Face Your Fears

I have been afraid of mirrors since I was a little kid-especially in the dark. I have run by them and turned on the light, ready to dodge any ghoul that may jump out. The truth is, when I was about 6 years old, some kids at my school turned off the light in the restroom not knowing I was there. They wanted to play “Bloody Mary” where apparently some ghostly character jumps out and grabs you from the mirror. Nothing ever happened, but I was terrified, and have hated dark mirrors ever since.

I often meet with people who are terrified of feeling or facing something that happened to them. Perhaps they separated from themselves when something bad happened in order to avoid the full impact of the experience. Unfortunately, that experience seems to come back, perhaps in dreams, situations that seem to come up over and over again, or unexplained feelings in the body. The truth is, most of us are still putting the covers over our heads afraid of the monster under the bed.

Some people create their own fear by thinking about all of the terrible things that might happen to them. They may reinforce this worry by watching programs that show all of the horrible things that have been happening lately. They become consumed by the fear they themselves have created and the fears lock them into anxiety disorders, closed-mindedness, isolation and despair.

Unfortunately, people who are locked in fear cannot grow.

So what would happen if you turned around and faced the monsters you have been running from all of these years? Perhaps you are afraid to feel your feelings over something, perhaps you are afraid to really open up and love, afraid of death, perhaps you are afraid of spiders-whatever it is-the monster (your feelings, spiders, death, the risk of loving) most likely isn’t as awful as you have made it out to be.

I came across a theory the other day that the world/universe is filled with certain archetypes-the hero, the victim, the villain, the lost (to name a few) to which we all have certain traits. That being said, we all have the capacity to be loving and self-sacrificing and also to be terribly cruel. Ironically, we as humans tend to reject in others what we are afraid to face in ourselves. For example, if you identify with the archetype of the victim and are terrified of the villain, perhaps you are afraid of facing your own rage.

One of the jobs of shamans throughout history was to help people to express these seemingly conflicting sides of themselves so that they did not project their own unidentified and repressed feelings onto others.

So I decided to try an experiment on myself to test this theory. During my meditation, I decided to face my fear of mirrors and that no matter what I imagined, I would not look away or be intimidated by it. I pictured a dark mirror and waited until my fearful subconscious brought the image I had always been afraid of to my mind’s eye. I looked at it and acknowledged my strength, saying to it “I am not afraid, you cannot harm me”.

I then decided to imagine myself being “Bloody Mary” in the mirror. I looked out at a scared little girl and tried to spook her-realizing that I was feeding on her fear. In “being” Bloody Mary I realized that as dark and cut off I was, it was the only way I knew to exist.

It was then it came to me all of the times I have sat in miserably solid traffic and imagined being a big robot Tyrannosaurus Rex stomping around squishing cars like bugs. That in those moments, in my self-absorbed frustration, I think about things that-in reality- would be devastating to other human beings who are just as important as me.

The next time I walked by a dark mirror, I felt peace.

I do not recommend that you do this at home unless you can start with a managable or smallish fear. I also believe that it is worth mentioning that there is a difference between logical fears, illogical fears and fears based on serious trauma. Logical fears are related to situations or people that are very highly likely to harm you (going into a shark tank with no protection or walking up to someone who has a weapon pointed at you). When the fear is logical, that is your bodys way of telling you to avoid that person or situation. After warning you so that you can protect yourself, fear is no longer needed. If you are merely scared because something reminds you of a time when you were in danger, but you are not actually in danger, then your fear is illogical and worth facing. It would probably be better to work on serious trauma with someone who is well trained in that area. To put it simply, the more traumatic the memory, the more you need to build up resources around you in order to face the fear which is something a professional can help you do.

On the other hand, if you really want to try it out, go into this exercise with the attitude that you refuse to be afraid of whatever the “monster” says or does. You might want to first make a list of all of the things that you have ever done that were strong or couragous and really get grounded in your own strength. Now, imagine yourself being the monster that you are afraid of. Then write out why you (as the monster) do what you do and why you are who you are. You may find that “you” feel anger, rage, passion, cruelty but gain understanding about the monster and maybe partly in yourself. Understand that these are all aspects of being human. At our worst we all have these tendencies but the important thing to remember is, it doesn’t define who we are. As humans, we are all a contradiction, a paradox and we choose which parts of ourselves that we give power. Remember to congratulate yourself for your courage in facing your fear.

Lao Tzu said once “Center your country (or yourself) in the Tao (a word to describe God/Divine) and evil will have no power. Not that it isn’t there, but you’ll be able to step out of its way. Give evil nothing to oppose and it will disappear by itself”.

You have the capacity to let your fear help you without letting it be the boss of you. In transcending your fears you have the ability grow beyond the darker parts of the human experience into someone who can be a positive force in this world.

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