This article’s theme area:
FEAR / SELF-DECEPTION
When you get stuck, you have countless ways to free yourself. Here are five potent fear-busters from Dan Neuharth PhD MFT:
1) Measure Fear’s Track Record
2) Get Curious
3) When Fear Plays the Survival Card, Call Its Bluff
4) Check Your Assumptions
5) Recognize and Break Denial
Fear-buster #1: Measure Fear’s Track Record
Fear’s job is to get your attention, yet for many of us fear has a lousy track record. We worry about worst-case scenarios regardless of likelihood. To bring fear back into line, try this experiment: Write down everything you are afraid of or anxious about that might happen to you in the next week. Then put your list away and forget about it. Seven days from now, take out your list. How much of what you feared actually came true? Most people find that few of their fears materialize and, for many of those that do materialize, they aren’t as bad as you’d thought or you find yourself able to handle the situation just fine. And remember, you’re not alone in having self-doubts. Look what some others have said:
“I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.” – Leonardo da Vinci
“There will be no proof that I ever was a writer.” – Franz Kafka
“My life has been nothing but a failure.” – Claude Monet
Fear-buster #2: Get Curious
In the face of overwhelming feelings, asking yourself the right questions can move you from a reactive to a proactive stance. For example:
- If you find that you tend to criticize yourself or others to excess, keep the question “What positive thing can I say at this time?” close at hand.
- If you feel emotionally numb, ask, “What am I feeling right now?” or “What was the last emotion I recall?”
- If you’re an overwhelmed overachiever, a question might be, “What would be most satisfying right now?”
- If you’d like to improve the quality of your primary relationship, the next time you are around your mate, keep in mind the question, “What would she most appreciate from me right now?”
Creative questioning can give fresh perspectives and innovative solutions. For example, when faced with a perplexing challenge, look at it from several different angles. Ask yourself:
- If this was my only problem, how would I solve it?
- If this was my smallest problem, how would I handle it?
- If I knew I could make a difference, what would I do?
- How much will this matter in a year?
- How would I assess this situation if I were ten years older or younger than I am now?
Fear-buster #3: When Fear Plays the Survival Card, Call Its Bluff
Our worst fears devolve into concerns about our survival. When your fears deal the survival card, play it out. Ask yourself:
- Is my actual, physical survival at stake?
- What is the likelihood that a life-threatening situation will materialize?
- What are my options for action?
- What have I done in similar situations in the past?
Fear-buster #4: Check Your Assumptions
Fear makes the leap from possibility to probability, and it does so on the backs of unrealistic and illogical assumptions. For example, you might think: “If this relationship falls apart, I’ll never find another love.” Such a fear is based on such unfounded assumptions as:
- We only get one love per lifetime.
- Whether I meet appropriate partners is completely outside of my control.
- I don’t have the ability to mourn, heal, and move on.
Another example: “I could never tell my lover some of my negative thoughts about him.” The underlying assumptions:
- If you love someone, you won’t have negative thoughts or feelings about him.
- People who love you will leave you, retaliate, or fall apart when they hear a negative judgment.
- There is something wrong with me that I sometimes think negatively about my lover.
When you recognize unrealistic assumptions, you have the chance to redefine your reality from a healthier perspective.
Fear-buster #5: Recognize and Break Denial
We all have a personal “Defense Department” designed to keep internal emotional and psychological peace. A certain amount of denial can be adaptive. Ignoring, forgetting, or pretending can help you through rough times. However, like a faulty circuit breaker, denial sometimes trips prematurely or stays off too long. We are not always aware when we avoid our feelings or overreact to events.
Denial is the glue that binds the parts of ourselves which disturb us. The good news is that if denial is the glue that allows for self-deception, awareness is the solvent that dissolves denial. Here’s an exercise to bring your denial into the light of day where you can dissolve it.
Think of a current or past situation that troubles or puzzles you. Then ask yourself:
1) Are any of my thoughts, feelings, or actions serving to . . .
- Sidestep or camouflage more painful feelings?
- Procrastinate or avoid something?
- Assuage my guilt?
- Pre-empt loss?
- Take the focus off me?
2) Do I feel distracted or fixated?
3) How grounded and authentic do I feel right now? Is this how I want to feel?
4) If someone I deeply admire asked me what I’m in denial about, what would I say?
5) How would the best part of me handle this situation?