Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Bargaining with the F-Word

How much of your life is being run by fear?

Because fear, the F-word, is such a pervasive response, we must explore it further for its power to make our choices for us. This very morning I heard someone say, "I'm not really afraid, I've just got this nagging worry." But what causes the worry? "Well, I'm afraid that.... Fear runs our minds more than we know and if it runs our minds, it is also running at least some of our choices. Ultimately, if a majority of our choices are being run by fear, then we can form an identity out of that and become someone we are not in order to bargain with our fears.

Here's how that might work. So, when I'm young I come to believe that what others think of me is extremely important-so important in fact that what they think can seriously impact my life. And in order to cope with that belief, I begin to use my intuitive powers to assess what others are thinking of me, as I'm interacting with them, and adjust my behaviors to what I believe will make them see me in the best light. Of course, I can't really control what they see in me, for in fact they may be seeing right through my little scheme. But my fear is telling me what to do, and I'm responding to it. Over time and time of doing this and getting the desired results, i.e., people like me, I've discovered certain ways of acting and interacting that seem to get me those results. And I've used those behaviors so frequently that by now I've forgotten that I started off trying to figure out what people wanted in order to give it to them. Now I just think that this person I act like is who I really am. Of course, there are two things I don't know here. The first of these is the fact that I cannot and will not ever know if those people would have liked me anyway. And the second is that there is absolutely no connection between my actions and their reactions--because both are coming from the internal motivations of each person in the dynamic. The truth is that these people don't like me or dislike me because of how I behave--they like or dislike me because there is something within them that either connects with me or disconnects from me.

Yet most of us have been taught to believe that if we "play nice" others will respond with "nice." So, my belief that others only like me when I perform according to what they need from me, means I end up sacrificing my authenticity for their need--all based on the fear that if I don't, there will be consequences. Slowly over time then, I am piling fear on top of fear so that I now carry this pervasive sense of low-grade anxiety that others are going to find out what I suspect is true: I'm not who I pretend to be.

Now that's just one example of many but you can see that fear has slowly become the motivator for every interaction with others, and even the choices I make when no one else is around watching--for I've now come to identify with the person I am when others are watching. Fear is the base-line that we can ignore as the coping mechanism becomes so instantaneous that we don't even have to notice that the fear is there. And our coping responses can be activated on a subtle, even subconscious level. In fact they can be based entirely on the subtle nuances of a situation or interaction that happen only on the intuitive level of consciousness. I'm watching your face and body language to see how you might be reacting to what I'm doing and instantaneously adjust what I'm doing to fix what I fear you are thinking, so fast that neither of us is conscious of either the observance of your behavior or my adjustment to it.

This kind of response to fear is a bargain: IF I can adjust to what I think you are thinking of me, THEN you will like me and my life will go smoother. Of course, the other side of that bargain is an ever-present and frightening sword of Damocles hanging over my head: IF I cannot adjust to what I think you are thinking of me, THEN you will not like me and my life will not go smoothly. Thus, my constant state of anxiety.

But the truth is that these bargains are not authentic. Authenticity is not based in bargaining. But then it is not based in some kind of rebellion against the social norms either. Authenticity is arrived at by coming from one's own truest essence and responding from that, rather than fear of the externals. Yet some would say, "Well wouldn't that then mean that others could just hurt you anytime they want? Wouldn't it mean that you are just making yourself vulnerable to others intrusions? Wouldn't it mean that you are setting yourself up to be used, manipulated or wounded by others?"

The reason we ask such questions is because we are still coming at authenticity from an intellectual perspective. Once people have had an affective connection with their own authenticity, they don't ask those questions anymore. Why? Because they have connected to a grounded, peaceful part of themselves that clearly recognizes that no matter what happens, they will figure it out and be okay. That inner response to fear allows fear to sit in its lap and wail that it is afraid, while taking the energy of that fear on as a channeled and wise response to a given scenario.

So, for example, let's say, given that same identity we discussed above, I'm being challenged now to speak up to someone I've always feared displeasing. My fear comes up and tells me that I should do what I've always done. But that newfound authenticity says that I want something different this time. I want that raise, or that new job or that more peaceful work environment or that better relationship--and that old way of interacting is not getting me that. So, the newfound authenticity hears the voice of the old identity, as it tears out its hair in terror that "Oh my God you are so going to screw this up for me, when you tell them what you really think!" And the authentic self, because it is a centered and grounded place inside of us, responds to that fear by saying, "No matter what happens, we are going to figure it out." And slowly over time, the fear begins to recognize the truth of that response, and the old identity begins to slowly dissolve into the loving arms of the authentic self.

Because we are afraid, we bargain with life. And because we bargain with life, we are not living authentically. And because we are not living authentically, we have more and more to fear. And because we have more and more to fear we bargain more and more with life--and so on and so on, until finally we live so far away from our own authenticity that we have no clue how to even begin to access it.

And so it is that accessing the authentic self becomes the best and most effective way of "dealing with" fear.

Image: Scream by Subbotina Anna

advertisement