The Only Thing We Have to Fear….

The fear never goes away.

Last week I attended a program on fundraising and development for nonprofit organizations. One of the presenters offered the above quote in relation to fundraising, but it has stuck with me because of how it relates to other areas of my life.

I have written of my fear related to being vulnerable in my writing, and my fear of sharing my writing with strangers. That fear pales when compared to what I’m really afraid of.

I fear being rejected by others because of my disability and my need for personal assistance. Each time I open up to a new friend, a date, a potential personal assistant or anyone about my physical capabilities and the help I require, a little voice inside of me says, “Don’t make yourself look too needy – they will run!”

Some of this fear is based on past history. More than twenty men have told me my disability and personal care needs are more than they can handle (I kept detailed notes during my online dating days). Potential personal assistants have told me I should change my routine at home to make it easier for them, even if it inconveniences me. People have told me they don’t want to invite me to go out with them because we won’t be able to go to venues which aren’t wheelchair accessible. I’ve heard:

  • “I just can’t handle the chair.”
  • “I’m not looking for a partner I’ll need to care for.”
  • “Someone will have to stay sober to help Denise.”

The fear never goes away.

I am a confident, outgoing woman. I have always believed in my ability to accomplish anything I truly put my mind to. I am a strong advocate, articulate in voicing why equal rights and access matter. Put me in front of a crowd and I speak with passion and conviction. Yet, when I am alone sometimes I still struggle with that quiet voice, the vampire who occasionally sneaks up and sucks the courage from my blood when self-doubts creep in my mind.

For years, I have not been willing to admit this fear to myself and definitely not to others. However the truth is the fear was always visible to those who took the time to listen to me, to hear my story when I was honest enough to share openly.

I know I am not the only one who fears rejection. Several blog posts I’ve read this past month have been about this very topic – and knowing I am not alone has helped me acknowledge my own fear.

Everyone lives with fear. You may not fear rejection from others. You might fear becoming emotionally, physically or financially dependent on someone else. Perhaps you fear illness or death. I am always amazed when I hear how many people fear public speaking – but that doesn’t mean glossophobia is not real to those who feel it.

I’ve heard fear is a self-created illusion – an irrational condition or belief that gets strengthened by conditioning or repeated occurrences. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts which directly or indirectly causes the feeling or behavior we expect. I know men have used my disability as a reason not to date me in the past, therefore I expect potential dates to have the same reaction and I overcompensate by going on the defensive asserting how independent I am. An employer who views employees as unreliable or disloyal treats them in a way that causes the behavior she expects. Someone who fears public speaking views it as stressful so when their palms get sweaty and their pulse spikes, it actually becomes stressful.

So, if the fear never goes away, does that mean we are slaves to it? Not at all. I’d like to propose four techniques to help combat fear:

  1. Name your fears. They are a part of who you are, and important to understanding yourself. Accept them without value, acknowledging they are real. Many of us have been taught to deny our fears; fear is something to be ashamed of or hidden; fear makes us weak. We all have fears – so maybe we are all a little weak. Think about that one for a bit.
  2. Study your fears and decide if you should honor them or attempt to overcome them. Not all fears should be overcome. Your fear of falling from a subway platform will most likely prevent you from being the tragic victim of a collision with a train, which is probably a good thing!
  3. Give yourself credit for acknowledging and analyzing your fears. Facing your fears takes strength. By taking these steps you have begun to move toward the important step….
  4. Change the way you think about fear. Instead of viewing your fears as barriers, try imagining them as an opportunity for change or growth. Break down your fears into smaller components and celebrate each victory as you challenge them one by one.

My fear of rejection does not control me. It does not prevent me from meeting new people, flirting with strangers, or making new friends. It does force me to evaluate my interactions to determine if I am being genuine in how I present myself to the world. I ask myself if I am being true to the values and beliefs important to me or if I am attempting to appear as I think others want me to be. If I am honest and open, I am less concerned with possible rejection from others because I know I am authentic to me.

What are your greatest fears? How do you conquer them – or are they limiting your happiness and success? Please share your thoughts and experiences below.

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15 thoughts on “The Only Thing We Have to Fear….

  1. Great piece, especially, your perspective and your four point list. The point you made that: “An employer who views employees as unreliable or disloyal treats them in a way that causes the behavior she expects” is so true. We need to swap our poor self-fulfilling prophecies for better ones. Enjoyed this post.

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  2. I, for one, have been consumed with fear (of one thing or another) almost my entire life. I always thought that if I were strong enough, and could develop myself to a certain level, that the fear would go away. It won’t. The fear will always be there. What I finally realized that I don’t have to let it stop me, or think less of myself because of it. I can move forward in spite of the fear. That’s what courage is for, after all 😉

    Courage seems to be something you have in abundance. Thank you for this courageous post.

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    • Rich – I don’t know if I’m truly courageous, or if I’ve just decided not to be paralyzed by fear. Are they one and the same? Some days I think I’ll just fake it ’til I make it 🙂

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      • Sometimes that’s what it takes Dee. Fake it long enough and I believe we will eventually believe it. And if we come to believe it, then doesn’t that make it true?

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  3. Wow. This was a very moving post for me. I too have struggled with the fear of rejection to the point that I see it or anticipate it when it’s not even there. For me, it comes from a very rigid upbringing and a long abusive marriage. I also fear disappointing people and not meeting their expectations. A book that helped me tremendously was “When People are Big and God is Small” by Edward T. Welch.

    I think we all have wounds that shape us, our perceptions of others, and our fears. I’ve experienced a lot of rejection for resisting pressure to conform. All rejection is painful. And I still don’t like it. But I’m learning to recognize when my fears are irrational and part of my painful past. Although I don’t think I’ve conquered all my fears — or the tendency to anticipate rejection — just yet, I have made steady progress. And I think I have overcome my “need” to be loved and approved of by everyone. Writing two books about my life was more therapeutic than I could have possibly imagined. Sharing openly on my blog has also helped me to grow too. So I applaud you for being raw and transparent in sharing these challenges. And I encourage you to continue!

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    • Thank you for the encouragement! The comments and messages I have received have been helpful in making me realize our shared experiences. I’m not a valiant conqueror yet, but I’m brandishing my sword instead of cowering.

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  4. Great post! my husband is disabled too. I have so much respect for you, keep doing what you are doing, and be yourself. You are inspiring many people. I am fighting and exploring fears too. You have many good points. I have many of the same thoughts. I agree with you, name the fears is a crucial step in taming them. And yes, it’s important to go one step at the time, and going in your own pace. And also, you are not alone! I benefit much from sharing confessions with others, we must not be ashamed, and we can support and encourage each other in the battle against fear, which I btw see as an opportunity to grow.

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  5. I loved everything about this piece. I never really thought of fear as a self-fulfilling prophecy, although that probably explains a lot of the decisions I’ve made recently. Thank you for the encouragement to write myself a better story.

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