Fear comes up in an over-shopping context a lot. It’s one of the drivers of over- and compuslive shopping, and it’s one of the most common emotions that women who are grapping with their own shopping dragons face.
We fear that we can’t change – that our shopping habits are too big, too entrenched, too desirable, to be changed.
We fear that we’ll miss out on something if we stop shopping, even if just for a little while – what if “the perfect thing” is out there and we miss it?
We fear the strength of the emotions we’ll be faced with if we start to delve into what is driving our shopping behaviour – what if those feelings threaten to engulf us?
Here’s what I’ve learned about fear:
- Fear serves a useful purpose. It’s there to protect us, to shield us from harm. Sure, it may not be rational or make logical sense. But there’s a place for fear and we experience it for a reason.
- We ignore fear at our peril. The longer we try to avoid fear, or mask over it, or try to get away from it, or distance ourselves from it, or distract ourselves from feeling it, the stronger the hold it has over it. Usually on an unconscious level. Our behaviours are skewed by this underlying feeling of fear, without us even knowing that it’s happening. Fear doesn’t go away just because we pretend it isn’t there.
- Fear prevents us from fully feeling our lives, it interrupts our connection with others, and it prevents us from allowing ourselves to be seen for who we really are. Fear literally entraps us and holds us hostage.
- You can dissolve and soften fear. You can ‘make friends with’ fear. You can learn something from what your fears are trying to tell you.
I prefer to think of turning toward my fears and hearing what they have to say as opposed to “facing” them. Sure it may be a semantic hair-split, but there’s something doable about turning toward my fears and opening myself to their messages, whereas “facing” them feels like a huge, big thing. Something I may need more courage for than I believe I currently have.
- You won’t die if you feel your fears, although it can feel like that. It can feel like a form of death that we are walking toward. And in some ways, that is correct — when we face our fears, when we turn toward them and open ourselves to what we can learn from them — something is going to die. But that something is not ourselves – it is a useless appendage, a dead weight that we’ve been carrying around and can finally release.
- When you allow yourself to learn from your fear, you can let it go. There is a huge weight that lifts from you when fear is no longer a part of your life. Fear takes on its proper proportions – it ceases to overwhelm and direct your daily thoughts, feelings and behaviours. It’s like the constant hum of an air conditioner that is finally turned off – you start to notice all kinds of other sounds that were masked before.
So how do you deal with fear?
Too often we turn fear into an insurmountable mountain in our minds. We don’t make it small enough to deal with. So in an effort to make our fear small enough to deal with, here’s some suggestions for how you can deal with your fear.
- Recognise that you’re experiencing some fear. Try not to use a phrase like “I am afraid” or even “I am feeling fear” becauase “I am” statements are very powerful. I am statements assume you are the emotion, that you and the emotion are indivisible. This is not the case, you aren’t the emotion – you’re you, experiencing the emotion. So reframe that into something more like “fear is here right now”. So, the first step is a form of acknowledgement. We can’t influence what we don’t acknowledge.
- Have a little conversation with your fear, in your head, or out loud if you want. This is a little mind trick, a mental exercise. Keep in mind that we’re all doing this kind of thing (playing games and having made up conversations in our minds) all the time anyway — this process just makes it conscious, in a way that will serve you. There are several parts to this dialogue process
- See yourself turning toward this fear (fear is often behind us). In your mind, give your fear a particular shape or form. When I do this, I imagine this little exchange like it’s a movie – there’s me and there’s this form or object that represents my fear. I turn toward that fear-shaped object.
- Then ask this fear-shaped object what it’s there for, what purpose it has for you and your life right now, what it’s there to do for you. Notice the assumptions (or presuppositions) in those questions. We are assuming there’s a purpose for this fear right now, and we are also openly acknowledging its existence. You might come up with a few other questions for this fear-shaped object – if you do, that’s okay, just go ahead and ask those questions. I’ll always include a question around what my fear has to teach me right now.
- Thank the fear, and let it go. I have a mental image of this fear-shaped object dissolving, or disappearing in a puff of smoke, or walking off into a dimming background. However you let it go, what’s important is the fear goes after you’ve had your little chat. Release the fear with thanks, knowing that it has a job to do and you’ve allowed it to be seen, to be heard, and allowed it to fulfil its purpose.
- Through this gentle process of acknowledgement and allowing, we can start to release the hold our fears have on us. We can start to rub those feelings of fear out, or at least make them less bold and big in our lives.
And if having a conversation with your fear sounds a little strange (and I will openly admit that when I first started doing this, it seemed decidedly weird) consider how strange it is to let an irrational and unconscious fear drive your life. Because that’s what so many of us do – we are allowing our thoughts to run wild in our heads, and our fears to run wild in our lives.
It is possible, and necessary, to influence our thought patterns, and not let our self talk run wild (and often ruin our enjoyment of life into the bargain). By influencing what we think, we change what we feel, and we change the direction our lives go in.
At the very least, by acknowledging our fears, by allowing them to be, we can feel better about ourselves and our life situation. It can tap us into the fullness of our lives, which is what so many of us are missing. And that’s a worthy goal in and of itself.