Fear Is a Funny Thing
I have been asked at least 100 times if I am afraid of bears. The answer is no. I take precautions and carry bear spray. I carry a bear-resistant food bag and hang food when necessary. I make noise when going through thick vegetation. But I don't go around in fear expecting to be attacked by a bear. To be honest, I'm more wary of humans than of bears.
But fear is a funny thing. I was asked if I was afraid by another six people in the parking lot as I stepped onto the trailhead at the Canadian border. Immediately, I came upon two signs talking about the dangerous grizzly bears. I entered thick vegetation, and darned if I didn't feel a moment of fear. I realized it was unnecessary, a result of having been surrounded by other people’s fear, and was able to put it aside.
When I first arrived at Glacier and saw the steep, snow-filled passes, I felt a fluttering in my chest. It was similar to what I sometimes feel when I am standing at the top of a really steep, narrow ski hill, or when I hear the rushing of an upcoming rapid when I am paddling a river. I’ve learned with these fears to acknowledge them, use caution, and trust in my abilities to proceed.
In general, I have been pretty good at pushing past fear in my life, even too much so at times. It was only after I did some deep emotional work that I no longer felt compelled to put myself into fearful situations. I believe my inner parts were pushing me into fearful situations so I would deal with their inner fear. And once I did I was no longer compelled to do all the things that terrified me.
The most fearful thing I have ever done is to let down my wall of defenses and allow my vulnerability to be seen. Trusting people, especially after being betrayed by those whom I thought loved me, was terrifying. But I knew I had to do it if I ever wanted to find inner peace and happiness. While I am still working on it, it has made a huge positive difference in my life.
It made me realize when working as a therapist that fear was what many people needed to conquer. I’ve learned some people have a much harder time letting go of fear than others. I struggled to find ways to help people be less afraid.
I am still working to find ways to minimize fear for other people. I have found two things that have helped at least some of the folks I’ve worked with. The first involves not trying to take away the fear but to acknowledge it as valid. I tell people, “It is okay to feel afraid. It may not feel good, but it is just a feeling. Just because you feel afraid doesn’t mean bad things are going to happen to you.” I’ve been pleasantly surprised how much better this works than telling someone they have nothing to fear.
The second thing I have found to help is telling my story. When we share from our darker, difficult places, we do a service for others: We let them know they don’t always have to show a smiley face. We let them know they are not alone in feeling fear or despair. And we offer some hope that if we have moved through some of those difficult places, it is possible for them as well.
I say we need fewer fear mongers in the world and more story tellers!