The unexamined life is not worth living. — Socrates
Why am I so passionate about this fear thing? I’ve asked myself that question many times. The short answer is that in all the choices I have made from a place of fear, only a very few have been good decisions, and those were made when my physical safety or the physical safety of another were being threatened. However, I have made countless bad choices from a place of fear, worry, and anxiety, particularly from my deep-rooted fear of displeasing people.
It is my belief that some of our most crippling fears are the fruit of seeds planted in our understanding of the world and our place in it during childhood. For me, I learned that behaving well was rewarded with emotional connection and outward expressions of love while misbehaving resulted in emotional and physical isolation. A sensitive child who craved connection and belonging, I learned to ‘perform’ for the reward of relationship. Complying meant connection. Contradicting meant loneliness. My heart and spirit learned this lesson about 20 years before I was capable of even verbalizing it, and I became ‘good’ in order to be accepted and seen as worthy of love and attention without cognitively choosing that path. Throughout the years, in school, in family, in friendships, in relationships, in pretty much any scenario involving me and another person, I operated from the subconscious assumption that not doing what people wanted me to do would cut me off from the approval and affirmation that I so desperately needed to emotionally survive. I was not able to live authentically because I had only the vaguest idea who I truly was underneath all the people-pleasing and I was emotionally and physically exhausted from trying to be all things to all people all the time from fear that one misstep or imperfection would earn me eternal banishment from their lives.
Here’s the truth about uprooting and discarding the fear that keeps you emotionally or physically tangled in what does not bring you joy and fulfillment: It can be heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, painful work. You might get caught on the branches of regret for the years you’ve lived a life not fully your own. You might prick your fingers on the thorns of anger at those who had a hand in instilling and affirming your fearful approach to a certain aspect of your existence. You might find yourself emotionally spent after a day or a week or a month of cutting out the brambles of worry, anxiety, and apprehension. But it is worth it. Until you know where the root of your fear lies and deal with it, you will find yourself living less than wholeheartedly. Even as you cut away a relationship, a pattern of behavior, and unhealthy choices, more will grow up if you don’t know why and where they are originating. Although I still struggle with I’ll-do-anything-you-want-just-please-love-me-and-don’t-abandon-me tendencies, I am so much healthier, so much more genuine, so much happier for knowing where my fear comes from and learning how to live true to myself in spite of it. I know what it is like to live unduly influenced by fear and I know what it is like to live apart from the influence of fear. I firmly believe that emotionally healthy and fulfilled people have the potential to change families, communities, and the world for the better by combating unhealthy fear and ensuring that more seeds of fear are not planted in lives. And that’s why I’m so passionate about this fear thing.