“Love is what we were born with. Fear is what we learned here.”
~ Marianne Williamson
Many people whom I’ve been speaking with recently have been terrified to turn on the news. Sometimes the negativity overload can be daunting — everything from natural disasters to the recent school shootings has felt terrifying and surreal. Not only does being bombarded by all the negativity make it more difficult to think positively, but it tends to make us more fearful. So, what can we do to live more courageously and free of fear?
Fear is primarily a trauma response, and sometimes it just means making the decision to be courageous and less afraid. If fear overtakes us, it can be immobilizing. Peter Levine, in his book Walking the Tiger (1997), says that in nature, this immobility is called the “freezing response” and simply serves as a survival strategy. He claims that studies have shown that the only way to go into and come out of trauma is to have this response. “It is a gift to us from the wild,” he says (p. 17).
Those who have undergone trauma and suffer from PTSD sometimes don’t even realize the seriousness of their experience — whether it is due to abuse, violence, war, or natural disasters — and there can be long-lasting effects. Levine says that when people go to the doctor with symptoms and there is no apparent cause, it’s possible that trauma is somewhere in their histories, and might only emerge during another stressful period in their lives.
This was particularly obvious to me in January when my Northern California town was hit by deadly fires and mudslides. Just about all of us in the community were affected, but it was apparent that those who had experienced earlier traumas had an even more challenging time. For example, some people had a resurgence of illnesses such as asthma and stomach ulcers, which they hadn’t experienced in a long time.
The consequences of hidden previous traumas can manifest in fear-based physical and psychological behaviors, which can have a significant impact on a person’s life. Even during our everyday journeys, courage is very important, but it’s particularly crucial during difficult times. Writer Lisa Murphy (2003) says that to cope with a lack of courage, we can try to acknowledge, accept, and overcome our fears with respect to all those things we’re unable to control, and all the challenges we’re unable to meet.
According to author Rollo May (1975), in his book The Courage to Create, courage is not the opposite of despair but comes from the French word coeur, meaning “heart,” as the heart pumps in order to make all emotional and psychological virtues possible. Following trauma, it takes focus and effort to stabilize ourselves so that we can live freely. The journey back to fearlesslessness and courage might be a challenging one, filled with transformation, but it’s well worth the wait.
Here are some tips on how to become less fearful and more courageous:
- Understand and acknowledge your fears.
- Recognize where you hold fear in your body.
- Consider formulating positive affirmations, and repeat them often.
- Find someone to talk to about your feelings.
- Begin a journaling practice.
- Look for the positive attitudes and attributes in others.
- Engage in mindfulness and meditation.
- Practice gratitude.
Originally published at www.psychologytoday.com.