When I was very young, I can remember lying in bed at night thinking that I saw a strange figure in my closet. I would lie there for what seemed like hours (probably only minutes) staring at the shadowy figure – too afraid to know what it was, but also afraid to not know. Eventually, I would conjure the courage to rise from my bed, walk to the far side of the room, and nervously turn on the light.
That small space in time of navigating the darkness, not knowing what the light would expose, is a feeling that I am learning to channel in my adult life. One of my friends aptly refers to it as “walking through the fear.”
This fear poses a necessary challenge because it bridges the gap between the known and unknown. Safety, comfort, and security are much preferred over an unknown negative possibility. Therefore, we often don’t like to venture outside of a comfort zone, preferring instead to cling to what is familiar.
In a previous post, The Worst Case Scenario, I mentioned going through “what if” scenarios, a tedious process of ruminating over every possible outcome. It’s a non-productive activity that gives the illusion of doing something, when in fact it keeps you frozen (with fear), forever pondering what MAY happen – and essentially doing nothing. Instead, I learned to cut to the chase by asking myself what is the worst that could happen? Am I truly in danger?
Detecting danger is a proper role for the emotion of fear, and from an evolutionary standpoint, it is essential for survival. Fear allows us to recognize danger, then either confront or flee from it. However, when we activate this emotion due to perceived or imagined threats, it becomes non-productive. It then becomes a matter of not allowing the emotional self to take rule over the rational self.
There is a German proverb that says, “Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.” At some point, my younger self figured this out and made a choice not to be held captive by the unknown. I told myself that I could lie in bed and worry forevermore about the shadowy figure, or I could take a walk through the darkness to shine a light on the “threat” so that I could make the unknown known.
“Many of our fears are tissue-paper-thin, and a single courageous step would carry us clear through them.” ~Brendan Francis~
Approaching and conquering an irrational fear allows us to dispel the myth created in our heads, and the more we do it, the more courage we have to approach similar fears that may follow. Continuing to worry about what may or may not exist keeps us entrenched in a state of not knowing, thus perpetuating the fear. Fear has a way of feeding itself, and eventually can become larger than it realistically needs to be. But if we can learn to walk through it, we can then transform it into a growth opportunity.
What happened with the shadowy figure?
Once I turned on the light, I found the shadowy figure to be a Disney umbrella standing on end, projected as something larger due the shadow created by the moonlight shining through my window. I smiled and heaved a sigh of relief. I then turned off the light and settled back into bed, somehow knowing that I would never again be afraid of shadows.
Can you recall any memories where you learned to conquer a fear? Are there any areas of your life in which fear of the unknown is holding you back?
[Image via Unfinished Man]