“To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.”
It was dark outside when I entered the bedroom. I felt a cool breeze blowing so I went to close the door that opens onto the deck. As I pulled back the curtain that was covering the doorway, I came face-to-face with someone standing there. I bolted. A second later I realized it was me. The glass door was in fact closed and I was seeing my own reflection.
The scariest thing about fear is that it can get us to flee before we have clearly identified what we are afraid of. Instinctual fear is a wonderful survival tool, especially if you are a grazing gazelle on an African savannah. But, most of the fears we face as 50+ women, are fears that would be much better managed if we activated more than our instincts. Fear of aging, fear of death, or fear of the loss of loved-ones are common at midlife and beyond.
The best thing about fear is that it awakens us. Have you ever noticed how you can’t sleep when you are really scared? That’s because fear is our wake-up call to find or create new forms of safe ground. Here’s a process for doing that:
Step 1. Find out WHAT you are afraid of. Take a good look at what you are saying to yourself when you feel fear. Things like “I afraid I can’t live without my husband,” “I’m afraid of being alone,” “I’m afraid I won’t be able to bare the grief of losing my parents,” or “I can’t support myself without my partner.” When you look closely, you realize that what you find most challenging in these life situations are the feelings and beliefs you have about them, not the actual situations. Accurately identify your fear and give it a name: aloneness or loneliness, sadness or grief, regret, lack of confidence, the unknown, or loss of control.
Step 2. Ask yourself “WHO is afraid?” You might be surprised to discover that the part of you that is fueling a frenetic fear is likely to be either (1) a younger part of yourself that experienced something that felt like too much for your developmental age or (2) a part of you that experienced pain without the necessary environmental support to help hold it. Create an image that represents “Who” this fearful part is. Let her know you are an adult now, you are no longer the helpless child you once were, and (though here feelings are real) you are committed to helping her feel safe and have what she needs.
Step 3. Go on a “HOW” hunt. You are not the first person to face these fears. Find out how other people have done it, that’s the Purpose of the wisdom of elders. Rather than denying the inevitable events of the second half of life, prepare yourself--gather your resources into your personal tool kit. Here are some tools I’ve collected from hearing how others manage their fears:
“When I lost my sister and I thought the grief would be too much, I discovered three things. First, that feelings come in waves and always subside, second, grief brings relief, and third, I could actually modulate my feelings by moving closer then backing away from them until I built more confidence to endure them.”
“I learned so much about myself when my husband was diagnosed with cancer. I started noticing that just before the feelings of fear would hit me, I had been lost in thoughts of worst-case scenarios. I realized I was scaring myself. I began practicing being more present in the moment rather than imagining the future. I’ve discovered I can live even the hardest parts of my life if I take them one moment at a time. Sometimes just focusing on one breath at a time. And what’s so amazing about it is that there’s an underlying sweetness to being present in this way, maybe it’s because I’ve found there is always a safe place to put my attention no matter what is going on.”
“I have had to grow in ways I never imagined. When I was widowed, I realized how many things I had not done for myself because I counted on my husband to do them for me. I’m grateful I had those blessings but circumstances pushed me, kicking and screaming, into this new life where I was surprised by a joy I wouldn’t have gone looking for.”
In addition to making use of the wisdom of others, it’s helpful to make a direct correlation between the fear you feel and the resource needed to respond to that fear. For example:
If I’m Afraid Of: That Tells me I Need To Develop or Find:
Loneliness More connections (i. e. friends,hobby groups, church or community organizations)
Grief More Self Soothing
Regrets Self Forgiveness
Dependency Self Reliance
Being Stuck or Trapped Determination to Grow
Abandonment Something I Can Commit To
Unhappiness New Sources of Joy
There is a resource that can meet any fear. Be determined to discover what it is. Fear is a wake-up call to the most important practice in life—showing up to be fully, freely, and fearlessly present.