What is fear?
An unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat
Often, fear tells us there is something wrong that needs to be addressed or corrected. For example, I feared if I didn’t change my eating habits, my cholesterol, triglyceride, and blood glucose levels would continue to increase and I’d develop diabetes. Then I’d end up like my dad, who had a stroke and ultimately passed away. The message? Cut down on the processed foods and sugar, and exercise regularly. I did exactly that, and the fear I had that my poor health habits would threaten my health led to me making better choices and becoming healthier and stronger.
But often, we look at Fear as something to be conquered, something to be overcome. We look at Fear as something that can paralyze us. We fear not being good enough. We fear the past. We fear the future. We fear failure. And these fears can seem to be very real, especially if we play around with them in our minds.
I’ve done this. I’ve feared the past. I feared that my husband would be just like the men I allowed hurt me in my past, because, of course, all men are the same. And because of this fear, I treated him like he would hurt me as others did in my past by being defensive toward him.
I wanted to rid myself of Fear. After all, the most frequently stated admonition in the Bible is, “Do not fear.”
I found this to be a monumental task, and that if I spent time thinking about it, even imagining how I could rid myself of it, Fear became bigger.
But what if we looked at Fear as “an amazing act of the imagination,” instead of something that we conquer, says fiction writer Karen Thompson Walker in a TED Talk entitled “What Fear Can Teach Us”. What if we looked at our fears as stories?
Yes, stories. Stories with character, setting, and plot, with a beginning, middle, and ending.
According to Walker,
“…fears are…a kind of unintentional storytelling we’re all born knowing how to do.”
And don’t we tell the stories? In my own story, I’m the main character, of course. I see how stories have run their course in the past, and I’ve told my stories in ways consistent with how they’ve progressed in the past. In doing so, I’ve used my imagination as a breeding ground for my fears. I’ve wasted a lot of time doing that. And I can’t get the time back.
So why don’t I use my fears to tell different stories? I can come up with a different plot, definitely a different ending. My story doesn’t have to end up the way it’s always ended up. I can make different choices in my story. I can actually choose my actions and plot based on how I want my story to end.
So if I have a fear of not being good enough that, in the past, caused me to behave in ways that sabotaged my relationship, why not tell my story differently than in the past so that it ends well? In my narrative, I can imagine that I am worthy of having a great relationship. In the process of me using my imagination to tell a different story of my worth, I believe it. And then I make choices that contribute to that better relationship. I don’t sabotage my relationship the way I’ve done in the past because of the false story I’ve told about my worth in the past. I’ve now used my imagination in a positive way. According to Ed Finn in his article “The Spark of Imagination,”
“Imagination is a powerful tool for changing the world because it can simply rewrite reality as we perceive it.”
I can simply rewrite what I want my reality to be and change my own internal world, leading to a change in my external world, my relationship (or any other aspect of my life).
But essential to being able to tell better stories is to be able to read our fears. Is the fear real? Is the fear justified? If the fear is real, if it is justified, then I must take steps to address it.
But if, after reading or examining the fear, we determine that the “narrative” is “false evidence appearing real,” then we can rewrite our plot.
Prior to seeing Karen Thompson Walker’s TED talk, through much prayer and reflection, I’ve been able to change what I’ve imagined concerning my husband. I see my husband as the gift God gave me, instead of seeing him in the context of past relationships. As a result, our relationship has improved greatly.
But since I’ve begun writing this post, I’ve had the opportunity to address certain fears, and it really has been helpful to view them as narratives. Instead of reacting and operating on auto-pilot, I was intentional to think about how I wanted my story to end. I behaved differently, and situations didn’t escalate. It works!
What do you think about viewing your fears as stories? How would your situations resulting from fear turn out if you used your imagination to generate narratives that turned out well?