The most disempowering thing we can say to ourselves is a very short phrase but it speaks volumes. “I am afraid” is how we describe our feelings about something we cannot consider, don’t want to look at or think about, and do not want to do.
“I am afraid” is how we give ourselves permission to not face a challenge and consider alternative pathways to the fulfillment of our goals, dreams, desires, and intentions.
“I am afraid” occupies the energy space of intention, action, and courage, which we think is the opposite of fear but it is not.
What are we really afraid of? It’s not fear, it’s consequences.
Fear is the big, dark, scary monster in the closet that doesn’t go away when we turn on the light. We are afraid of things we have learned to be afraid of, things that hurt us, challenge our light, spirit, and energy, limit our joy, and that have been problems in the past. What is the common element between all of these things? They are consequences, not fears. We are not afraid of random things, we are afraid of past outcomes that once caused us pain and we’re afraid that they will cause us pain today too.
We think we have to move beyond the fear to take action and we will have courage once we are no longer in fear, but that isn’t true. Courage and fear come from two different places. Courage comes from the heart (its root is the French word for heart, coeur), and fear comes from our past emotional memory based on real experience.
To say we can have courage once the fear is gone is like trying to drive a car with no gas in it. Courage is our fuel, fear is the brakes that allow us to slow down and stop before we take the upcoming sharp corner.
A healthy amount of fear is what prevents us from going too far, too fast without considering whether we want to experience potential consequences. Consider a fearless 2-year old who starts to run out into a busy street. That child doesn’t have the emotional memory to know what to fear, so they don’t consider that running into the street is not a good thing to do. They have plenty of courage (fuel) but they have no brakes (fear). Until they learn the wisdom that comes from experience, they need a guiding hand to stop them from getting hurt. A 2 year old child doesn’t need any lessons in courage but they do need lessons in learning what to fear so they can know what to avoid. Think about that.
Random fears do not exist although we tend to aggregate our fears so that we begin to fear everything because of one consequence. After a hurtful, disappointing relationship we fear falling in love. An embarrassment can cause us to hide away, afraid to face the world. A life trauma can cause generalized fear and PTSD that makes us afraid of everything.
One of my earliest coaching clients came to me because she had not left her house for 3 years after the death of her husband and daughter in an auto accident. She was understandably devastated, which manifested as a fear of everything and everyone and severe agoraphobia. Thanks to friends and family who made sure she had food to eat and took care of her personal affairs, she was able to exist in a silent, desperate bubble of pain and fear until she called me one day because she no longer wanted to live in the fear but did not know what to do.
It took a year of coaching for her to be able to comfortably leave her house to run errands, re-discover her interests and to finally sell her house and move away, find new love, and re-start her life. I hear from her occasionally and she is happy, fulfilled, and loves life once again.
We are not afraid of fear, we are afraid of the hurtful, traumatic, painful, disappointing, or unexpected consequences of the actions we take. We have courage until we experience an unexpected and painful outcome. We would never have believed that things could have turned out so badly so we must be bad, wrong, or just plain ignorant. This is a wisdom moment for us, to consider how we got to this place that we can learn valuable lessons from. But instead, it becomes a source of failure, fear, and false beliefs. So we judge our incompetence, stupidity, and blindness and vow that we will ‘never do that again.’
When we asses the past consequences in terms of the wisdom we gain from them, use our courage to set far-reaching, strong intentions and prepare a Plan B to address possible ‘less than optimal outcomes’, the statement “I am afraid” loses its power because the source of our fears is not a mystery, and we stay within the shining light and powerful energy of our heart’s courageous energy that will help us move through any obstacles until we reach our goals.