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We Can't Fear What We Don't Know

A few months ago, I sat on my counselor’s couch making a pro/con list about a difficult situation I was facing (one of my personal favorite avoidance activities). I spent a fair amount of time sharing how terrified I was about all the many things that could go wrong if I chose to act instead of keeping the status quo. After saying, “I’m just so afraid of what could happen,” my counselor said, “Lauren, there’s no such thing as fear of the unknown. What we actually fear is the past repeating.” As I thought back through all the worst case scenarios I had laid out, each was either an obstacle I had faced or something I had heard of happening to someone else. Because really, she’s right. We can’t fear what we don’t know, because we don’t know it. We can fear what might happen or the way things will make us feel, but only if it’s something we’ve encountered before, either firsthand or from someone else’s experience.

If I can only fear what I know, then that begs the question: what do I know that I’m afraid of? What has happened that I’m scared will repeat? The answers to these questions will obviously vary from experience to experience, but in my own journey, the hard truth I’ve had to face is that I use fear as a way to keep safe. Yes, you read that right. More often than I care to admit, I use fear as a way to protect myself from having to feel or experience certain things. My fear keeps me safe from things like pain, disappointment, and shame. It creates a cocoon where I don’t have to face the possibility of failure, of being rejected, or of making the wrong choice and suffering the consequences.

The truth is that I struggle a lot with doubt. Doubt that I’ll make the right decision. Doubt that I have what it takes. Doubt that others will accept or love me as I am. Doubt that I’m enough. When I allow doubt and fear to make my decisions for me, they might provide temporary comfort, but they also keep me stuck. Giving fear control creates a hamster wheel in my brain of possible outcomes and presses play on a vignette reel of past struggles, harsh words spoken over me, and shame. In the past, I’ve responded to this with what some like to call “noping” out of a situation. Just emotionally checking out and continuing on with what I am used to instead of what could be. Here’s the thing, though: I’ve never looked back on a decision made from a place of fear and thought, “Boy. That was the right call.” No, more often than not I experience regret, and find myself wishing I’d had the courage to walk in what I knew was true instead of what was comfortable. What is true is that I can do hard things, that I am enough as I am, and that I have good inside of me. Keeping myself safe from unwanted feelings isn’t really living because we can’t numb pain without numbing everything else, too. We cheat ourselves out of joy, experience, growth, and authenticity when we let fear call the shots.

So, how do we get back in the driver’s seat? I think one way is we don’t bow to fear, even when it makes a good argument. The reality is, all those things our fear says can happen? They can. We do face the possibility of failure and disappointment. We do risk rejection and hardship. But I’d like to suggest that the risk is worth the reward. Because every time we choose to speak TO our fear instead of letting it speak to us, we welcome the possibility of freedom, and of living our lives fully. When we speak to our fear, we regain control and we are free to step into our purpose. We honor the woman inside of us, and we change the world.

Written by Lauren Gloyne

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