I began writing this post back in May, when the feelings I describe in it were close to the surface, so close that they spilled out onto the page, or the computer screen, at great speed. But I then got waylaid, distracted by a hugely significant event and all the emotions it stirred (you can read about my wedding day here).
But the theme of this blog hasn’t gone away. In fact, it’s returned, over and over again. It’s showed up in my thoughts and it’s found its way into my conversations with others.
So it’s time to finish what I started and to share it with you …
I have come to believe that in order to truly live and truly love, we have to face our deepest fears.
We have to walk towards those fears, walk into the flames, risk being burnt, risk being hurt (again).
We have to risk our traumas being triggered and our buttons being pressed, even though we’re scared, even though the wounded child inside us tells us we won’t survive.
Only then will we realise that we can survive the things that scare us the most. Only by facing our fears will we heal, grow stronger and become more resilient.
Of course, there’s a time and a place for everything. It would be unwise to walk into the fire before we’re ready, because if we step out too soon we might get so badly burnt that we’ll never venture out again.
That would be a terrible shame.
We need to spend time sewing together the pieces of our fire-resistant cloak first. We need to build our solid foundations. We need to look inside, process our feelings, heal our hurts as much as we can, before we are ready to face the flames.
But it’s possible to spend too long in this introspection stage and end up with analysis-paralysis.
There was a time when I thought I’d have to spend years sitting on the top of a mountain in Tibet with my legs crossed and my palms turned upwards in order to heal all my wounds, find my inner peace and become whole. Only then could I return to living, I thought.
But for me, that would be avoiding life.
Instead, once I’ve done my groundwork, once I’ve laid my foundations, it’s time to take this show on the road. It’s time to face my deepest fears and get the evidence that I can survive.
Before I go on, let’s be clear that there’s nothing nonsense about us. We make perfect sense. Our fears are born out of our experiences, or the way we interpreted certain experiences, many of which happened to us when we were young, when we lacked the resources and the processing tools to handle them.
So if we experienced rejection or abandonment in the past, it’s natural that we’re going to be terrified of feeling that pain again, and we’re going to do whatever we can to avoid it.
If we’ve been hurt or wounded in the past, we’re going to be scared of being hurt and wounded again, and we’re going to do whatever we can to prevent that from happening.
If we’ve experienced negative criticism or judgement in the past, especially when we were small and especially from the people we loved or depended upon, we’re going to do whatever we can to avoid being criticised and judged, because we remember how much it hurt.
If we’ve felt like an outsider before, separate and alone, like we didn’t belong in a group or a crowd, we’re going to do whatever we can never to feel that way again. We’re going to try to fit in, to belong, even if that means contorting ourselves, squashing ourselves into an odd shape.
The problem is that when we put all our energy, effort and time into avoiding pain, hurt, rejection, abandonment, judgement, criticism, or into fitting in, we avoid living.
We hide away – from life, from relationships, from intimacy, from being seen, from sharing our true selves and our creativity with the world. We don’t take risks. We shut our hearts away. We shut our work and our creativity away.
By doing so, we think we’re keeping ourselves safe from hurt, safe from pain. But over time, we discover that denying ourselves the opportunity to love, to experience intimacy or to be seen for who we are is just as painful, or even more painful than the pain we’ve been trying to avoid.
We reach a tipping point – when the pain we feel because we’re avoiding life becomes greater than the pain we feel at the prospect of facing life.
At that moment, we realise that in order to truly live, we must face our deepest fears. We must walk towards them. Walk into the flames. Walk into the fire. We might get a little bruised, a little charred perhaps, but we’ll emerge intact on the other side, pat ourselves down and realise we’re OK.
Better still, we’ll realise we’ve grown stronger.
And then those fears won’t scare us anymore. We’ll have smashed through our biggest obstacles to a satisfying life.
Let me explain how this has worked for me.
One of my deepest fears has always been to love, to love deeply, to love wholeheartedly, to be vulnerable, to offer up my heart.
Why? Because ever since I was a little girl, I equated love with pain, hurt, loss and grief.
But I walked into the fire. I committed myself to a man. I opened my heart to him. It took years, of to-ing and fro-ing, of moving towards him and then pulling back, but I got there in the end. I married him in June.
I faced my fear of loving and I survived. In fact, I thrived. I flourished. I came alive with love. And importantly, I healed my deepest wounds. I laid my trauma triggers on the line, offered up my buttons to be pressed, and by doing so, they had lost their hold over me.
