Who Are You When You’re Not Afraid?

Most people don’t realize how often we are living in some degree of fear. Much of our waking life we spend in some level of worry, uncertainty, anxiety, confusion, overwhelm, lack, or sense of inadequacy. All of these are different intensities of fear.

I was unaware of the amount of fear I held towards my father, although our relationship was difficult for most of my adult life. After learning to turn inward, look at myself and take ownership of my behaviour, it became obvious I was holding fear from my childhood.

I remember a night in 2018 when Mom, Dad and I were having dinner together. Dad was talking with Mom, and he raised his voice as he tried to get his point across. Instantly my heartbeat skyrocketed, and a wave of anxiety came over me. I’m sure this inner experience had happened countless times in my life, but this was the first time I was fully aware of it at the moment and was able to speak up. I asked Dad if he knew he had raised his voice. He responded with “No, I did not.” I told him he had and then I shared with him, “When you raise your voice something deep inside of me becomes really scared.” Dad fell silent; clearly, he was unaware of his behaviour and its impact. I could feel my heartbeat in my throat and my body vibrating as adrenaline pumped through my veins. It took a lot of courage for me to speak up to my father and share what was happening within me. When fear is elevated to this level it’s obvious to recognize. Facing that fear shifted something big in me. It was a pivotal moment that brought healing to my relationship with Dad and to myself.

We tend to give our personal power away to others, allowing them to be the authority. Often, we do this out of fear that we will lose love and belonging if we don’t “toe the line.” In my childhood, Dad was the authority of our whole family, he made the final decision and enforced the family rules. As a child, I never wanted to make Dad angry, so I learned to avoid conflict, keep my mouth shut and try to keep him happy. Looking back, it makes perfect sense why I developed a behaviour pattern of pleasing others or withdrawing from conflict.

Does any of this resonate with you? Is it possible your nervous system is still holding on to childhood fears in relation to your parents? How often do you feel insecure, anxious, or helpless? Is it possible these feelings might come from early childhood experiences?

The example of my fear in relation to my father was fairly easy to discover. Once I’d unearthed and started healing it, it opened the door to even deeper fears that were much more subtle and difficult to find. Throughout my early years of personal development, I regularly focused on rebuilding my relationship with Dad. In the beginning, I’m sure digging up the past and wanting to talk about things drove Dad nuts. However, over time my dedication and consistent work paid off as we created a loving and connected relationship together. A year ago, Dad passed away and I’m proud to say a majority of my old fears were gone and I was able to really love him in a way I never could before.

After Dad passed, Mom and I decided to focus our attention on creating a deeper, more connected relationship with each other. Mom has done personal development work, and we’ve had many great conversations about my childhood, so I thought working on our relationship would be somewhat easy. I was wrong. For some reason, my struggle was much harder with Mom. I felt frustrated, discouraged, or angry a lot of the time. I couldn’t figure out what was going on for me. After all, for my whole life, it seemed my relationship with Dad was the most challenging.

What I discovered was I had a different type of fear around Mom. Unbeknownst to me, underneath my frustration was a constant concern, a regular sense of anxiety. When Dad was angry, or grumpy, everyone knew because he was very vocal about it and his body language was clear. However, Mom was much harder to read. Unless she was really pissed off, it was difficult to know what was going on inside of her. She tended to internalize, or even dismiss, her frustrations and overwhelm. Bottling up our feelings usually leads to blowing up. As a child, I was aware of when Dad was angry and when he would likely blow up, but not with Mom. Although Dad’s anger was the scariest, it turns out the inconsistency, confusion and uncertainty around Mom created a greater sense of anxiety in me. It was a level of uncertainty many people might characterize as “walking on eggshells”. Worried whether Mom might lose her cool or not unconsciously kept my nervous system alert. This conditioned the younger me to become very observant. I would unconsciously scan my parents with the hope of preparing myself in case they were stressed out and might become angry. Not only did I learn when to be quiet, avoid or please them, but I also created patterns of hiding or dismissing my feelings. When people are afraid, we protect ourselves by closing our hearts. Rationalizing away my feelings gave me “thick skin” and made life easier. Hiding, repressing, or denying feelings creates blind spots where we become unaware of the amount of fear running in our systems.

