’s time to leave that toxic relationship. Or quit that soul-sucking job. Or set boundaries with your mother. Or go to rehab. Or speak up about the integrity breaches at work. But you’re terrified of the uncertainty that lies on the other side. If you make a decision, you’ll be thrust out of your comfort zone and into the vast unknown. But what you’ll discover on the other side of fear is that uncertainty is the gateway to possibility. When you don’t know what the future holds, anything could happen.
8. You become a control freak.
When you’re afraid, you feel the need to micromanage everything. You mistakenly think we live in a hostile, random universe that’s out to get you unless you grab the wheel with both hands and steer your life towards what you want and away from what you don’t want. You don’t trust that it’s a purposeful universe, that life is intelligent, that everything that happens helps you grow your soul, even if it’s not what your ego wants. When you make the journey from fear to faith, you trust that it’s a friendly universe. Then you can relax. Surrender to the flow of life, accept what is, let go of the handle, and enjoy the exciting ride. That’s when life gets really fun. Letting go is the frequency of miracles.
9. You muzzle yourself.
When fear is operating you, you’ll avoid speaking up. You won’t stand up for what you believe. You won’t let your voice be heard when your integrity is being threatened. You won’t tell people when they hurt your feelings. You’ll be too afraid to ask for what you really want. But when you let love lead, you start respecting and appreciating the divine voice that flows through you, giving it a voice and inviting it to be heard. And when you’re brave enough to speak your truth, you attract those who resonate with your truth. You find your soul community. Real intimacy grows.
10. You get sick.
Fear isn’t just an uncomfortable emotion that holds you back from following your dreams, connecting soul-to-soul with your true tribe, and serving out your life’s purpose. It also triggers stress responses in the body that put you at risk of disease and make it hard for the body to heal itself. Fearful people are more likely to get heart attacks, cancer, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, inflammatory disorders, chronic pain, and even the common cold. They’re also more likely to experience milder symptoms, such as insomnia, low energy, obesity, dizziness, headaches, backaches, decreased libido, and gastrointestinal distress.
This is not 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. Here are a few simple tips to help you get started.
Join Lisa at her Next Fear Cure Work Shop!
About the author
Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself. She is on a grass roots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself.
Lissa blogs at LissaRankin.com and also created two online communities –HealHealthCareNow.com and OwningPink.com. She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.
PS. For those who haven’t seen it yet, the newTheFearCureBook.com website is live, and you can download the free “Prescription For Courage Kit” there. The kit includes 5 guided meditations which I recorded with my musician friend Karen Drucker, meant to amplify the content of The Fear Cure. You can also watch the trailer for my new PBS special The Fear Cure,which starts this weekend! I’ll be on my National Public Television tour for the next two weeks, visiting local stations live, so check your local public television station for listings.
Follow Lissa on Facebook
Tweet Lissa on Twitter