“You can be the most beautiful person in the world and everybody sees light and rainbows when they look at you, but if you yourself don’t know it, all of that doesn’t even matter.” – C. Joybell C.
“You think because he doesn’t love you that you are worthless. You think that because he doesn’t want you anymore that he is right — that his judgment and opinion of you are correct. If he throws you out, then you are garbage. You think he belongs to you because you want to belong to him…You’re turning over your whole life to him. Your whole life, girl. And if it means so little to you that you can just give it away, hand it to him, then why should it mean any more to him? He can’t value you more than you value yourself” – Toni Morrison
I would like to give you a moment of my honest inner life and my hope is that you honor it with your respect and honesty as well.
Virtually all my life, I have struggled with the question of “Am I enough?” To this very day I am terrified of the thought that some moment in my future may contain the proof that I’m not valuable. In response to this fear, I put my blood, sweat, and tears into becoming a better and better man. You might call that response a good thing, and most of the time it is, but this fear robs me of the joy that might come from it. People who know well me call me honorable and this should be received as the highest of compliments, but sometimes I take it with pure dread instead…What if I fail you? What if I falter and lose your respect? I know I’m not alone in this fear. I know that multitudes of people wrestle with their own version of this same fear.
I run group therapy sessions several times a week and sometimes I will guide my group members through a very interesting fear exercise. I have them write down their number one current fear on a small piece of paper and then put it in a basket. Once everyone has their fear in the basket, I mix up the papers and then distribute them again, each group member holding someone else’s fear but having no clue who it belongs to. Finally, I have each person share what they think it would be like to wrestle with the fear they are now holding and how that fear might change their behavior. All sorts of amazing insights come from this exercise, but three stand out in particular: 1) there is ALWAYS at least one person (but usually most of the group) that relates to that person’s fear, 2) the large majority of fears boil down to identity issues, and 3) the only power that most fear holds is found in the person’s imagination of the future.
Generally a person can have two responses to fear when it slams into their heart; I can run with it into the future, amplifying its effect in the process, or I can ground myself in the moment which turns fear into nothing more than the passing breeze. Take the fear I shared above for example: In this moment, I’m good! I am safe, satisfied, and have no evidence to suggest that I am in immanent danger of losing all respect and honor. My fear, therefore, is sequestered to the future and my rotten imagination of it. How far I run with that is directly proportional to how much fear takes over my life. Now, it’s not like I think this way all the time (none of us can sustain living in perpetual fear), but for the moments I do choose to live in this fear, I must realize that is exactly what it is…a choice. I choose to ground myself here and now, or go for a destructive run with it.
In brawling with my own fear, I have come to realize an important truth: Nothing in this world can value or devalue me permanently. My challenge, therefore, is to learn to love the dance in between.
When I can successfully let go of my fixation on both extremes (fear of being permanently devalued and ceaselessly pursuing everlasting value) there is a tremendous amount of emotional bandwidth and clarity that comes with it. If you struggle with this fear, try letting go of those two obsessions and watch your perspective change almost instantly! Watch yourself begin to switch from fearing any tremor in your sense of value to valuing the shift because it means you get to learn something new. Experience the freedom that comes with knowing that change, good or bad, will not separate you from your worth. Do what it takes to “learn to love the dance in between.” Post reminders around your living space, memorize the phrase “Nothing in this world can value or devalue me permanently. My challenge, therefore, is to learn to love the dance in between”, start a journal specifically about moments when you felt your sense of value shift and what you can learn from those events.
There is great hope for all of us to overcome identity based fears! Work hard, ask questions of the wise people around you, and share what you learn along the way. Imagine your life, confident, clear headed, and fear only serving the purpose for which it was created rather than constantly overstepping its bounds.
Comment Time! Feel free to share an honest moment of your inner life. Let us know what fears you are wresting with and what you do to overcome them. Let us know what questions you have or suggestions for the rest of our readers.
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