Fear is an emotion which washes through your body as quickly as a bushfire rips through a dry gully. It can consume a rational being and leave deep scars which heal slowly. Fear is an emotion many actively try to avoid as it draws from deep emotions based in helplessness and hopelessness. Triggered by a word, a smell or memory; fear, as an enemy, has an arsenal larger than the US military. Fear travels in many guises and presents itself to different ways. For writers, fear is intrinsically intertwined with self-worth and placement within the environment. It’s not to say that ALL writers experience fear focusing on these areas, or that to have fears about these things you have to be a writer. Writers, like many creatively inclined people, crave acceptance or acknowledgement within their circle or society for their gift. Most artistically motivated people have a deep fear of not being enough or being worthy.
Understand the place of fear
The emotion we label as ‘fear’ disables our rational brains, sends our muse packing and begins to build an enormous brick wall around our ability to communicate with our words. Triggered by a comment on our blog, a rejection letter, our ‘inability’ to perfectly describe a scene in a first draft or a perceived comparison with another writer, fear of rejection and fear of not being good enough, insidiously grows inside the writer’s heart. Fear is further fed by individuals desperately seeking perfection and continual comparison.
Fear draws from deep beliefs within an individual, which is then felt and experienced within the body. That feeling gushing though our bodies has been labelled as ‘fear or terror’ by some, but as an ‘energy boost’ or ‘rush’ by others.
Writers, perhaps more than any group of people, understand the power of words.
- Which of those words would best serve you in the long run?
- Which would sustain or maintain you?
- Which could offer the most opportunity?
- Which would you describe with a smile on your face?
Wouldn’t it be better to “be thrilled” about speaking at a book launch or having your work read at a library, than “being mortified or terrified”? Why not have a “rush of excitement” when you submit a story to a competition, rather than a “stab of anxiety”?
As difficult as it is to understand, fear serves a valuable function for all humans. Once a stimulus has been ascertained as being a threat, our brain pumps adrenaline through the body to ready us for either a fight or flight.
Initially, we need to recognise that we are fearful of something and to reprogram ourselves to see other perspectives of that event. Our role then is to understand why we reacted to an event, comment or person which caused our bodies to respond so violently, and then to plan strategies to cope and over come these feelings.
Plan to face the fear
Threats don’t need to have gnashy teeth or breath fire. For the most, they are events, or people who, should they enter our environment, have the capacity to unbalance our carefully constructed status quo. Our brain tells us that things have a high probability to change. It then gleefully informs us that we have not worked out a plan to deal or cope with where that change may take us. It’s at that point the adrenaline reservoir is opened.
This may then be fuelled by past memories of similar situations or imagined futures. At this point, our brain cannot separate what is real and what is imaginary and adjusts the adrenaline to full steam. Writers are well and truly scuttled at this point as their rational brain has taken a holiday and allowed the imagination to set up camp straight after the reality filter has been ditched.
Fear is an assumption about the new future and of the negative things or drawbacks which an individual will experience. The best way to plan to face it is to look at it head on with my favourite acronym for fear.
F(alse) E(vents or Expectations) A(ppearing) R(eal)
Fear is born out of uncertainty. It feeds on the unknown and the possibilities which may eventuate. As soon as you can grab your rational thought process and shake some sense into it, begin deconstructing what is actual and known and separate it from fanciful or perceived events.
Once you have committed to writing down the events or thoughts which are causing this uncertainty, these (false) expectations are more likely to diminish than to grow.
Fight or flight?
Another acronym is F(*k) E(verything) A(nd) R(un)
This plan of attack keys into our most primeval conditioning. If an event or situation is too big and scary, we turn and high tail it out of there. Its been said not so famously “those who run away, get to play another day”. On a more serious note, this choice allows the individual to regroup and strategise their response for the ‘next time’.
However, when you avoid the things you fear, your fears grow until they begin to control every aspect of your life. As your fears increase, your self-esteem, your self-confidence, and your self-respect diminish accordingly. Avoiding or running from your fears will only prolong the eventual day that you need to face and address them.
If you recognize that the fear is there to protect you, you will be in a better position to question its validity for your current situation. Our fears are there to serve, protect and guide us. Being brave or courageous is recognising that fear, working with what you have and acting accordingly. Fear can be a great motivator, forcing us to focus on the most important things within our lives. Experiencing fear gives us the opportunity to question our beliefs about something and to reassign these beliefs based on our real experiences, rather than our perceived.