Fearing the Fear
A few weeks ago I thought of the appointments of the week ahead of me. One of them was to meet my supervisor to go through my PhD proposal. I dreaded this meeting because of past experiences with research papers and other scientific writing. It feels like a never ending process of writing, meeting my supervisor, listening to them pointing out the imperfections in my work, re-writing, and listening again to more criticism. While I don’t mind critique, I feel this process is very unconstructive and inefficient, and for this reason I dread it so much.
After I had caught myself having that thought, I realised that while my experiences are legitimate, I was projecting them onto the current situation, and the result was that I was fearing the fear. I had no way to know if the situation would be dreadful, or if it would trigger my impostor syndrome and fear of being inadequate. One thing I knew for sure was that if I feared the fear, I would only focus on the part of the meeting I feared, closing myself to any constructive parts.
This dynamic leads to self-fulfilling prophecies. Once I became aware of my fear, I decided to go to the meeting completely open and with no expectations. This attitude allowed me to voice my disagreement, to say what I needed, and to have a constructive conversation, instead of just giving into my fear, telling myself that I knew beforehand how dreadful this was going to be.
I remember two more examples where my fear of the fear was so big that it was controlling me.
The first example was the fear of not being able to fall asleep. One night during a summer holiday, when was 12 years old I could not sleep. I went to my mom, woke her up and asked her what I could do. She told me to think about something nice. I went back to bed feeling rejected because I didn’t find her advice very helpful – I would have needed some compassion instead. This experience made me feel abandoned, and from that moment on I dreaded not being able to fall asleep. When I couldn’t fall asleep during the following nights, I noticed that the reason that kept me awake was the fear of being abandoned, which I had collapsed into fear of not being able to fall asleep. I started to fear the night and the idea of having to go to bed. This feeling dominated the holidays. Getting up early during school time helped me not fearing the nights, but during weekends and holidays the fear of the fear was creeping in again.
A few years later, when I had a boyfriend, I asked him if he could come over to visit me during the night in case I was afraid to go to sleep. Knowing that I had a solution neutralized my fear, and from that moment on I didn’t have troubles to fall asleep anymore. This episode showed me how we can trick our fear, so that it doesn’t dominate us.
The second example was the fear of going on holidays without my boyfriend when I was 16. I was so scared that I would miss him and that I would fear abandonment that I couldn’t enjoy the holidays at all. Worse, I was obsessed with counting how many hours I would have to go without seeing him. When we drove to the holiday resort I couldn’t stand the thought that I was getting further away from him. Surprisingly, this fear dominated me so much that I never actually knew whether I truly missed him or feared to be abandoned. I didn’t give myself the space to perceive whether I missed him or whether I was just afraid of missing him.
Now I know that I prefer missing somebody, not being able to fall asleep and being criticized for my writing, rather than fearing those things upfront. Sometimes, though, I find it hard to avoid self-fulfilling prophecies of doom, but I hope I will be able to evolve to the point of being able to see the world more often as it is and not how I hope or fear it would be.
Do you have experiences of fearing the fear? I am looking forward to reading about your experiences in the comments below or through a message!
Written by Julia Heuritsch | Last edited: 15th June 2022