Everyone has fears – that doesn’t mean there’s anything seriously wrong. But if your fears prevent you from doing things that you truly want to do, then you have a real problem. And, of course, the more that important areas of your life are affected, the more of a problem you have. Fortunately, big or small, you don’t have to be a victim of them.
Below is a guide for how to overcome your fears:
Identify your fear: Be specific with yourself about what you fear. For instance, as you prepare for the summer, you might think about how you wish you could overcome your fear of swimming. However, as you reflect on this, you might realize that your fear really involves swimming in the ocean, even though you don’t swim in pools either. Not only can that insight clarify exactly what you are afraid of, but it also gives some clues about how to begin tackling your fear – such as starting in calm pool waters.
Develop self-compassion: People too often respond to their fears with impatience or even harsh self-criticism. For instance, you might repeat to yourself, “What’s my problem?!” Or, you might resort to name calling, such as, “I’m such a loser!” However, if you can understand your fears and have compassion for them, then you are likely to respond with a more caring, supportive approach.
Imagine trying to help a youngster who is afraid of going to his first day of kindergarten. You might say something like, “It’s okay. Everyone is afraid on their first day of school. But your teacher will help you; you’ll make lots of new friends; and I think you are going to have a great time! I’m so proud of you for being brave and doing this even though you are scared.” That child will undoubtedly feel supported and encouraged -- and the same approach can help you, too.
Face your fear. Even though you may still feel afraid, that's just an emotion. It doesn't have to dictate what you do. Use the support you are giving yourself to help you overcome your fear. Make the decision to act and then use your self-compassion to talk yourself through "getting in the water."
Alternatively, you can certainly try beating your fears into submission. But, all too often, people who do this just end up having their fear and also feeling like a failure. So instead, give the caring approach a try. It’s amazing how often self-compassion can fill you with the courage you need to master your fears.
Leslie Becker-Phelps, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice and is on the medical staff at Robert Wood Johnson, Somerset in Somerville, NJ. She is also a regular contributor for the WebMD blog Relationships and is the relationship expert on WebMD’s Relationships and Coping Community.
Dr. Becker-Phelps is also the author of Insecure in Love.
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Making Change blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional assistance.
Personal change through compassionate self-awareness