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Your Anxiety And Fear Are Telling You Something, But What?



Your Anxiety And Fear Are Telling You Something, But What?

You need to look for the underlying reasons for your anxiety and fear

How can you decode what your fear wants to tell you?

Fear is not something to be conquered or eliminated. Instead, we may need to pay close attention to its message.

Most of us experience fear as a kind of stop sign or flashing red light that warns: “Danger! Do not enter!” But we may need to decode that signal and consider what it’s trying to convey.

What is the actual nature of the danger? Is it past or present, real or imagined? Are we feeling anxious because we are boldly charting new territory, or because we’re about to do something stupid?

Sometimes, we feel a stab of fear or a wave of anxiety because our unconscious is warning us that we’re truly off track.

Perhaps we shouldn’t send that angry e-mail or buy that adorable “fixer-upper” house. Maybe we shouldn’t rush into a particular job, conversation, trip, marriage, or divorce. In such cases, fear can operate as a wise protector, one we need to honor and respect.

Yet if fear was always a legitimate warning signal, we might never show up for a doctor’s appointment, speak up when we feel passionate about something, or leave a dead-end relationship. There are times when we need to push past our dread and resolve—with our heart pounding in our chest—to act.

At still other times, we may need to identify the actual sources of fear—past or present—that may be obscured from our view. For example, the anxiety that washes over you when you contemplate confronting your spouse may mask an underlying, ancient terror of speaking up to your father when you were a child.

There is one final kind of fear we need to decode—the fear we don’t feel at all (at least, not consciously). When we can’t fully face our anxiety and clarify it’s sources, we tend to act it out instead—attacking a colleague, nagging our child for the 12th time, or working all weekend on a project that was good enough on Friday afternoon—all the while convincing ourselves that these responses are totally rational and warranted.

When anxiety is chronically high it leads to more serious outcomes such as greed, bigotry, scapegoating, violence, and other forms of cruelty. In these anxious times, on both the personal and political fronts, ideas are embraced and decisions are made not on the basis of clear thinking that considers both history and the future, but rather on the basis of hearts filled with fear.

We owe it to ourselves and others to manage our anxiety and fear as well as possible. The Dance of Fear(link is external) is my best advice on tackling the anxiety, fear, and shame that keep us from living and loving wisely and well.

[Harriet Lerner]

Dr. Lerner is one of the world’s most respected voices in the psychology of women and family relationships. She is the author of 11 books published in 35 languages. These include The Dance of Intimacy, Marriage Rules, and The Dance of Anger, a New York Times bestseller that has helped rescue men and women from the swamps and quicksands of difficult relationships. Dr. Lerner hosts a blog for Psychology Today.

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