I’m sharing some thoughts using the word FEAR as an acronym for several components of it here. I hope this encourages some personal reflection for you, too.
Many of us experience fear as a challenging feeling. It can be scary to be scared. It often feels very vulnerable and uncomfortable. It is so easy to be scared by unpredictable events in the world, threats, uncertainties, and our own thoughts and growth process. Many people get angry or take immediate actions that are often not helpful to avoid feeling afraid. Yet – we are clearly “hardwired” to experience fear, and fear has valuable information for us.
Karla McLaren, whose book The Language of Emotions is one of my all-time favorite resources, says that fear is based in our body on valuable intuition – free-flowing fear focuses us and slows us down to be exquisitely focused in the present moment to give us the energy and focus we need to deal with change or novel situations. She emphasizes that fear is not cowardice but rather the protective system inside us that knows when we are not adequately prepared for whatever is coming next. When fear stops us, it allows us to gather ourselves and our resources to make it through the next moment. Do you know how your body experiences fear – this free-flowing fear – not the “stopped up fear” that becomes anxiety or worry – or even trauma? I’ve experienced fear in conversation or therapy sessions or teaching situations as a kind of cold chill in my chest – when I realized I was feeling in over my head or wasn’t paying enough attention – or that something really, really important was about to happen and I needed to be as focused as I could possibly be. I like to think of this as the modern version of the same instinct that served our ancestors’ need to know when a tiger or wild boar was approaching. I also like to think we who walk a Jungian path often do not pay enough attention to the body and our unique relationship with our own body and its exquisite truths, often focusing on a rather dis-embodied world of symbols and language. Many people described Carl Jung as an imposing man with a very distinct physical presence – a man who understood the need to be in touch with his body and emotions in his relationships with others. (I’ve heard many people who spent time with Helen Luke say very much the same about her – including taking time between tasks to sit and consider what was needed for the next moment). And clearly, from their autobiographies and from Jung’s Red Book, both Carl and Helen were more than willing to delve deeply into emotions, including fear.
There are many images, stories, dreams, experiences we may have that relate to fear. Donald Kalsched, who has been a recently influential author in the Jungian world, writes about the very images that many people who have experienced trauma build into a personal defense system also end up being destructive, malevolent and retraumatizing forces – the protector and persecutor becoming entwined, as one part of the psyche regresses and another part progresses. One way this inner persecutor may be projected externally is in our darkest fears and shadowy characters, such as murderers, rapists, and terrorists. Kalsched and Karla McLaren says that when fear gets “frozen” into trauma, panic, and extreme anxiety and cannot be its helpful free-flowing state, a person cannot be fully present, whole, and participatory in healthy relationships. Years ago, I did some artwork in therapy about my own inner persecutor figure, who showed up as a black suit-clad Mafia-type figure with an automatic rifle pointed at me. I’ve had to grieve the losses that being under the protection/persecution of that figure for years meant. I do find a different inner process when I can now, more frequently, allow free-flowing fear to inform me, than to be ruled by this inner persecutor, that feels more open and creative.
I’m reading a powerful new book by Brene Brown called Rising Strong, in which she describes the process that successful people – we might say individuated people – use when getting back up after a fall or failure. She stresses the importance of reckoning with our emotions by both learning to recognize them and then getting really curious about them, to be able to decide where we want to go. Next she suggest we rumble with our story about our emotions – not in a violent, street fight kind of way – but a process of being present with them as they keep arising and honestly looking for information and patterns – similar to how we might look at our dream images over time or other unconscious material that begins to see the light of day. Then finally, Brown suggests there is a revolution in us to integrate our key learnings that emerge from the rising strong process to live more wholly and fully. So – in my own individuation process currently, which is Joyfully nudging me into both a new entrepreneurial venture and a new relationship – and preparing for several major life changes this year – fear comes up often. When I am reckoning with my fear, I can feel it helping me focus in the moment on something important that I’m not quite sure how to deal with until I slow down and pay attention. This happened recently with a client in crisis. At first my fear led me to anxiety and concerns with risk management. When I got home and my free-flowing fear slowed me down to a process of inner awareness, I realized I needed to sit with the client in a process of death of a number of old ways of being that were no longer working – and to be able to be present with the death and recycling of a number of things in my life as well. The synchronicity of writing this reflection, reading Brown’s book, and recently attending a workshop on Kalsched’s work have all contributed to helping me rise strong.
One final thought: I’ve often thought of fear as the shadow of love – so perhaps exploring fear helps us also explore love. I’m all for more love in me and in the world, today. So, like all the other parts of myself I explore in this journey, I welcome fear and look forward to learning more from her – and from love – this year.