Flying back from Munich to San Diego, I came across a German Proverb, “Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.”
As I contemplated this statement, I realized we all have fears, some of which can be quite imaginative and vocal, which may color the stories we tell ourselves.
I admit we all have fears. Sometimes, however, we think of fear as a weakness as something we want to overcome, like the big bad wolf of our childhood who we fear may come along and eat us up.
What, however, is a novel way to talk about our fears? Kate Thompson Walker in her Ted Talk invites us to look at fear as a form of storytelling with characters, plots, imagery, and elements of suspense. In this light, “Fear” can be quite vocal and imaginative coloring for us portraits of how we view ourselves (the good, bad and the ugly) and the world around us.
Fear invites us to examine the authorship of our stories and challenges us to unpack and rewrite.
What we tell ourselves in these stories may allow us to do things we never dreamed of, i.e. climb a mountain, go deep sea diving, quit our job, learn a new skill, leave a relationship. Conversely, fear may have a way of binding us. Unpacking and challenging fear as a story will help us define new ways of being of acting as we navigate the world. Fear ultimately can be a motivating friend.
Recently I had the privilege was working with a woman bridled with fear about her father. Her father’s narcissism, mothers’ untimely death at a young age caused her grave pain. She developed somatic symptoms and experienced large bouts of depression. She lived a life interrupted with small pockets of joy met with curtains of pain. Together we unpacked the fear driven story she was telling herself about herself. At 50 she is learning how to rewrite her narrative so that fear becomes her friend, not her enemy.
Likewise, all of us who help families whose loved one experience mental health and or substance abuse issues know all too well the litany of stories parents tell themselves about why they cannot invite their loved ones to change. The objections fill a library full of fear and often stop them frozen in their tracks. Our task as clinician/interventionists is to give them the courage to explore and help them up back their narrative, thaw out the stories they are telling themselves and give them permission to act to become the heroes and heroines of their own lives.
If you are curious about FEAR and this narrative process, I invite you to take some time to today and do this exercise with yourself before you try it out with your clients.
Identify and choose one of your fears and craft a story around this. Share your story with another. How does this shift your perception? How will you change the outcome?
And share your experience with me. For as the psychoanalyst Carl Jung said, “Where your fear is there is your Task” – and as Nelson Mandela Reminds us “I have learned that courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man (woman) is not he (she) who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers fear,” Nelson Mandela.