Do you recognize any patterns like these in your life?

Many people struggle with anxiety. They worry about what might go wrong in the future. When we are in any level of fear, we primarily track “what’s not working well” or “what could go wrong”. Our attention is focused on perceived problems, which narrows our ability to see possibilities. Michael Brown, author of The Presence Process exposes how fear is built into the words “anxiety” and “interfere”. The letters in anxiety can be rearranged to spell “any exit”. This uncovers the nervous, fear-based energy, and type of thoughts that drive a desire to escape. Michael points out that when people are afraid of things not going the way they want them to or thinking things should be different, they tend to interfere with the hope of changing or controlling outcomes. They interfere or “enter fear” because they don’t trust things will work out well without their “help.”

Why do we do this? Based on our past experiences we’ve created personal preferences and beliefs. We go through life consciously or unconsciously tracking anything that feels unfamiliar, uncomfortable, or anything we deem threatens our beliefs, in hopes of protecting ourselves from experiencing pain. We are unconsciously run by fear that our nervous system associates with survival.

So, who are we when worry, anxiety, insecurity, and fear aren’t underpinning our thoughts and actions?

Without those, we are grounded, flexible and resilient, despite what is going on around us. I wrote a poem that highlights what life is like when we are not afraid.

Eyes of the heart

There’s a wonderful world, Joyful and rich, Just beyond, The Ego’s pitch.

It can only be experienced, From the heart, Touch it, And tears will start.

Wriggling and niggling, Arise inside, No longer will, Your feelings hide.

A place where fear and judgment, Cannot reside, An open heart, Is the only guide.

With mind aside, And heart engaged, You’ll experience life, Completely changed.

Ordinary moments, Light you up, So nurturing, They fill your cup.

In these moments, With desires quelled, The essence of life, Is truly held.

I invite you to recall a moment when you felt delighted, joyful or peaceful. It might have been while you were on vacation, walking in nature, watching a sunset, or when a child said something so innocent that it touched you. Whatever the situation was for you, I invite you to close your eyes, float back to that moment, drop into your body and notice how you felt.

How calm, content or satisfied did you feel? Did you feel a sense of spaciousness, awe, or wonder? In these moments our nervous system is completely relaxed, and we are open-hearted. You cannot feel peaceful, relaxed, or joyful while simultaneously feeling anxious, insecure or afraid. When not coming from fear, we express freely, we are open to receiving, and love blossoms.

“No heart, when assured safety, will not open.” – Carol Peringer

How can we start to let go of the fearful feeling linked to our childhood experiences?

Awareness is always the starting point. Slowing down, pausing, and turning your attention inward to observe your thoughts and feelings are mandatory if you want to increase self-awareness. Learning to recognize your blind spots brings the opportunity for growth and healing. Realizing when you are “out of balance” or triggered alerts you that past conditioning or beliefs are running inside your system. It’s important to be compassionate with yourself; when this happens, remember the younger you weren’t able to properly process those early experiences.

When you are triggered, here are 4 steps that will return you to inner stability:

1. Notice – where you are focusing and move your focus onto you.

2. Recognize – what you are thinking and feeling.

3. Reflect – is your feeling familiar and in what way does it link to your past?

4. Refocus – on what you really want (from your heart space).

A note on step 3 – your feelings are valid and arise from past unintegrated experiences. These past experiences are trapped in your nervous system and are where healing begins. Giving yourself permission to feel the way you do is an act of self-love. Linking your feelings to past situations is empowering, grounding and the start of integration. Once you do this, it will be a lot easier to come from your heart and fearlessly show up as your best self.

Jeff Brown