Thoughts on Working Through Fear.
Baby steps. That is how you must work through fear, a belief that you are not safe, the terror that it may happen again. The question becomes, How? How do I confront terror? Because as you now know if you have been in an accident, have lost a loved one suddenly, have experienced an abusive relationship, have been sexually abuse, or even have just gotten your heart broken, you may find that you are now afraid that it will happen again. Perhaps at any new moment or with any new person you meet.
When we have a fear response it often gets stored in the body. Let’s say you have always loved riding your bike until recently, when a car accidentally merged into you and you’ve broken a bone. During the time that it’s taken you to heal, you have replayed the event over and over again in your head. Every time you are in a car and see a bike next to the car you are in, you now replay your accident and are afraid that the biker will be hit. This is a form of post traumatic stress related to your accident. You’ve always had great associations with bike riding. Now, when you are riding, it is as if every car that passes you on your bike is going to hit you. Maybe you no longer enjoy riding your bike because your bike rides now induce small panic attacks and uncommon spells of fear. Maybe this is an indicator that you should stop riding your bike forever, but probably not.
How do you work through this??? Well, by riding your bike, of course. We must do the exact thing that scares us in order to learn to not be afraid again. Maybe the first time, or first twenty times, of riding your bike will be terrifying after your accident. But each new time that you ride your bike and not get into an accident is proof that you are in fact safe to ride your bike again. Does this mean that you wont ever get into a bike accident again? I’m sorry, but no. There is some innocence that has been lost when bad things happen to us. We must move through the world with a different awareness that we may not be completely safe.
Confronting your fear is the only way that you will work through it. And how you choose to take this task into your own hands is completely in your control. When you realize that when and how you confront your fear can be your choice, you take some of your power back that you lost when something bad happened to you, totally out of your control.
As a therapist, I specialize in sexual abuse trauma and PTSD related to abusive relationships and incidents where people have been raped, taken advantage of, and exposed to painful relationships with partners and/or caregivers. Part of what is so painful about this type of betrayal within relationship is that it makes it hard to trust others again. Unfortunately, something that can be so sweet, so good, so exciting and passionate, is now paired with fear. That inherent innocence that we are all capable of when trusting another person has been taken away; now when trying to trust another, all one can think about is what might go wrong if they do. One of the scariest parts of post-traumatic stress in a relationship is that it feels like what happened before may be happening again, whether it is being cheated on or being abused. These feelings and fears make it very difficult to date and/or trust again in relationships.
So again, when working through fear, many would like to jump in and get it over with. I recommend baby steps toward confronting the fear. There are many layers to traumatic incidents that must be explored. When we go into the fear and tell our stories all at once, we may not be resourced; we may not be able to titrate our feelings, bring ourselves out of the fear if we need a break. That is why it’s helpful to have another person to share with. Therapy can be incredibly useful to begin to navigate ones’ needs around healing an event like this. I notice that when one talks about a traumatic event in therapy, they often forget that they can feel ok again. I will often remember something that they told me they enjoy, such as friends, family, or a happy memory, and I will remind them of this to bring them back to an ok place. Other resources may include yoga, chocolate, your dog, a book… you get the point. Everyone has their own unique resources that feel good to them. Therapy can be used to identify what your resources are, so when you experience that fear again while dating, while riding your bike, and within relationships, you now have a map to resource yourself. When we confront the fear, we often return to the fear state that we were in when the traumatic event happened; maybe this is a freeze response, maybe it’s a flight response. Maybe we cling again to someone like we did before, even if they aren’t who we need. It’s really important to learn how to breathe, and it’s really helpful to have someone you trust to tell you to breathe again, and to help you identify what’s happening.
It might seem like you will never recover, like you will be afraid forever. I want to tell you that your fear can be worked through. Your decisions are possibly being made out of a place of fear, but as you confront your demons, you can begin to make decisions out of a place of love again. Just as the seasons change, our emotions can too, with gentleness and a guiding hand.
Bianca Aarons is a practicing psychotherapist intern in San Francisco through the auspices of the Grateful Heart Holistic Therapy Center. Bianca’s specialties include attachment, trauma, sexual abuse, post traumatic stress, relationship issues, depression issues, couples work and work with teenagers. Learn more about Bianca at www.biancaaarons.com, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call her at (415) 553-5346 to ask any questions or to set up a consultation session.