"Do now, do now, what you will wish to have done when your moment comes to die." [St. Angela Merici]

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Fear as {Healthy} Fuel

By Micky Wolf

(Note: This isn’t the first, nor likely will it be the last time fear is addressed in this blog. If we’re being honest, most of us will struggle with this emotion in some way, off and on, over the course of our life.)

I was sitting with a young woman—let’s call her Emma—a few days ago when the conversation went something like this.

“I’m overwhelmed.” One tear. Then a second. “I need a break.” Another tear. Not a gush. Her desire to contain the energy behind the flow was working, at least for the moment. She continued. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen next and it’s more than I can deal with right now.”

“Can you give a name to what you’re feeling?” I asked.

She sighed. “Fear. I know. I tend to come unglued when I can’t manage a situation, or feel like I don’t have enough facts or information to proceed. And right now there are too many things happening. I just need more time to…”

“To prepare?

“Yes. Isn’t that what smart, intelligent people do?” She squirmed in the chair, determined to keep any more tears from falling. “I’m sorry. I hate when this happens.”

“No need to apologize.”

“I know. I’m sorry that I’m sorry.” Her tiny smile prompted my own chuckle.

“What if you can have both?” I asked. “Knowledge with action?” The wrinkle in her brow was a clear sign she might be questioning my wisdom at this point, but the tilt of her head also made it known she would appreciate any help she could get.


“What if the fear you’re feeling can be put to good use? What if the associated tears are simply a release of energy that can be redirected to serve your actions rather than derail them—and you?”

Unhealthy fear freezes our focus…

On sure sign of acquiescing to unhealthy fear is realizing we have a limited view of the possibilities. How can we not? So frightened with the idea of taking action absent the facts we believe necessary, we stop in our tracks, literally and figuratively. Stuck. Paralyzed.

All I see is a landscape of finite space filled with limitations and restrictions—intellectual and emotional junk I’m aware of on some level yet which seems to have some indescribable hold on me. It doesn’t help that I may associate past failures with having taken action when it might have been better to stay put, at least for the time being.

Any desire to think, feel, or reason becomes suffocated by the heaviness of the fear that tries to convince me it’s too risky or unwise to take a step. The end result is existing in a painful state far worse than that of having acted in the first place.  

Fear as healthy energy…

It’s in our DNA. We are born into this world and equipped with the knowledge and instincts that fear serves two basic and important functions—fight or flight.

Given that reality, what if the fight part of this process is meant to serve us in ways beyond a practical defense against physical enemies? What if we allowed the stirring of the emotion of fear—breaking into a cold sweat, feeling the roil in our gut, wanting to erupt into tears—to serve as fuel to take the one, next step rather than fall prey to paralysis?

We’ve heard it said many times: “Just feel fear and do it anyway.” Easier said than done. Yet the wisdom we can take away from that insight, as rather flippantly as we may tend to deliver it to one another, leads us to that important next step.

The emotion and feelings of fear will always be ready and willing to occupy and monopolize any and all the space you give it.

The key to avoiding that unhappy state of paralysis? Give fear enough (healthy) space to acknowledge its presence, and then take the one next action step of the task, responsibility, or decision requiring your time and attention. If you don’t own it up front, you end up repressing and suppressing, which is what Emma was trying to do.

Speaking of Emma, all she needed that day was a listening ear to affirm her. Her humanity. Her desire to be responsible. Her strengths and weaknesses as the unique and beautiful person God has created her to be. And maybe a gentle reminder she has choices and options, and that her amazing intellect and loving heart need not function apart from, or in opposition to, one another.

Do I tend to rely heavily on facts and information in order to take action?

How do I feel about incorporating healthy fear into daily life?

Am I afraid of feeling fearful? Why?

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