The Journey Home: Transforming My Relationship with Fear
by Jennifer Nagel, MA, RCC www.jennifernagelcounselling.com
November 20, 2016
I used to think that Fear was not such a great emotion to have - I mean, it certainly didn’t FEEL good to have all of that visceral experience driving me to run away and hide. I worked really hard to avoid fear-provoking situations…..although you may not believe me if you knew I used to sky-dive, bungee jump, and other adventurous adrenaline-filled activities. But while those activities certainly had risks on a physical level, it was the emotional risks that I was afraid of - risks like sharing what was really going on for me, or confrontations, or any kind of conflict The fear of truly being SEEN “because,” my fear told me “if you are truly seen for all that you are, surely you wouldn’t be liked.”
This fear certainly impacted me after graduate school. I confess that my graduate school experience was somewhat of a disappointment to me - I left wondering what I had possibly learned that would be of help as a therapist. The truth is that I think I had a sense of what transformational change could really be but had not really figured out HOW to consciously do this with myself or with clients. And so I did what I knew how to do when feeling stressed and overwhelmed…..I just avoided. I avoided becoming a therapist for a while, or so I thought. I actually combined my love of the outdoors and working with people by working as a facilitator with an adventure therapy company. I realized that using Nature as ‘the office space’ provided such a wonderful context for allowing people to have some pretty profound experiences in relation to themselves and others (and I got to climb trees every day too!) I learned the art of processing groups in relation to whatever activity they had just completed - processing impacts and applying new awarenesses to making decisions for change. I did not realize at the time that what I was doing WAS actually therapy. Here I was thinking that I was avoiding the career I had been studying for. And then…..I finally took the Level 1 Transformational Systemic Therapy course and everything just fell into place for me. I finally had a framework to understand what I could not find words for. The model resonated so much with my own values and my own understanding of what therapy needed to be. Learning the Satir Model was a ‘coming home’ of sorts. It has truly impacted me in all areas of my life and allowed me to own my experience and to be more responsible for my reactions and responses.
The journey back home has been one of reconnecting with my spiritual essence, trusting that voice within my Self and having more courage to take risks - emotional risks in sharing myself more, intellectual risks in speaking out my ideas even if they contradict what others are saying, and intuitive risks in acting on creative inspirations that turn into new interventions in therapy sessions with my clients. In connecting more with Me, I am able to much more authentically connect with Others. Knowing that every single human being has amazing resources within themselves allows me to connect with that part of them, even if they, themselves, are somewhat disconnected from it. This is what allows me to truly hold hope for every person that crosses my path.
So what about my relationship with Fear? Well, when stress came up for me I was still pretty good at avoidance. I was also pretty good at hiding this part of me so that most people, other than those who really knew me well, had no clue that I was so skillful at this avoidance tactic.
And then…..something happened that truly prevented any possibility of avoidance. In May, 2007 just as I was starting my second trimester of pregnancy, my husband was diagnosed with Stage 4 Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and given a prognosis of weeks to live. Hmmmm, no running away from that one. It was the journey of facing it, of going through it and being truly in the present moment, for each moment of every day that taught me so much about miracles, grace, and the courage to just BE. Knowing about how stress can impact a baby growing inside of me, I made a decision that I was going to consciously work on staying grounded and connected - in spite of the fear of losing my husband. I stayed focused on what was true for THIS moment in time… (“At this moment in time, my husband is alive. At this moment in time, we are enjoying the moments we share together. At this moment in time, we have a child forming and growing and getting ready to grace us with her presence…” ) To avoid being swallowed up and engulfed in the Fear, it was simply BEING PRESENT that helped me. I also was graced with the experience of the interconnectivity of all of us - the sense of community and that we truly are all connected on a much bigger level. I won’t go into all the many moments of grace and miracles that we experienced during that time, but I will say that today my husband is living cancer-free and we have the privilege of raising two beautiful children.
The experience has impacted how I show up to do the work I am so passionate about. Today, I am so grateful for every client that shows up in my private practice, for every group of therapists that I get the opportunity to teach and share about Transformational Systemic Therapy, for every group of teachers, parents, adolescents…every human being. I have shifted from avoidance to showing up. Showing up means being present - being fully in the moment and connected with my Self, with Others and with whatever Context I am in.
I know that Fear has such positive intentions for me and my survival. The goal is NOT to become fearless because the truth is, we do need our fear for our basic survival. However, we do not need our fear for matters of sharing our gifts and our Selves with the world. We don’t need fear for creative expression - but it still tends to show up doesn’t it? That ‘vulnerability hangover’ that sometimes shows up when we fear that maybe we have shared too much of ourselves with the world.
I absolutely love the ‘Letter to Fear’ that Elizabeth Gilbert writes in “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.”
Let me share it with you:
“Dearest Fear: Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip together. I understand you’ll be joining us, because you always do. I acknowledge that you believe you have an important job to do in my life, and that you take your job seriously. Apparently your job is to induce complete panic whenever I’m about to do anything interesting - and, may I say, you are superb at your job. So, by all means, keep doing your job, if you feel you must. But I will also be doing my job on this road trip, which is to work hard and stay focused. And Creativity will be doing its job, which is to remain stimulating and inspiring. There’s plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us, so make yourself at home, but understand this: Creativity and I will be the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way. I recognize and respect that you are part of this family and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still - your suggestions will never be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote. You’re not allowed to touch the road maps; you’re not allowed to suggest detours; you’re not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. Dude, you’re not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive”
So in transforming my relationship with fear, I can certainly allow fear to come along for the ride but it will not be allowed to be in charge (unless I am being chased by a tiger, in which case Fear is certainly allowed to direct my actions for survival purposes). When fear does come up for me, I can acknowledge it and then I can thank it for reminding me that I am ALIVE and that I have a strong desire to fully live. I am here not to merely survive, but to THRIVE and I truly believe that we all have the capacity to thrive in this human experience of our journey. The journey starts from within - the journey ‘home’ within your Self, then spreads between individuals, and continues out among the world.
Virginia Satir sums it all up so beautifully: “Peace Within, Peace Between, Peace Among.”