When I first started out on my path towards self growth, I would have regular bouts of debilitating fear and dread. When it would happen I would question my whole purpose. I began to reconsider my steps and long to go back into the safety of known discomfort.
These bouts would last for days, sometimes weeks. During that time I would end up indulging in a considerable amount of avoidant and numbing behavior. I would eventually make it back to reason and set back to work, but they left me exhausted and always doubting my path.
Now, when I wake up in that cold sweat of despair I say:
I still feel the deep pit of dread. I still feel frozen in my own discomfort without an escape. I know, without doubt, that the terrible thing is still right around the corner. I want to throw in the towel, stop right there on the road of destiny, and sink into an oblivion of Merlot, pizza and Netflix.
So why do I now break open the streamers and strike up the brass band when this feeling arrives? Because I have made a discovery, this feeling means I am right on track!
(I cannot take credit for this discovery, it is written in many the spiritual guide. But reading about it and making the discovery in your own experience are two very different creatures.)
You see, change and comfort do not live on the same block.
When we are making changes in our life which challenge the beliefs that keep us stuck and stagnant, it forces those parts of our identity that are reliant on the old patterns to get nervous. Those parts are saying, “I exist because I am unworthy of love (or fill in the blank with any disempowering belief). I have constructed a whole being around this belief and to tear down this belief would destroy me.”
So while my conscious mind is saying “I am worthy of love” and beginning to act accordingly, the part of me which is attached to that belief system I am beginning to change is freaking out. It feels that it’s very existence is in jeopardy. It must force me to abort the whole program before imminent destruction happens.
That is when it gets sneaky.
It starts to slip silently past the guards of my conscious mind using the invisibility cloak of “dealt with that” or “not my issue”and reaching deep into the wells of the subconscious. It digs deep into the dark corners of somatic memory, where are body stores those unprocessed traumas of old.
When these somatic memories are triggered, they bypass the logical mind altogether. They are processed in the limbic brain. The reptilian memory that is so submerged it seems invisible, yet it makes up the very foundation we build our conscious selves on.
It drags up the bodily sensations of that time we were left to cry and cry in our crib (or fill in the traumatic experience) and the foundation of the feeling that you are unworthy of love (or fill in the negative core belief) was formed. We may not even have a memory of the incident itself, but our bodies recorded with perfect pitch the earth shattering realization that we are fatally flawed. We feel in our bones that our needs cannot be met, that we are unworthy, unloveable and on and on.
These feelings are deep and hard to name. They are mostly formed before we even have the language to describe them. When we feel them it makes us feel as helpless and hopeless as the baby left crying in the crib.
It can take some practice to break the habit of falling headlong into the quicksand. My intervention goes something like this:
“Hello deep pit of dread, I feel you. I recognize your clammy hands clutched around my heart. I honor your need to get my attention and I call your bluff.
I am not in imminent danger. I’m actually doing some pretty awesome stuff. I feel your pull, but I also feel the need to keep on track with this moving forward with my life thing.
Go ahead and clutch in your clammy way, name all those things that can go wrong. But before you take my entire nervous system hostage with your paper tiger I am going to make my own list of all the things that might go right. I am going to remember what shiny new possibilities make this a risk worth taking.”
To live totally without fear is to be a psychopath, something I think we can agree is not a goal worth striving for. But we can learn to reframe fear, turning it into a tool rather than a disability. We are then able to go down our path of destiny with it’s blessing and not like a ball chained to our ankle.