On Fear.

“I am scared of things changing. And I’m scared of them staying the same.”

Recently, these words tumbled out of my mouth, confession-style. There it was: I was scared. It was unconstructive, and it was awkward, and I didn’t know what to do with it. But I knew I was scared.

My friend offered a mini-pep talk, but she didn’t sound totally sure.  I grabbed a kleenex as I teared up.  She teared up, too–because fear is contagious, because empathy is the real deal, because it’s freaking January and the lack of sun is cramping our style/emotions, guys.

I was scared. It was good to talk about it, good to recognize it.  But the fear itself?

I knew, and I know, that fear is not a good thing.

It’s not good that many of my biggest stressors are fear-based. Just fear-based. Not things that are actually happening.  Not things that exist outside my head. 

It’s not good that these fears often do the opposite of protecting me–instead, they just kind of make me inaccessible.

It’s not good (in fact, it’s straight-up dangerous) for fear to be anyone’s main motivational force. And, of course, it’s never fun to be facing the world scared kitten style.

Not the best role model for coping skills.
Probably not the best role model.

But despite all this, the fear was there. It was real. It is real.

And so I began searching for where that fear fit…and where it really, really did not fit.

What is fear, why is it here, and what should we do with it?

I guess it’s easy enough to define fear, at least in simple terms.  Fear is really just an evolutionary instinct which helps us to recognize situations that present physical, emotional, or mental danger. My momentary burst of “I AM SO SCARED OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING INSIDE IT AND WHAT AM I EVEN DOING” was a (twisted kind of) fear response.  Simply, my brain and body recognized that something could go wrong, and made me aware of that–whether I liked it or not.

Fear responses can be pretty great for survival. We can use them to identify and respond to threats–potential predators, unhealthy consumption, I probably shouldn’t put a fork in this toaster. Fear is a great tool.

Again: It’s a great tool.

But the thing about tools is that you are supposed to control them. They aren’t supposed to control you.

The problem with fear is that it can grow, it can get overzealous, and it can control you.  Our fear impulses don’t only warn us against being electrocuted or poisoned or thrown in jail.  They warn us about other “dangers,” too.

Here are a few popular ones…

Loving always, always leaves us in danger of losing.  Scary.
Trying consistently leaves us in danger of failing.  Also, scary.
Living has a 100% probability of ending in death. Yiiiiikes.

Essentially, if fear is doing its basic, natural job, it’s going to be fighting all this loving/trying/living stuff.  After all, what is more fatal than life itself?  

Fear is the natural enemy of living. And loving. And caring. And trying.  Giving fear too much power will naturally lead to you avoiding those things.

(Actually, giving fear too much power will naturally lead to you avoiding pretty much everything.)

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The problem is that you can’t avoid many of these things. You can’t. Locked up hearts still break. Not giving something a shot can still leave you feeling like a failure. And not living your life isn’t going to make you any less likely to die.

Whether we fear it or embrace it, we’re all going to lose, and fail, and change, and die.

Which of course begs the question…

What is fear’s place in our lives? And how do we keep it there?

I’m sure it’s obvious by now that I’m not the biggest fan of fear.

In fact, I tend to think of “fear” as being the opposite of “love”…or at least, the closest thing to an opposite of “love” that the English language has.

But that’s the English language.  And it’s not perfect.  Those opposites are certainly not perfect.  Love and Fear are pretty vague terms which don’t always reflect on each other– you and I both know that.

But they both are often involved.  And when they are, love should dominate.

Here’s how:

Fear, from an evolutionary perspective, exists for a reason. So sure, sure, it’s allowed to be a juror on your internal decision making panel.  Instinctive self-protection, caution, whatever you want to call it…your fear can make a quick statement.  Of course it can.

But then your courage gets to make a statement. Same with your reason, empathy, experience, goals, and values.

And Love? It gets to be the final judge. Love should always be the final judge.

You have a lot of internal jurors at work inside of you, a lot of tools at your disposal. Fear can be one of those tools, it can be.

