By Lauren McClain
We live largely protected and easy lives, but bad things do still happen and the fear of their possibility can be debilitating. People don’t experience life-threatening events on a near-daily basis like the rest of the animal world. But we retain more than our share of the fear associated with mortal life.
When we fixate, we become stuck. The same way we circle our energies to pray or send loving intention, our fears circle energy around us creating an inadvertent prayer for what we don’t want.
Father Ron Rolheiser points out in his article The Power of Fear (Pathways Winter 2017), fear is harder to handle than most emotions. With sadness, we can cry and fill the emptiness. There’s a release. Fear doesn’t go away so easily.
Spiritual writer Bieke Vandekerckhove said, “We can beat a drum, rage in profanity, or cry tears, but fear remains…it cannot be taken out on someone else, even though we sometimes try…fear can only be suffered.”
Often all we can do is wait for fear to pass.
How can we help it to pass?
By naming it.
Our fears are doubled or tripled or only exist because we don’t really know what we are dealing with. We don’t know how to categorize it or understand it.
Our fears are mostly made up of the unknown.
When you have long suffered symptoms that you don’t have a name for, a diagnosis can be like a release. A thousand-pound weight off, even if the prognosis isn’t good.
As James Hillman says, “A symptom suffers most when it doesn’t know where it belongs.”
Once you know, “Ok, this is just a 24 hour stomach bug” or “I have these headaches because I’m dehydrated,” the fear mostly leaves.
Accurately naming the behavior of others also works to lift the burden of fear. Schools practice identifying and naming bullying behavior because labeling the bully takes some of the fear away from the victims and the power away from the bully.
Father Rolheiser writes, “Just to be able to name something, no matter how absurd or unfair, no matter our powerlessness to change it—is to be somehow free of it, above it, transcendent in some way….That’s why totalitarian regimes fear artists, writers, religious critics, journalists, and prophets. They name things.”
Dealing with the craziness of these political times has been eased by writers and artists and journalists who are able and willing to name what they see, call it what it is, so we can all move on and go forward. Fear keeps us stuck.
Naming is also helpful when healing old hurts. Every family and person has a unique combination of residual anxiety, shame, guilt, blame, withholding, neediness, impatience, and selfishness. Most of it is rooted in some kind of fear. Whatever you are carrying, it’s most harmful when you’re unaware of it.
Try giving a name to your troubles, your limitations and dark thoughts, to the places where you struggle.
If you can name it, it can’t hurt you as much. If you can name it, you can call it what it is and deal with it. See it and you won’t use it to hurt others.
Suffering from post partum OCD felt like being possessed. It wasn’t me. I was drowning in my own brain. I was afraid of everything. Rugs. Cars. My brother in law. Myself.
My symptoms were reduced to half when I finally went to see someone. The therapist told me, “This is what’s going on. It’s not uncommon. You will be fine. Your baby will be fine.” Naming it ultimately set me free. It even helped cure it.
Name your fears and they lose their power.
Sitting with your fears long enough to listen to them and find out what they are is not fun or comfortable or easy. The freedom on the other side, however, feels like heaven.
Lauren is a childbirth educator (Birth Boot Camp) and the author of the Breech Baby Handbook. She owns Better Birth Graphics, a shop full of practical, intuitive birth media for professionals. Her work has been published in Mothering, Holistic Parenting Magazine, Birth Issues, True Birth, Mama Birth, and elsewhere. She lives in Maryland with her family of five.