Fear’s entire mission in life is to keep you safe from the risk of loving. It sees love as a dangerous cesspool where the invisible sea creatures lurk beneath the dark surface, waiting to snatch you into their murky waters. Fear believes that if you risk your heart through committed loving you will endure unbearable loss: you will either lose yourself in some way or you will lose your partner. Either way, fear tells you to run because it’s trying to protect you from an unpredictable risk.
Fear uses a handful of lines in its attempt to convince you to run. This is helpful information because once you identify the finite number of lines, you can begin to challenge them, diffuse them, and eventually, with enough committed work, flick them away like annoying mosquitos. Here are the top 10 most common lines fear carries in its arsenal:
1. You don’t really love him/her.
2. You’re just trying to convince yourself that you love him/her.
3. If you really loved him/her, you wouldn’t have to work this hard.
4. You’re not attracted to him/her.
5. There’s not enough sexual chemistry.
6. There’s someone else out there that wouldn’t make you feel this anxious.
7. You’re settling.
8. You had more chemistry with your ex.
9. Love doesn’t last.
10. Everyone’s relationship is better than yours (the grass is always greener syndrome)
When I’m working with clients, I offer effective responses for challenging each of these lines. For example, when fear says, “You’re settling,” a response that pulls the rug out from beneath fear is, “So what? If settling means having a solid, loving, wonderful relationship, then bring it on!” I encourage my clients to write down the response and keep it handy on a notecard (or iPhone, Blackberry, etc) so that as soon as she becomes aware of fear, she can respond.
For many clients, however, responding to fear with a challenge that disarms its power is a second or third course of action. We usually begin by discussing our culture’s buzzwords and dysfunctions around love and commitment, then we delve into the personal history that is fueling fear’s rampage. If you come from a history of divorce, doesn’t it make sense that fear will rise up with a ferocious attack if you’re considering marriage? Remember, fear doesn’t want you to get hurt again. It saw the pain and devastation you experienced and witnessed as a child and it truly believes that the only safe route is to remain alone or, at the very least, uncommitted.
In other articles, I’ve referred to fear as The Gatekeeper; for many people, viewing fear as a character in your psyche helps to begin to dialogue with it and, over time, diffuse it completely. I also often reference The Wizard of Oz because, like the wizard, fear puts on a great, big, loud, scary show, but when you pull back the curtains you reveal a scared little man behind it all. This is how it is with fear. When you’re believing its lines, it assumes the power of a vicious monster, but as soon as you start to name and see it for what it is, you realize that it’s really just blowing a lot of hot air and lies into your ear that, while may have been true as a child, don’t hold water anymore.
None of this is easy work. I simplify it in my articles for people to see what the process looks like, but understanding what to do and actually doing it are two different things. But this is what I can tell you with 100% certainty: if you do the work, you can work through your fear. I’ve seen it over and over again and it never ceases to inspire and amaze me. One of my clients, who was thoroughly dedicated to her process of dialoguing daily with the fear characters (judgement, wounded child, etc), recently said to me, “The moment I broke free was the moment I stopped giving fear any energy. I stopped listening to it. I’m amazed at what fear will do to get me to leave. But now when I hear fear whisper something in my ear, I just say, ‘Whatever’, and move on to the next moment.”
This is the work in a nutshell: learning how to stop giving fear any energy. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s not easy, but in my mind, there is no work more worthy on this earth. In the battle between love and fear, who will you allow to drive your car?
Sheryl Paul has her Master’s degree in counseling psychology and is regarded as an international expert in transitions. In 1998, she pioneered the field of bridal counseling and has since counseled thousands of people worldwide through her private practice, her bestselling books, "The Conscious Bride" and "The Conscious Bride's Wedding Planner," her website, http://conscious-transitions.com, and two Home Study Programs: Conscious Weddings E-Course: From Anxiety to Serenity and Birthing a New Mother: A Roadmap to Calm Your Anxiety, Prepare Your Marriage, and Prevent Postpartum Depression. She has appeared several times on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”, as well as on “Good Morning America” and other top television, radio, and newspapers around the globe. Phone and Skype sessions are available internationally for all types of transitions and ongoing counseling. She lives in Boulder, Colorado with her husband and two young sons.