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Comfort During Fearful Times: Acknowledgement Sweetie Baby Honey

My brilliant friend and Writer’s Retreat guest star Havi Brooks loving advises that the first step in taking care of yourself is to meet yourself where you are.Yeah for Havi!

For me, that usually looks like saying something like, “I so don’t want to be afraid and I so don’t want to stop and feel anything and I so want to eat donuts right now, and this being with myself never really helps anyway and why can’t I just get to doing something to make myself better right now.”

We want action!

We want to be super charged action heros. Let’s change things now.

That doesn’t work.

Why? Because when we try to move right to change, there is a fundamental rejection of ourselves, a subtle (or not so subtle) belief that what we are feeling is not okay and therefore we are not okay which means we are not lovable which means we are not safe.

Cue donuts.

A Bob Kegan aside

Bob Kegan writes about this in How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work. How when we discover we believe something about the world or ourselves, a master assessment or big damn story, something like if we talk to our fear we will be annihilated or if we stand up for ourselves at work we will be fired on the spot, end up alone, broke and without even a pet to hug, we need to stay with that assessment and watch how it plays itself out in our daily lives before we do anything differently.

So here you are

And it’s might be scary and uncomfortable and itchy and twitchy and you certainly may hate the idea of being here and that’s where you start. Acknowledge the itch, the deadness, the fear of fear. Acknowledge that you might not want to slow down and check in – in fact, you’d rather eat nails or give money to McCain. Acknowledge that comfort in form of donuts or checking email or reading more blogs sounds way more more satisfying right now.

In other words, notice the resistance, the wall, the “I don’t want to whine.” You don’t have to like it!!! You just have to stop and say hey. Oh yeah. You.

Kind of subtle and so very strangely liberating.

Tell me if you do it and what happens!

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Irene Oct 18, 2008

    Very much so, Jennifer, blog reading is a relief, an escape and because I always do it in a hurry and between commitments it feels so guilty and thus never fully satisfying and leaving me craving for more.
    Chocolate is a great (shadow) comfort of mine. A reminiscence that “mom and dad love you” that missing part inside that needs to be filled but never is.

  • 2 Jennifer Oct 18, 2008

    Irene, you might enjoy reading Kathleen Norris’ new book Acedia – I’m finding it relates so deeply to this subject of shadow comforts. She is brilliant.

    I’m also so curious about that missing part – can it be filled? Can we sit with it and let it be heard? Stay tuned, I’m learning!

  • 3 Caireen Oct 19, 2008

    Hi Jennifer

    I’m watching these blogs pretty closely these days because I too am discovering the layers of “oh goodness, I’m so scared.” The meeting yourself where you are sometimes feels impossible, so uncomfortable and confusing. It’s a great comfort to read about others’ experiences and how they’re dealing with them – me, I’m writing about it lots, talking about it obsessively and trying hard to be patient and see where it will all emerge.

    So thank you for these posts, it’s good to know I’m not the only one!

  • 4 Jennifer Oct 19, 2008

    @Caireen – it is SO hard to meet yourself where you are — i’m with you! that’s why acknowledging it is hard is so helpful… “this sucks, i don’t want to be here, i don’t want to be afraid, and this really sucks… and did i mention i’m afraid of everything and just want to hide under the bed?”

    i’m with you!

  • 5 Kate Oct 19, 2008

    As a lifelong chronicly fearful person, I have one big problem with the ‘sit with your fear’ approach (which I do acknowledge to be wise and healthy, generally).

    The problem is that it makes me worse, not better. This is because paying attention to something grows it. I learnt this several years ago when, having tried to just push through my fears, I managed to give myself a breakdown! One of the key resources that got me out of that was the very excellent ‘Overcoming Depression’, by Paul Gilbert. One of the things I learnt from this book and various others was that focusing on the fearful negative thinking, or on the fact that you’re afraid, just makes you more afraid. Sure, you need to listen for a moment to understand why you’re afraid, but then you have to replace those negative ideas with positive ones. Once you’ve done that, if you’re still terrified, you have to distract yourself. Because it’s a vicious circle. You’re afraid – you look at the fear – you get more scared. The adrenalin and cortisol build up and build up and you end up utterly unable to cope.

    When I was a kid, I got night terrors. Not the sleeping kind – I was just terrified at night. My mother was utterly unsympathetic, so I tried to manage it myself by reading under the covers, anything to take my mind off the overwhelming terror. Occasionally she’d notice the light and come in and confiscate my book, and I’d be left on my own in the dark with the fear spiralling way out of control.