You just have to control your fear before it controls you.

Sidenote: this video was what got me thinking about this and it is awesome and will blow your mind.  So you should all watch it. kcool.

Living with No Regrets (is bullshit)

This is going to shake some people up. I think it will, anyways, based on the number of people who claim “NO REGRETS!” as their mantra (hashtag YOLO?).

I’ll disclaimer this by saying that I’m not picking on the sentiment behind the “no regrets” claim. I just feel the need to tear the literal concept apart. “No regrets! ” sounds increasingly like a thin veil of optimism, rather than a genuine way to live. Because, honestly, can you really be an emotionally healthy human being without a little bit of this?

Regret
Basically, regret is what happens when empathy meets taking responsibility. “I feel bad that you’re feeling bad. I feel worse because I played a role in the situation. I’m going to apologize and move forward with my life now, but I will remember this so I don’t repeat it in the future because that’s what a genuine apology looks like, guys.”

Every time you apologize sincerely, you express regret. Every time you feel a little guilty, the lessons from that (constructively) become a part of who you are. Even if you have to cancel on a friend, the regret that it was necessary (again, empathy meets responsibility) is probably a genuine sentiment.

So where does this concept of living with “no regrets” stem from? I think it boils down to two basic principals:

  1. You should move forward with your life, instead of dwelling on the past.
  2. Everything you have been through got you where you are today, so…God bless the broken road, amiright?

These both sound great in theory, but I don’t think you have to completely abandon healthy regret to value these imperfect ideas.

You should move forward with your life, instead of dwelling on the past: Okay, yes. Dwelling is not a good scene in any case–dwelling on future worries, on past loss, on that zit you can’t get rid of. I think aiming for “no dwelling” is a good call. But regret doesn’t have to be debilitating. It doesn’t have to be obsessive. It just has to be genuine and, hopefully, constructive. Maybe this is my history major talking, but completely tossing out the past seems like a dangerous game to me. Healthy regret doesn’t mean wishing moments or people back from the dead. But it does mean conducting a fair autopsy.

Everything you have been through got you where you are today: “But but, crazy blogger lady, ‘no regrets’ just means we value those mistakes instead of feeling bad about them!” I hear you. I get it. Especially on the “moving forward” front, this is a decent attitude. But I truly believe that when you have done something bad, “feeling bad” about it is healthy. It shouldn’t be a guilt that consumes your future, but it should affect you somewhat. It should make you take pause.

Sometimes we make bad decisions. You can marvel at the way “everything worked out in the end,” or see the silver lining, but you are still allowed to feel negatively about certain consequences and take responsibility for your role. You’re allowed to regret making a mess. You’re also allowed to feel proud when you clean it up, or build something new. It’s all part of the same game. Healthy regret helps you learn from your past, and to see those lessons fabricate.

Yes, I think there is such a thing as healthy regret. And while “NO REGRETS!!!” is a pretty ridiculous idea, it’s fair to say that there’s an ugly side of the sentiment that should be actively avoided.

Healthy regret should:

  • Be forgiving and constructive
  • Motivate you to apologize sincerely
  • Allow you to recognize when you are inconveniencing another person
  • Allow you to recognize when you have made bad decisions
  • Help you make better decisions
  • Force you to challenge yourself and find solutions in the future
  • Make you more forgiving of other peoples’ mistakes
  • Make you more grateful for the positive things in your life, as they stand in contrast to those regrets

Healthy regret should NOT:

  • Force you to live in the past
  • Fuel victim mentality
  • Be applied to something that happened to you, which you never had control over
  • Assign blame outside of loving self-reflection
  • Work against forgiveness
  • Create debilitating guilt or fear
  • Lower your self-worth
  • Make you less grateful for your life because of past pain and mistakes

This is totally achievable. It has to be. Regrets are natural, and it’s hard to control when they come up. Instead of denying them, we should learn to process our regrets in a constructive way. And if we don’t…

Our apologies are going to really suck.