Inner Work

Approaching Our Fears

Cross-posted on my Sagewoman blog.

For today’s #InnerWork Wednesday, I will be uncovering some of the psychology behind “facing your fears” and discussing how we can incorporate Goddess Spirituality into this experience. The topic is timely for me as I will be getting MRI testing in the next few weeks and am concerned about how it will go for me. I saw the machine in person and have been feeling anxious imagining myself undergoing the process.

Children often shrink back from new stimuli. They question their safety in the presence of the unknown. As adults, we are tasked with gently guiding them in approaching things that may seem scary but which are actually benign. Unfortunately, many of us as children did not receive a hand on our shoulder, bolstering us to take small steps. Instead, we may have been chided, slapped, ridiculed, abandoned or worse when we expressed fear. Subsequently, we may struggle in adulthood to approach that which scares us. (I will pause to note here that susceptibility to anxiety is also heritable, so some of us have a biological makeup that predisposes us to fear-based reactions).

Moving towards things that are frightening but which we know are not inherently dangerous acts in opposition to the avoidance behavior that maintains anxiety. The more we avoid things, the more we teach our inner little self that we should in fact be scared and that we aren’t safe. Taking incremental steps forward, especially in the presence of a supportive and kind individual, can radically alter our relationship with fear.

In approaching feared scenarios, the typical rehearsal of imagining every potential catastrophic result can be replaced with small approximations of the situation. For instance, in preparing for my upcoming MRI, I’ve closed off an area in my house to create a small corridor and laid in it while listening to audio of MRI sounds. My confidence has grown as I’ve gotten near my threshold of panic and stayed there with it until it subsided. I’ve also had a few moment of hysterical laughing as my dog tried to “rescue” me from the tunnel!

Where these psychologically-grounded behaviors can break down for me personally is that, when confronted with certain stressors, I lose the adult me. I am all little self, terrified of the situation and convinced I cannot make it through it. When I’ve had social support to which I am able to connect in these instances, I do much better. Approach is sometimes possible with a steady hand on my shoulder, voicing belief in my capacity to befriend that which terrifies me.

What do we do, though, in instances where we are alone or when we are having difficulty accessing another’s compassion? In this place I am, let’s say, in the experimental phase as I have not forged a rock-solid connection between my Inner Being and my little self. My primary approach, if the situation is predicable or repeated, is to stay present with my inner child and to, if my capacity in the moment gets thwarted, return to Self as quickly as possible. Behaviors such as maintaining a steady breathing pattern, slowing down the situation and practicing positive self-talk can assist in this undertaking.

I want to stay connected to Goddess in every moment, even the scary ones. As I mentioned in a recent post, I am taking a forest therapy class. On my first walk, we were instructed to notice things in motion as we progressed slowly down the path. I was suddenly overcome with a sense of being able to take in the entire scene, including us humans walking, and saw that we were in fact moving along with other parts of the forest. I felt deeply connected to Goddess. I think here we have an opportunity for developing a sense of compassionate presence by imagining ourselves, as we go near that which frightens us, being held in the gaze of Deity who is infusing the situation with Her love, caring deeply about our worries and holding all possible outcomes in the palm of Her hand.

We can easily shame ourselves in instances in which we know we’ve been waylaid by anxiety and through which no comfort, support or “adult” seemed present. I believe all we can ask of ourselves is to continue to try again, knowing that at times we’ll fail to follow through as completely as we would have hoped we’d do, and that there may be fears of which we will be unable to get within arms-length. Anyone who scolds you with a “it’s no big deal” when you express hesitation is failing to empathize with you just as completely as you are wanting to avoid. Hearing “I can tell it’s very scary for you. How can I support you in approaching the situation?” from someone is, to me, a clear sign that the individual could be a good candidate for the unwavering presence that we all need as our little selves learn there are now people, including ourselves, who can be trusted to surround us in the all-encompassing grace of Goddess.

Which ways have you found to be the most beneficial in responding to situations that cause you anxiety? To what extent does the conceptualization I’ve shared of little self and adult fit your experience? How do you access your spirituality in anxiety-provoking experiences?