Recovery from an anxiety disorder gets even harder when you judge the presence of fear as an immediate failure. Dr. B – Bridget Cooper – joined me today to talk about fear, and the misconception that the presence of fear indicates failure of some kind.
“I WAS SO AFRAID. I FAILED!”
Too many people working the anxiety recovery process tend to ignore the fact that intentionally experiencing fear in a productive way is a core component of making forward progress. Fear MUST be present in order to learn a new relationship with fear, but for these people the appearance of fear is immediately called a failure. Being afraid is equated to “doing it wrong”, or not being strong enough to recover. This is simply incorrect.
THE FEAR-TRUST-CONTROL MODEL
Dr. B brings her fear-trust-control model into the conversation.
High fear –> low trust
Low trust –> high fear
When we experience high fear and low trust in combination, we attempt to exert control over the situation. This is often a futile attempt. The more fear we feel, and the less trust we have in a situation, we more we crank up our attempts to control. When this happens, we often try to control things that we absolutely can not control, starting with feeling fear itself. The control response starts with trying to avoid fear to begin with, then continues with all the safety, escape and avoidance rituals we’ve built to get away when we are afraid.
This is a NORMAL fear response. By itself, it is not failure. The failure only occurs when we engage in the futile attempt to control what we can not control, which has the opposite effect and simply fuels more fear.
JUDGMENT OF FEAR BASED ON OLD BELIEFS AND CONTRACTS
Often, the habit of harshly judging oneself for feeling fear – or any “negative” emption – is based on shame based beliefs that we are not good enough, strong enough, or smart enough to handle fear or the situations that trigger fear. Self compassion is required here. You must allow yourself to be human. It is OK to experience fear. That does not make you weak or incapable. When you judge yourself as a failure simply for feeling afraid, you never give yourself the chance to get to the part where you walk THROUGH the fear without trying to control things. You block yourself from the most important part of the learning experiences we need so much to recover.
ARE YOU HOLDING ON TO YOUR OLD SELF BELIEFS BECAUSE THEY ARE COMFORTABLE?
Sometimes, engaging the old beliefs about yourself – not being good enough or strong enough – becomes a destructive way to try to maintain control. Dropping old scripts, learning new ways, and doing the work required to see yourself in a new way can be terrifying by itself. Are you holding on to your old self-beliefs simply because they are what you’ve always known? Are you closing yourself off from the process of becoming a new version of yourself because you are afraid to leave that comfortable place behind? The process of change can be difficult and uncomfortable, but the results are so worth it. Be mindful of sabotaging your recovery this way before you ever get to the “important part”.
Recovery means facing fear in a new way. This means also facing change, and the idea of leaving your old self-limiting beliefs behind. The only way to get to where you want to be is to go through these fearful, uncomfortable, challenging things.
The only way out … is through.
YOU CAN NOT “MANTRA” YOUR WAY OUT OF FEAR. YOUR INNER CRITIC WILL HAVE NONE OF THAT.
Dr. B introduces the idea of an “inner critic”. The inner critic will have absolutely no part of your attempts to “mantra” your way through fear and discomfort. The inner critic won’t believe it. While you are trying to desperately talk your way out of feeling weak and incapable, your inner critic is smirking and waiting for you to fail. You can’t appease your inner critic with words. You can only acknowledge the “concerns” of your inner critic, then move forward to SHOW it that you CAN do these hard things.
If you’ve heard me talk about the uselessness of positive self-talk during panic (episode 53) , or how you can’t try to simply ignore anxiety and panic (episode 116), then you are already familiar with this concept. It applies when trying to convince yourself that you are strong and capable with words rather than actions. You can only SHOW yourself that you are capable of handling fear … by letting go of your attempts to control, running a new script, and actually handling the fear.
LET GO OF THE ATTEMPT TO CONTROL – BUILD TRUST – DECREASE FEAR
When you engage in all your old escape and avoidance behaviors, you do not allow yourself to build TRUST in your ability to experience fear productively. When your panic and anxiety wanes (as it was going to do anyway), you will attribute feeling better to all the CONTROL mechanisms you threw at the problem. In reality, you must let go of the attempts to control. When you fully experience high levels of FEAR and low levels of TRUST without attempting to CONTROL, you will will wind up intact and OK anyway. That experience naturally raises your TRUST level. Over time, high degrees of TRUST (aka competency and confidence) are the natural enemy of fear. Build TRUST through non-resistance and non-control to ultimately decrease FEAR over time.
The fastest way to get the outcome you want is to stop trying to force the outcome that you want.
If you’re judging fear as indicative of failure, you’re going to have to stop trying to control that situation, allow yourself to experience the fear without resistance, and build trust in yourself that you are capable of handling this critical part of the recovery process.
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Podcast Intro/Outro Music: "Afterglow" by Ben Drake (With Permission)