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Have A Beer With Fear

Fear is a powerful master. It's not so much what it makes you do, i.e., cower, cry, scream, shake, as it what it keeps you from doing that makes it so strong.

There are all kinds of fears. The common fears - the ones that are recognized and slapped with a latin prefix and phobia suffix - almost make us feel normal when we have them. Find any group discussion about fears and you'll find people sharing their tales of spiders and snakes and tall buildings. Most of the people snicker a bit when discussing these fears; they know that common house spider is never going to hurt them, yet they recoil in horror when they see one, as if some B-movie they saw on the Sci-Fi network is going to be acted out in their kitchen. Creepy crawly...creepy crawly...

But a fear of spiders isn't going to rule your life. It's not going to change your world. Neither will a fear of snakes if you live in, say, New York City. The only snakes you'll come across will be in glass cages in some nature museum. They may even be stuffed. So you don't think about it on a daily basis. In fact, you never think about, until SSsssss comes on tv late one night.

Perhaps if we analyze ourselves enough, we'd see that our common, small fears are just manifestations of bigger fears. Maybe that guy who fears snakes is just afraid of the image of the snake - the forked tongue, the rattling tail, the evilness inherent in the creature. Perhaps this guy is really afraid of the devil. Or not. You could do a lot of reaching if you over analyze your fears.

However, there are fears that don't involve live creatures or other easily identifiable and/or explainable things like the dark, or crossing main streets or Michael Jackson.

I know, for instance, that my fear of wide open spaces is more than just a fear of vast oceans or miles of wheat fields. It's more like a fear of the horizon being too far off - or not being able to see the horizon at all. It's a fear of no end in sight. It's a fear of the uknown, of not being able to control what lies before me if I can't see what lies before me. It's fear of vulnerability. And it's just one of those insidious psychological ploys your mind throws at you just to make things interesting. A mental monkey wrench.

The fear of failure is an interesting thing. It can keep you from doing something you were, perhaps, meant to do. It can keep you from reaching beyond where you are, from stepping up and out, from becoming what you had envisioned yourself as back in third grade when your teacher asked you what you want to be when you grow up. Maybe you thought famous author, but said teacher, because it seemed more plausible and nobody would laugh at the idea. But when you went to bed that night, you still had the same dreams in your head of being an author or a world class chef or a movie star or a brain surgeon - yet the doubt has already crept in and the aura of failure begins to creep up, like a tickle in the back of your throat that eventually becomes laryngitis. Self-doubt is your virus, and you don't tell anyone your dreams and hopes and ideas because - what if you fail? They're all gonna laugh at you, indeed.

At some point, fear of failure becomes fair of success. Maybe you talk yourself into believing that you can become that successful author or singer or third baseman. But what then? If you succeed, they'll only want more. The pressure will be intense. You'll have to repeat your success over and over in order to keep people believing that you are the real deal. Who needs that? So you don't do anything. You keep at your 9-5, or you keep cashing the unemployment checks and you spend the rest of your life wondering what would have happened if you had just conquered your fear of failure, before it turned into a fear of success.

Then there's that fear of not being liked. That can paralyze a person to the point of abject terror. You try to fend it off early. Maybe you buy lollipops for the class or lift up your shirt for the boys because that will get them to like you. You know it makes you feel ugly inside, but hating yourself when you look in the mirror is certainly better than not being liked by the people you spend your whole day with. Right? You compromise, you sell out, you bend ways you weren't meant to bend, just to keep people from saying bad things about you and crushing your spirit or even your will to live. Only you are allowed to hate you. And you never tell Ed that you think he's a creep and you never tell your boss that she's a bitch because you just want to be liked. So you pretend to like the movies they like and believe in the causes they support, just to feel like a part of a whole. Eventually, you get tired of your own charade. So you stop trying to be social with people. You stop accepting invitations. You keep to yourself at work. You don't go out much and you don't interact with other humans too much because you are afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. You want to be yourself, but you're afraid they won't like you. So it's better to just be yourself by yourself.

Maybe you do find a group of people that accept you. They like you, they really like you. And then after a length of time hanging out with them, your opinions on things evolve, change. And that fear of not being liked kicks in again, so you leave the room every time the subjects come up. Or you just stop hanging out with them. Maybe they sense that you aren’t completely like them anymore and they do that thing that tight groups of like minded people tend to do and they treat you like you're the head cheerleader who just announced to the school that she doesn't like football. You never do tell them why you don't like football. Instead, you try to talk about other things with them. You try to justify your stance. You try to still remain one of the gang because your fear of not being liked is much greater than your sense of pride.

Sometimes you end up with a sum of all fears. They tie themselves together in loose knots and maybe one thing, maybe two, maybe a series of events pulls the string and makes one unifying, debilitating fear out of all of them. It's only when you recognize that you're being choked with a knotty string of fears of your own making that you can begin to loosen the grip it has on you.

Overcoming fears is not an easy task. Sometimes you have to submerge yourself in the things you fear in order to get past them. Sign up for that chef's class. Get out more. Say what you mean without couching it in niceties and justifications. Get on a boat and stare at the ocean. Open your closet door. Look under the bed. Stand at great heights and feel comfortable with being there.