Many of us are scared to love in case we lose again or get hurt again but sooner or later, we get to a point where the pain of not loving is greater than the pain we’re trying to avoid.
Falling in love is one example of how I’ve faced my deepest fears but this post was actually sparked by a different experience from earlier this year.
Before I describe that experience, let’s state the obvious (or at least what’s obvious to me).
I have a deep desire to be universally liked and loved. I am a people-pleaser (or a slowly recovering people-pleaser). I try to please you because if I don’t, you might be angry with me and your anger terrifies me. In fact, I think I’ll die if you’re angry with me (because I experienced anger when I was a little girl and it felt life-threatening).
I particularly want to please you with my work, because traditionally I’ve derived a huge amount of self-esteem and self-worth from my work. I especially felt valued for my work and my achievements as a child. I’m also a hard worker. I pride myself on delivering excellent work. So I want you to approve of my work, because that means you approve of me.
And finally, I want to belong. I want to feel part of. I don’t like feeling on the outside. I especially don’t like feeling that the rest of the group doesn’t like me. That’s scary.
All this is changing, of course, as I continue to grow and heal, but old habits die hard. My fears of not being liked or loved, of being judged negatively for my work and of feeling like I don’t belong still linger.
Earlier this year, I faced all those fears at the same time.
I was running a retreat and in one of the sessions, a few participants expressed displeasure with or opposition to my work. This isn’t a usual experience. I’ve run lots of retreats and received incredible feedback, but this retreat was different, a different model and a different clientele.
As a few people expressed displeasure with my work, my mind leaped to worst-case scenario: nobody likes my work, everyone thinks I’m rubbish, nobody in this room likes me, I’m under attack and I’m all alone in a group, on the outside.
This combination was my worst nightmare – a concoction of my deepest fears.
For a second, I froze. I then thought about running, about fleeing, about darting to the door. Next, I thought about throwing in the towel, dissolving into tears, giving up, saying I couldn’t carry on, confessing that I was a fraud, a fake and I’d been found out.
Fortunately, I came to my senses and responded to the perceived threat in a grown-up way. I had a quick, silent word with my terrified inner child, reassured her that she wasn’t going to die, and I got back into my functional adult. I continued with the session. I did my job, to the best of my ability.
Afterwards, in private, I had my meltdown. I shared my feelings with others who understood. I got the support I needed. I processed my childhood pain and the traumas that had been triggered. I re-parented myself. I used all my tools. I got myself back onto solid ground. (All of which is healthy behaviour, in my opinion. Vulnerability is strength. Feeling is healing.)
And, after a good night’s sleep, I emerged stronger.
I returned to the group the following day and I did what I do best – I spoke my truth. I was honest, open and vulnerable. I spoke about the fact that the day before, I had sat in that room and faced my deepest fears, experienced my worst nightmare, felt my buttons being pushed big time and felt the pain of my wounds opening up.
But I’d survived. I’d walked through the flames and I’d come out the other side. And I’d emerged stronger, empowered, emboldened, wiser and more courageous.
By facing my fears, they had become right-sized. They’d lost their power over me.
And, I told my participants, that’s the very same process some of you will need to go through in order to achieve your dreams, in order to form healthy, loving, intimate relationships, in order to be authentically you, or in order to put your creativity out into the world.
It hadn’t been planned but I had demonstrated the process that had been critical to my own journey to love and to becoming my authentic self.
Just like strengthening our muscles in the gym by bearing weight, our inner muscles grow stronger as we put them to the test. We grow in resilience as we face our worst fears and come out the other side.
Yes, it’s frightening, but it’s not so frightening that we won’t survive.
It’s also exhilarating, incredibly healing and freeing. It frees us up to move forwards with our lives, without the fears that have been weighing us down.
So what are your worst fears? What’s your worst nightmare? Are your fears holding you back from loving and living, from feeling fully fulfilled or achieving your true potential?
And are you ready to walk towards the fire?
Comment below or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you x
My next retreat happens in sunny, southern Turkey this October 7-14. The Love Retreat is for you if you want to grow in self-love, self-esteem, self-awareness, self-acceptance and body-acceptance. It’s for you if you want to reset, renew, heal and grow. Please take a look at this link and then email email@example.com if it’s of interest. Think sun, sea, turtles, yoga, meditation, healing and personal growth in amazing company!
My next online five-week How to Fall in Love course with group coaching starts September 2. Ten spaces. Click here for details. Or you can take my How to Fall in Love course now at your own pace. Click here for the self-paced course.