    This is what worries me about the idea of sitting with fear. Sure, I’ve learnt all kinds of techniques. I’ve learnt to talk to the fear, find out what it’s trying to say to me, view it as a small frightened inner me, reaassure it, etc. But still, when I feel afraid (when I feel it – often it’s there but I don’t let myself feel it), if I let myself sit and feel afraid, what happens is that I get *more* afraid, and am then more likely to feel afraid shortly thereafter. If I keep sitting with it whenever it turns up, over a period of a few days, I get more and more fear, an increasing sense of dread very similar to the feeling that characterised my breakdown, that was similar to the feeling of nameless, overwhelming dread that characterised my childhood. Distraction *works* for me, and is a valuable, valid and recognised tool for breaking the spiral of fear and negativity. When I’m having a bout of terror, sure, it’s good for me to start by seeing what it’s about and challenging the ideas and reassuring the inner child, yada yada. But then I have to get right up and *do* something. I have to occupy my mind, to break the spiral. Because my mind is like a terrier, and if I don’t give it something to chew on, it’ll chew on the fear till I’m gibbering in a corner.

    The spiral doesn’t just work with fear, it works for all emotions. If you’re sad, and you brood on the sadness, you get more sad. If you’re angry, and you brood on the anger, you get more angry.

    Anyway. I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t know how to ‘sit with’ fear without triggering a bout of anxiety and depression (even though I know how to listen to fear and reassure it).

    Perhaps some of us just have too much fear to handle in this way.

  • 6 Gayle Oct 19, 2008

    I want to thank you for writing about fear, too. Sometimes I have disturbing dreams and wake up afraid, and then in the morning I think, well how silly it was to be afraid of that. But some days I can’t really name the fear. Today was one of those days. I was feeling anxious about everything. But I met my dog trainer at the park and it was a beautiful day. My dog had such a good time running around the dog park and the sunset was gorgeous, so I felt so much better after that. Now, that would be my other dog’s worst nightmare–to be surrounded by strange dogs and people. She is a shy dog, and I don’t think I have helped her much and I swear she can read my mind. I can be sitting here and then start feeling anxious, and she will slink off to her crate in the bedroom. Actually, it may be a smell because they say dogs can tell when a person is going to have a seizure or their blood sugar drops because of the change in smell. Anyway, sorry to get so wordy but thanks again.

  • 7 Jennifer Oct 19, 2008

    @Kate – oh Kate, yes, yes, yest I totally agree with you! Cognitive therapy saves my butt everyday. What you said, “But then I have to get right up and *do* something. I have to occupy my mind, to break the spiral. Because my mind is like a terrier, and if I don’t give it something to chew on, it’ll chew on the fear till I’m gibbering in a corner” is so true. I have to blog about this next because maybe it sounds like I’m advocating against giving your mind a bone WHICH I AM NOT. Thank you, thank you for talking about this – it’s so important!

    @Gayle, my dog Luna does the same thing, she picks up on my anxiety and can get rather weird and very, very sensitive. Thanks for a great post and not too wordy at all.

  • 8 Cheri Oct 22, 2008

    Reading these comments I not only feel at home, but also thought of something I wanted to share. My husband is a film maker and when my son gets fearful about things we encourage him to think of himself as the director of a movie and to list out the elements that enhance the fear and imagine what the movie would be like if you took away some of those elements – mist, night time, creepy make up, bad dreams, stock market crashes. Then we have him come up with the ending that he would like to put on the story. It is a way of separating out the facts from the drama, acknowledging the drama but not letting it control, and recognizing the control we have over what stories we tell ourselves and giving him an option for calling “Cut” when he has had enough. It also supports transitioning to a more positive image or place. I haven’t thought about doing this for myself so much but as I share it I am kind of liking the idea.

    I love the part about meeting yourself where you are. One of my biggest challenges and learnings over the past year has been to accept that it is okay to start where I am because it wouldn’t make sense to start anywhere else. It would be pointless and wouldn’t make sense, so starting where I am is a good idea. Having spent time in that place I really like the language of “meeting myself” where I am. It creates a more cordial and hospitable image for me. Thanks.

  • 9 Comfort During Fearful Times: Give the Mind Something to Chew On » Comfort Queen Oct 24, 2008

    […] comment in a nutshell (read it all here)  was the ‘sit with your fear’ approach makes her feel worse. It can turn into focusing on the […]