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how to feel fear

Why would this be something anyone should want?, I hear you asking. Yet we all experience fear at some point during our lives. But few seem to know how to feel it. Or how to work with it, so that it has no power over their lives.

a wooden pier leading into mist - nothingness

how to feel emotions

It is a truth universally acknowledged that certain emotions are unpleasant to experience. Fear is one of them, though certainly not the only one. As with everything that is unpleasant, the first strategy of dealing with fear that many of us employ is avoidance or suppression.

Usually done by distraction, like eating, movies, drugs, sex, social media or sticking one's nose in a book.

If that doesn't work - and it usually doesn't, at least not for long - a second strategy comes in: rationalisation.

This is a tendency that I have observed both in myself and in my clients. If suppressing the fear doesn't work, rationalise it away.

Usually done by exhaustively telling oneself all the arguments for why one doesn't need to be afraid. Why there is no need to feel fear.

Have you ever been told, "You don't need to be afraid?" when you were small? Plus all the reasonst why not? Yeah, me, too. It doesn't help. But it certainly helps building the conviction in you that there must be something wrong with you and that if you can just find the right arguments, you won't be afraid anymore.

But, does that strategy ever work for anyone?

Not that I have ever noticed. And the reason is very simple:

Emotions are not rational.

It seems so simple, maybe even obvious, yet it is so utterly profound and liberating when you come to be able to not merely know this and nod your head, but truly accept it.

Emotions are not rational, and no amount of arguing will help make them go away.

And again, the reason why arguing or rationalising emotions won't ever work is simple:

The emotional plane and the mental plane are two different planes that do not intersect.

In that, they are akin to different languages. In that, rationalising emotions is the same as talking in Russian to someone who only speaks Mandarin. The Mandarin-speaking person is likely to understand that some form of communication is attempted, but not what the other person is attempting to convey. And so will go on doing what they have been doing, the way they understand it - and ignore the incomprehensible shouting.

The same way your emotions, your fear, will trigger in the situations you are afraid of, because that is what your emotional plane knows to do.

So, the approach that works on the mental plane will not work on the emotional plane, because they are two separate planes of experience inside of you. Each has their value, each is valid.

They way to deal with fear, with any emotions, is to approach the emotion on the plane of emotion.

But how to do that?

drop the story of fear

Let us try this exercise. Sit comfortably and breathe for a moment or two, and then think about what you are afraid of.

Don't retract as you feel the fear rising. I know it's not easy. Keep breathing and simply experience it. Let the first wave wash over you, and then explore what you feel on a physical level.

Where are the sensations? What are they?

Focus on the sensations. If they lessen, go back to thinking about your fear scenario. But make sure not to be pulled into the scenario and focus on the sensations.

Got them?

Great. Now: drop the story.

By which I mean the situation you are afraid of. The fear scenario. Put it aside.

Just for the sake of this exploration. Don't worry, it will still be there when we are done. If you want it to, of course.

So, with the story gone, what are the sensations? Feel. Notice. Notice the change.

Chances are, the sensations are still uncomfortable, but far less distressing than they were before.

This is what we push away and suppress. This is the actual, physical manifestation of the feeling of fear. In itself, it's not so bad.

No, the distressing thing is the story of fear. The distressing thing is what the mind likes to come up with, what it likes to throw at you.

Leave aside the story of fear and work through the emotion of fear. You know what it feels like on a physical level now. Keep feeling it. Catalogue it. And then express it, with sounds or movement, in music or in writing. However you feel to express.

And through the expression of the fear, find ways to accept the sensations. They are uncomfortable, sure. But that's all they are. Discomfort is okay. The less you try to push it away, the less it will bother you.

If you keep at this - feeling, expressing, softening into an acceptance of the sensations - you will reach a point where the sensations just are. Not good, not bad - there is no judgement. They just are. They don't even need to go away anymore.

This is how to not just experience but to feel fear. This is how to work with it, and through it.

Congratulations. You have just mastered fear.

You can go back to the story of fear now and pick it up again, if you want to. It will have far less hold on or control over you from now on, anyway.

(originally published 06.12.2021)

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