Face What You Fear the Most

This is what we were asked to mull over and discuss:

It’s been said that one should face what they are most afraid of.
What do you think of this idea?
Although it is one of the hardest things to do, great people generally do just that.

Reading it now, it seems pretty straight forward, although no slam dunk because each of us sitting in the circle had a brain injury. As for me? The moment the first line was spoken, I got sucked into a cascade of emotions, memories, frustration—flooded.  Everything else was drowned out. What I heard was this:

What are you afraid of more than anything else?
Can you face your fear?

Brain injury makes me tired, and when I’m tired, I cry. It’s just the way it is. I must have been tired the day this happened, or else the topic hit me like a ton of bricks. So I cried.

The more I thought, the more muddled I got. The fear? I knew what it was but not how to put it into words or give voice to it. Is knowing the same as being aware? Is awareness facing what you’re afraid of? And if so, why hasn’t “knowing” gotten me past my fear?

What about you? Do you also know only too well what you’re most afraid of? If so, chances are you can’t put it into words either, or don’t really want to. Sometimes I think silence keeps the fear at bay, or speaking its name aloud is tempting fate.

But I’m getting sidetracked.
I’m asking because I suspect that what most people are most afraid of comes from within themselves. So the ability to see one’s deepest fears, much less face them, requires awareness and introspection. Well, in the aftermath of a brain injury one of the most common challenges is an organic unawareness—the inability to self-observe. It’s a conundrum. Because of that unawareness we may not be able to fathom a feeling that is so existential, one that is, perhaps, at the heart of our daily struggle: finding who we are. And as long as we can’t clearly see that fear (no matter how hard we try) we won’t be able to face it. At least until we’ve internalized the need and habituated introspection.

When I look back at that day and the idea offered up for discussion, it seems obvious that it is much more complex than I realized at the time— because of our brain injuries. Maybe that’s why it freaked me out; why it struck such a tender chord. I knew I had to consider it outside the circle, alone, in my own time. That’s why I took it home. That’s why I’m writing this.

Let’s return to the question, “what do you think of this idea?” My answer could have been, “It sounds good to me. It also sounds like one of the hardest things to do [I don’t see myself among the ‘greats’], but it’s probably the only thing to do.”

Gian_Lorenzo_Bernini,_self-portrait_c1623 cropped-bigAt the same time, I’m left wondering what “facing” what you’re most afraid of actually looks like, how it works, and the purpose it serves. In my mind it’s not fear that holds me back; I think I’m held back by what it is I fear. I’m afraid of… well, I can’t find the right words. Now what?

Based on a quick online search (note: I didn’t check my sources), and with my own 2 cents added, here’s some (greatly simplified) advice:

Be Mindful: Recognize that your fear is standing in your way. Think about what happens when it does, how you feel, and your response.

Take Charge: It’s your life. Manage stress with music, meditation, exercise, or massage. Breathe in a regular rhythm to calm your system. Do whatever helps you keep the boogyman at bay.

Habituation: When you face the fear you get stronger and it gets easier. Practice living with it and see for yourself—it’s not impossible. There’s no need to worry about when it may come, if you know you can deal with it when it does.

Affirmation: Positive self-talk, repeatedly said out loud and confident.  “My life is in my hands.” “I am stronger than my fear.”  “I am worthy.” “I am happy being alive and being me.”

Last, but not least, if all else fails, do what I do—

Cry: [out with the bad], and

Smile: [there’s research showing that even a forced smile can improve one’s mood and reduce stress!]. Fake it ’til you make it.

The intense gaze illuminating this piece is a detail from Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s self-portrait (c. 1623) via Wikimedia Commons (Public domain, {{PD-1923}}. The painting can be seen here

8 thoughts on “Face What You Fear the Most

  1. Mike Clavet January 6, 2018 / 10:31 pm

    Shocked we continue to ignore the serious epidemic in RI

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jasper Hoogendam January 6, 2018 / 10:34 pm

    Here is one line that touched a chord with me. “Well, in the aftermath of a brain injury one of the most common challenges is an organic unawareness—the inability to self-observe.”

    This for me has been one of the biggest challenges holding me back at times and at other times having me do things that I should have said ‘no’ to.

    The one thing that still baffles me is that I continued to go to work for almost 5 weeks after my car accident, not realizing how seriously my ABI was impacting my work.

    I have been reprimanded by my support person for doing things that she would classify as “not smart” but I did them because it didn’t dawn on me how much my condition was compromising my safety.

    I have been advised to practice mindfulness meditations to deal with sensory overload and more importantly develop better personal awareness of my condition at regular intervals each day.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. beth January 8, 2018 / 1:03 pm

    It is one thing to face your FearS, quite another to face what you fear Most. That is something one can’t do alone and there is a time for that. I think it is a terrible question that strikes fear into me, to be honest, and makes me shrink and disconnect defensively. Which goes to show what I just said: is that really what you want to do to someone? (Not you Laurie) Make them even more dysfunctional? I would like to know what was behind posing the question in that way. One thing to face fears, another to face what you fear most. I suspect this was posed by people, or someone, unfamiliar with the experience of being challenged to your core.

    Liked by 1 person

    • laurienyc January 8, 2018 / 6:24 pm

      I’m sorry to have caused you such pain, and of course never meant to. I wrote this because in the moment, the question sent me into a tailspin. Later, seeing it on paper, I understood that I’d frozen up (in fear?), unable to even hear what we’d actually been asked- which seemed to be less fraught: “What do you think of the idea?”

      Liked by 1 person

  4. gm1123 January 9, 2018 / 9:59 pm

    My worst fear is and has been for much of my life. Fear of abandonment. I go through it a lot. By choosing people who don’t or can’t commit. And perhaps I have a hard time committing or trusting. But still want things to be okay. With my brain injury, my friend was killed and I didn’t learn of it until I woke from a coma. Still affects me 17 years after. Having a hard night, feeling anxious with my significant other not available after 3 attempts to contact. Sorry for rambling. I enjoyed this post

    Liked by 1 person

    • laurienyc January 9, 2018 / 11:39 pm

      Thank you for being so open about this this fear. To put it into words is to to know it (I think), recognize it.. Once I took a meditation class. The teacher said when worries or fears slip into your mind during the practice, it’s as if they are visiting your home–you min, your thoughts. They don’t live (or belong) there and won’t stay. Just leave the doors open.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. gm1123 January 10, 2018 / 2:02 pm

    Thank you. I needed those kind words.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Rendy January 11, 2018 / 1:22 pm

    What I fear the most? “The Agonies.” Yet, I’ve learned to live through them with a brain injury, and with many lessons learned.

    Like anyone, I fear uncertainty the most. It’s one of my top “Agonies.” Sometimes I feel vulnerable and uncertain when I’m listening to someone who, I feel and fear, is sending double meanings in what they are saying. They know what they doing. In turn, in the Swiss cheesiness of brain injury, it makes me want to, and look for, guarantees of safety where there are none.

    Living with tbi, ect., requires lessons to be learned differently and sometimes frequently: “The Agonies.” It’s just is what it is for us. Fear can too easily become a powerful toxic distraction and not the healthier caution it’s meant to be.

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.