By Joy Birnbach Dunstan,
MA, LPC, MAC
Facing Our Fears
With the approach of Halloween, what better time to talk about fear. Many children and adults love celebrating Halloween because sometimes it’s fun to be scared. Lots of people enjoy masquerading as their favorite monster, going to a horror movie, or riding the Cyclone at the amusement park. Pretend-scary is fun, but often our fears are much more serious and real.
When fear has a grip on you, it’s important to stop and identify what it is that you’re really afraid of. Is your fear realistic or is it the product of your imaginings about the future? Are there other possibilities besides this worst possible scenario you are panicking about?
If what you fear is real, is there something you can do today to minimize or eliminate this problem? If there is something, do it. If not, let it go and focus on something in the here and now. Life can throw some devastating curve balls in our path. Accepting the unchangeable, even if you don’t like it, gives you the equanimity to find sensible solutions instead of knee-jerk reactions.
Fears can be a way to protect ourselves from things we don’t want to face. People frequently use avoidance as a way of coping with a scary unknown. The truth is, most things aren’t nearly as bad as our fears tell us they will be. Dealing with whatever it may be is generally easier than all the energy it takes to avoid or work around the issue. Plus, dealing with it is likely to bring about a much more satisfying result.
My St. Bernard Lucy would have done well facing her fear head-on. This is a true story that happened back when Lucy was only about seven months old. Now, mind you, a 7-month-old St. Bernard is not exactly small; she was probably about 110 pounds by then. One afternoon, my husband took her for a walk to our neighborhood Plaid Pantry. He carefully attached her leash to the garbage can outside before he went in, one of those really big, industrial-strength steel cans.
As he was making his purchase, he suddenly heard lots of clattering and banging, so he went outside to see what was going on. And what did he see, but our big puppy racing down the street in total panic with this huge steel can clanking down the sidewalk behind her. The faster she ran, the faster that big, mean, steel monster chased her. Garbage was strewn everywhere in the block-long path she’d blazed from the market. My husband called her several times before she finally stopped long enough for him to catch up with her. But the most amazing part was that the moment she stopped running from that scary can, it immediately stopped chasing her. When she stood still and turned around to face what had been so frightening, it didn’t scare her anymore.
Who can’t remember some time in your life when you ran and ran from something that seemed truly terrifying only to finally stop and face it head-on later and discover that it really wasn’t so bad after all?
From now on, think of FEAR as standing for False Evidence Appearing Real. Take an objective look at what scares you. See it for what it truly is. Consider what might be the worst possible outcome of dealing with it head-on. Assess the likelihood of that worst outcome actually coming to pass. Identify the potential gain of facing this fear.
Don’t let fear rule your life and prevent you from enjoying today or doing what your heart tells you to do.