Approaches to Fear — Staff Favorites

Image from Ten Meter Tower, a short film by Maximilien van Aertryck and Axel Danielson. Link to video below.

Staff Favorites is a monthly installation featuring the mental health and self care picks of  LifeWorker staff. Posts in 2019 will highlight books, self-soothing items, blogs/instagrams, places to move your body around Chicago, and more. We look forward to sharing our favorites with you!

This month we are focusing on the ways LifeWorks’ staff approach fear. This time of year is filled with archetypal trickster energy. Autumn is a time of endings, death, darkening, and shadows. It is a time when our fears and the unknown can creep into our psyche, unbidden. Below is a collection of the ways that our own staff engages with fear during this spooky season. As always, feel free to include your own methods in our comments section.

Betsy Duke:
I have a daily relationship with fear, which I have written extensively about in a previous post. I also find this time of year is an exciting time to explore darkness. Sometimes I think that being excited about aspects of what I fear can be confusing because it seems odd to be excited about something I already have a strong emotion (namely fear) about , but I believe this is a false dichotomy.

When I think from an evolutionary point of view, fear is archaic (ancient and primitive) and shared with all of mammalian kind. It is a reminder of our interconnectedness, how very small we really are in the web of life, and our fleeting presence on the continuum of time. On the other hand, understanding the collective roots and history of my personal fear helps me respect it and honor it for it’s literal life-saving power.

Developing that reverence for my fear, anxiety, panic, paranoia, and phobia allows me to get closer to it, hold it gently in my person, and learn from it without judgement.

Cindy Trawinski:
I have a favorite analogy I like to use when talking to myself or clients about approaching decisions, people, situations, things that we fear. I remember what it was like to first try jumping off a diving board. For many of us, that is a childhood experience that we can relate to, if not recall vividly.

I conjure up the scene in my mind, seeing the diving board from the part of the pool that is familiar and known. I remember the mix of competing interests, excitement and reservations about taking the theoretical and actual leap. And then, I think through the physical  process of walking towards the diving board, grabbing hold of the railings, stepping onto the first rung of the ladder, climbing to the top, tentatively letting go of the railings, standing wobbledy kneed and unsupported, aware of the others behind or below on the ground.

Some of us ran down to the end and leaped in a wave of both panic and exhilaration. Some of us, stood silently and contemplated the distance to the edge of the board to the water below. Some teared up. Some said “no” softly, and backed down the ladder. Some, approached then backed away from the edge repeatedly, marshaling courage at the ladder and then being overcome by dread at the edge. Some, finally, though gripped with fear, managed to inch to the edge of the board and weakly drop off.

We face our fears and cross our edges in many different ways. Approaching the edge between what is known and unknown or what we feel we can do and what we do not yet know that we can do is a universal experience. If you doubt this, watch this amazing video.

Do we dare to cross an edge to be something more or different than we already believe ourselves to be? Can we go against the nerve wracking physical responses, the ingrained social messages or the barely detectable beliefs that lie just out of sight? Or is that even right for us at this moment? Can we say no to the peer pressure to “just do it” and back away to some challenges? How we negotiate our fear and each edge we face has the potential to leave us feeling victorious or defeated — but hopefully we learn something about ourselves along the way.

Each new fear can be an opportunity to cross an edge and go beyond our known identity, although that is not always the point. Sometimes we need to honor our fear and back away. These are difficult calls. Perhaps that is an important part of the learning we do in approaching what we fear. We can look to the other side but nothing and no one can tell us what the experience of being at or crossing the edge will be like and what we will discover once there. Each time we can learn what is new in our world beyond who or what we know ourselves to be. As we get close the edge we start to learn about the barriers that keep us from crossing into to new territory. And sometimes we must cross the same edge again and again to gain real familiarity with that passage and truly get it into our bones.

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About Elizabeth Duke, Psy.D.

Elizabeth Duke joined the LifeWorks Psychotherapy team in July 2015. She has been trained as an Equine Assisted Psychotherapist and also has had a therapy dog. Clients who are experiencing depression, loss, or long standing difficulties in relationships sometimes find a therapy animal can offer a unique channel of healing that may not require words. Elizabeth is a member of the American Psychological Association; Division 32, Society for Humanistic Psychology; Division 44, Society for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues; and Kink & Poly Aware Chicago Therapists (KPACT).