We look to nights like Halloween to offer us a good fright. Feeling that quick jolt of energy race through us as we decide whether to engage in the fight, flight, or freeze response. And likely, after a few hours, the adrenaline that raced our bloodstream will have subsided as we move into the next day, unscathed. But Halloween rarely rattles those etched fears that lie within us, the ones that define our lives by setting rigid boundaries that limit our experiences.
Have you ever had your heartbroken when a relationship ended? Or been unfairly forced to leave a job you enjoyed? Have you ever been mistreated by a friend? Or ridiculed by a stranger? These types of experiences can elicit a fear within us that can alter how we choose to move forward. Entering into a new relationship, we may be continuously looking for clues that our new partner may potentially hurt us like our last. This fear then disfigures the new experiences we share, as we are no longer simply experiencing them but we are filtering them through our fear. And, if our fear is triggered, we may respond with hostility or shut-down, ultimately impacting the communication available in our new relationship. It’s this type of fear that boxes us in and begins to create boundaries within our life because, in this scenario, our fear of being hurt again, and thus reacting inappropriately when we sense we might, will likely be what leads to our new relationship failing, and leaving us broken-hearted once more.
Often, we insist others live in our box of fears as well, so that we are not challenged to acknowledge our maladaptive patterns. For example, if we look at the relationship above, the individual who fears their relationship ending may subconsciously put a limitation on how intimacy is allowed to be expressed, or what kind of access they have to their partners social media, and when that partner resists these boundaries, that fear then rises up within us. If, in being vulnerable in a past relationship we felt humiliated or dismissed when our new partner begins to request those things from us, we may try to find ways to hurt them, or shut them out, so that we are not forced to engage with those areas of fear. Ultimately, insisting that our partner lives by the rules of our fear.
Can you recognize a fear that perpetuates in your life that sets limitations on how you engage with others, or with life itself? I think one way to begin to recognize fear is to notice how others are responding to our reactions. Fear is often expressed as an emotion other than fear. Perhaps you lash out and begin to push others away with hurtful or irrational words? Perhaps you shut down and isolate yourself from others, or even punish others with the silent treatment? Perhaps you become reckless and begin to engage in risky behaviors that attempt to ‘prove’ you are not impacted by the fear that is pulsing inside of you? We all have our unique ways of diluting or side-stepping our fears – recognized or not. These patterns may also cause us to go to extremes, where we over-rationalize, over-react, or over-emote. While our behavioral patterns may vary slightly depending on our roles or the environment, likely there is a recognizable way in which we express our fears.
I was talking with a friend the other day who was sharing with me an inspiration they had felt, and I could hear the excitement in their voice. Suddenly, within this inspiration, they started to put boundaries up, where the inspiration fell victim to their fears of how others were sure to be, and how they would need to take remedial action. Ultimately, this friend’s inspiration, the one that originally lit up their heart, suddenly became darkened by past experiences or perceptions that awoke their fears. Even in this hypothetical place of inspiration, their fears were offered a place to limit them. I think this is likely quite common, as our fears can be given the power to shape our aspirations and expectations for our lives.
It certainly takes courage to acknowledge how our fears can be invasive in our lives, as well as how we project them onto others. It’s with this awareness that we can begin to more fully experience our lives. This Halloween, may your fears rise up in the bubbles of your cauldron brew and leave you with a magical potion that colors your life.