Written By Featured Guest Blogger (and our friend) Elizabeth Winkler, MA LMFT
Fear is a common visitor as we face separation and divorce. Just the thought of the “F word” can be overwhelming and isolating. When I see clients frozen in fear, I like to turn the situation around where fear moves from being their foe to their friend. As you read this, keep in mind that I have redefined fear as a Friend Existing As Resistance. In this article for It’s Over Easy, my goal is to help fear become your guide out of chaos and into freedom.
This can be where you let out a sigh of relief. Even the rational fear that triggers you to flee from a life-threatening situation can be seen as something good—fear got your attention, you ran, you escaped and now you’re safe. The thing is, whether it's rational or irrational, fear is not something you need to rid yourself of, but rather it’s something you can take care of, like a puppy that needs your care and attention. Our experience of life is dependent on how we view a situation and the approach we take. So, let’s begin by getting a clear view of what is actually happening when we feel challenged by fear.
There are many monumental changes that occur during a separation and divorce that evoke fear. Coming home to an empty house, fear of financial changes, and sharing custody are some of the new and unknown territories that many try to avoid. It can be so scary for people that they’ll allow a million distractions to keep them from facing the feelings of loss and fear. When we avoid and resist facing fear we are often left in a dark place.
Fear is powerful, we all know it and sadly most of us are driven by it. But, the truth more often than not is that it’s human nature to turn away from what is unpleasant. I believe in facing things head on and encourage my clients to take the time to get to know our fear. I’m not speaking about life threatening situations. I’m speaking about situations that are emotionally intimidating. When faced with situations that remind us of loss, many of us retreat. We tell ourselves we can’t handle it, but is this even true? How do you know? The only way to know a thing is to understand it’s nature, so let’s first define the scope and spectrum of fear.
Fear is resistance, and what you resist persists. Irrational fears live and multiply through resistant thinking in the mind, which in turn creates tension in the body. Many are aware of the fearful thinking that distracts us and often delays us from dealing with whatever the moment is presenting to us. Have you noticed the constant barrage of negative chattering in the mind? The one that says “No, no, no! I can’t handle this! This shouldn’t be happening. I don’t like this! I’m am not ok with this!” I call it the Constant Commentator. When you take time to notice it, you will discover the commentary is based solely in insecurity and fear. When we mindlessly go with these thoughts and choose to believe its drama, we empower fear. Essentially you become fear and your life experience is fearful. Then we defend from fear by saying NO to whatever arises, and we fall into a rabbit hole of defeat and despair. In the face of divorce when you take action from fear you will recycle it. What if you made a different choice?
“Without fear, we are able to see more clearly our connections to others. Without fear, we have more room for understanding and compassion. Without fear we are truly free.” In his book on FEAR, Thich Nhat Hahn invites us to get to know and take care of our fear in order to help us refocus into the present moment and be able to navigate life fearlessly.
Fear challenges us, and when dealt with mindfully, fear can propel us toward a higher level of understanding and freedom. Emotional challenges like separating from a former spouse or adjusting to shared custody activate stored pain from the past in our hearts. Due to our conditioning we tend to resist feeling this now active pain in our bodies by running to our minds with the hope of making sense of our current state. This is where we get stuck like a hamster on a wheel running nowhere with great effort. The desire to avoid this feeling has now created a trap that locks you in the fearful mind. A quote from one of my greatest teachers depicts this, “the mind is a place where the soul hides from the heart” Michael Singer, author of The Untethered Soul. In order for the soul to come out of hiding in the mind we must align to what is happening in the heart. The mind cannot be at war with the heart, they must make peace. Try aligning to what is happening in the moment with the mantra “I can handle this” which creates an internal YES and allows a creative source within you to help you navigate these emotional challenges.
Every time you notice fear in the mind or the body it is letting you know there is some resistance that needs your attention. Fear gathers our attention and maybe we can allow that to be its gift to us? What’s the value of attention, you may ask? Attention is our most precious source of energy. Wherever attention goes energy flows! Attention is the light of awareness that can unveil the disguise of fear. Now we can place this attention on whatever has been resisted. It’s like opening the cage that the puppy was left in for far too long. Let it come out and be with it. These are where stored feelings from the past can now be met and seen. Our attention can be with whatever is happening and once these feelings are met they can dissolve without resistance which was the only thing locking them in a cage in the first place. Fear can be the catalyst to an emotional awakening, if you allow it. When fear comes knocking, open the door, invite it in. It can be your best friend that points you towards where your attention is needed most. So, we can thank our fear for getting our attention, unlocking the cages in our hearts and allowing us to experience being fearless and FREE.
Stay tune for more to come next week!