[File this under Self-Indulgent Posts I Will Have The Urge To Delete Several Times During The Day]


Are you spying on me? :>

You can't get rid of us that easily...but DAMN you were cranky yesterday.

Tim, you just hammered home one of my points. See if you can figure it out.

This is easily a 'best of' candidate. I am impressed beyond words.

You know, michele, I agree with the spirit of this article, with one important nitpick.

I spent high school just as this article describes, basing my identity on whether or not "people" liked me. And I had a moment where I said no more.

Then I became the kind of person that didn't care what people thought. Being different and contrarian BECAME my personality.

It was a lie, too.

It took me 20 years of exercise and Jesus, but now I'm just me. Imperfect me. And that's OK. I HOPE you (the reader of this comment, not neccessarily michele) like me. I'll be nice to you no matter how you treat me because THAT's who I am. It's not weakness on my part, it's strength. That's why I disagree with this:

..And you never tell Ed that you think he's a creep and you never tell your boss that she's a bitch because you just want to be liked...Say what you mean without couching it in niceties and justifications...

Must be some Long Island thing.

Just because you're true to yourself doesn't mean you have to be rude, or even terse. Unless, of course, that's "you". And that's OK, but don't think I'm some mousy weakling because I'm polite to people who are mean to me. Everybody says they try to live by the Golden Rule, but we all fall short. It's HARD to turn the other cheek, MUCH harder than lashing out. Sometimes keeping your mouth shut when you want to call someone a bi*** is the best way to be true to yourself. This is hard to explain to someone who isn't a Christian, but what "I" want, especially at the spur of the moment or in anger, isn't really "me".

And you know it in your heart, too. How many times have you called someone a name in anger and ended up regretting it later? The "you" doing the regretting is the "real you", not the one who lashed out.

Just because I think Ed is a jerk, that doesn't mean I HAVE to tell him. I can be true to myself by not being a jerk with him. And I think that's the jist of what you've said, michele. I just reject the part that says I must be confrontational in order to be true to myself.

Ok, let's try this, Slart:

Gee, I hope you're not offended that I'm incredibly offended at your comment. Because, gee, I'm not trying to be mean or anything, but I posted this very personal self revelation kind of thing and now you're telling me that my feelings are wrong and well, that's kind of, how do you say it, pretentious of you, to come in here and nitpick my feelings because they aren't true to your feelings. You know?

And you know it in your heart, too. How many times have you called someone a name in anger and ended up regretting it later? The "you" doing the regretting is the "real you", not the one who lashed out.

How do you profess to know that? How in holy hell do you profess to know that? What makes you this all seeing being who can tell what's in a person's heart and when a person is being true to themselves or not?

How holier than thou of you. Thanks for the sermon.

You've given me a lot of food for thought on my commute.

Damn you.

(not that I meant that to be mean, but that it will be some time before I can think of something else).

So... any advice or links on how to get over the fear of people not liking you?

Haven't figured that one out yet, Cat. And I assume that after 42 years, I won't.

Sigh...no one gets me when I'm being ironic.

You need one of these, Tim:

I have read a couple of books by a woman who said much the same thing in a lot of ways (whose name escapes me and I'm frantically trying to think of it as I type this ... Barbara Sher, there, that's it). Anyway, she said that resistance comes up when we try to take huge leaps. Like we have to go out and write a WHOLE CHAPTER in a novel EVERY DAY, and so resistance builds up and defeats us, and we end up doing nothing.

The solution is to sneak around it by doing things small enough that they don't wake up your resistance. And some days, that might be just thinking about typing a word. Other days, it might be typing a sentence. Eventually, the resistance (fear?) retreats to where you can get some things done.

Anyway, she's about the most down-to-earth motivational writer I've come across in a lot of ways.

This topic really hits home with me, because it's one of the things I always struggle with, especially related to my anonymity as a blogger. What if the people I worked around found out what I thought?

Anyway, off to class. Great work, gal.

especially related to my anonymity as a blogger

You mean your name isn't Bryan??

::Googles for tattoo removal::

This post is so not self-indulgent, Michele. We all live in fear, it's the natural state of the human condition. Some people have relatively functional, healthy ways of coping with it, and some of us have more of a struggle. I've accomplished some things I never would have believed I could do in my life, but I've also failed miserably in other areas. Attempting to sort out rational from irrational fears is a constant battle. I don't know if it's a battle that can be conclusively won - I think what matters is to continually strive to fight a better, more rational fight.

Brave, Michele. You're very brave. I love your so-called "self-indulgent" posts.

How to get over the fear of someone not liking you? I kind of accept that some people will like me, some will be indifferent, and some will not like me - which sounds remarkably like the range of attitudes I have toward other people.

Besides, if everyone liked me and I liked them, who would I crush with an iron fist in my pursuit of capitalist dreams?

"And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair— 40
[They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
[They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”]
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse."

Probably the best piece of wisdom my mother ever shared with me was this: if everyone likes you, you're doing something wrong.

The way I see it, as long as a few people like you, and those people are likeable people, you're probably okay.

If I thought otherwise, I think I'd go completely non-functional.

Just look at the comments from your fans.I would think your beyond worrying about what people think. WE are the ones who want to know what YOU think.Just remember your own immortal words " don't pee in the Milineum Falcon"
That was my introduction to you and so many happy mornings enjoying your life through your writing. Thanks