Let’s Talk about the F-Word
A big question presented in the therapy room is “why do I behave the way that I do?” It’s the ultimate question and, sometimes, the motivation for a person sticking with long-term therapy. We crave an understanding for the things that we do that we don’t like or judge ourselves for.
The elephant in the therapy room is so often something that survives under the surface of all of us- Fear.
Acknowledging and confronting fear is necessary for most people, because it often drives behaviors, thoughts, and feelings without people even recognizing it; however, there is still shame associated with verbalizing or accepting a fear of something.
It is relatively acceptable to recognize and own up to a fear of heights or fear of being in a car accident. When someone states that they are afraid of heights, it is generally accepted and respected by those around them without push-back.
The fears of something that is not so easily avoided or catered to is what plants the seed that can grow into the tree of potential issues and insecurity.
In my years of practicing therapy and practicing the skills learned in my own therapy, there are infinite fears that can sneak into our lives in strange and unexpected ways. I know for me, when I do something unserving or, dare I say, self-sabotage-y I am not always conscious to the underlying fear associated.
Predominantly, I see a repetition of three dormant fears in so many clients.
Firstly, there is fear of abandonment and rejection. This is a big one, as well as something that is often dismissed as a natural part of life can be so pivotal and influential for some.
So what are some ways that this fear can manifest?
· Leaving relationships when they get serious or avoiding them all together. You can’t be abandoned if you never enter meaningful relationships or if you’re the one who leaves the relationship. You also will not have to experience rejection if you don’t pursue friendships and relationships that are considered risky or have potential to not work out.
· Staying in relationships that do not serve you or that are unhealthy. No one said that this stuff is 100% sensical. The opposite of the initial behavior is also associated with this fear. If the fear of being abandoned is present, it could drive you to stay in friendships or relationships that are unhealthy or that have negative impact on your mental health. Fear of being left or abandoned can drive a person to allow mistreatment or even abuse for far longer than what is acceptable for other people.
The emotions and thoughts that accompany those behaviors can be feelings of inferiority, being unlovable, and feeling that one does not deserve “better.” I don’t know of anyone who has the capacity to feel safe and secure in a relationship with a looming fear of being abandoned by the other person.
Moving on, fear of losing control is another area worth mentioning. When I say losing control, I’m not necessarily talking about violence or Hulk-like behaviors. Control is a tricky thing that can manifest and trigger a variety of different responses.
How can this manifest?
· “Control freak” behaviors and compulsive need for organization. Ever been on a trip with someone who plans the trip down to 15-minute markers? I know a few of them. Not having complete control opens a person up to spontaneity and the unexpected. Behind the potential for the unexpected, lies the fear. What could happen if I let go of some control? Spooky.
· Getting frustrated easily and having anger similar to road rage. When there is an underlying fear of losing control, things like road rage or being easily frustrated can be very common. It comes down to the need for others to do what we expect or want them to do.
The final fear I want to highlight is fear of losing face, which translates to fear of looking stupid or embarrassing yourself. If you really think about all the manifestations of this fear, what are the extents that people go to avoid feeling or looking dumb? This fear runs deep and comes out in so many different ways.
· Avoiding trying new things or branching out. This begs the question- what would you attempt if you weren’t afraid of failing?
· Putting others down or highlighting imperfections in others. The saying that people who put others down are really insecure about themselves rings true for those experiencing this fear.
These fears can rear their heads subtly to the point where they are difficult to pinpoint. Next time you notice a behavior or thought that you’re uncomfortable with, take a moment to examine the potential fear behind it.