Elizabeth Scripturient (the delinquent, ecumenical (hermionesviolin) wrote,
Elizabeth Scripturient (the delinquent, ecumenical

on fear

rydra_wong posted yesterday:
Z is for Zara, who knew her own strength

Two passages I found this morning, linked for thought-provocation. Krista thinks fear may not actually be the mind-killer:

You must chase fear from time to time.

You must dive in and come out the other side. You must risk this shame and humiliation. You must risk dropping the bar with a soul-shattering crash. {...}

And along the way, feel the edges of your spirit crisping up, growing into sharper focus. When I am truly afraid with a healthy fear that says I am having adventures and stretching the envelope of my secure life – that is when I am closest to gnawing on the juicy bones of my existence. I am sucking every last drop of nourishing marrow from that present-ness.

And in a sidethread at fandom_wank, ealusaid has some interesting things to say about agency (note: includes discussion of abuse):

It's my observation that some people who live with a lot of toxicity have absolutely no sense of their own agency.

{...} And I think what that also gives is no real sense of how hard you can punch, which leads to either under-or-over-evaluating one's own strength. I never, ever, ever showed social or verbal aggression when I was a kid, so when I learned how to hold my own in arguments when I was a teen, I spent a long time thinking if I said ANYTHING it would be THE MOST HURTFUL THING EVAR, so I would say in this halting little voice "I think, um, on this one point, you're not entirely correct."

Then I had a brief period where I went "...Waaaait, no, that's not working! I want my blows to hurt them as much as theirs hurt me! YOU FUCKING SHITSTICK, YOU WOULDN'T KNOW RIGHT FROM YOUR ASSHOLE, NOW SHUT THE FUCK UP." And friends kind of had to say "Honey? That was six times harsher than you needed."

Learning how to gauge hits is really hard. Especially if you have no idea that's what you're learning.
Commenting on rydra_wong's post, niqaeli said:
So, my thought on that first article is that fear, like pain, is a message. It is a non-neutrally coded message because it is meant to strongly hold your attention. And, like pain, sometimes the message is one that is not helpful or useful to you, and so you set it aside and do something other than what that message advises. And then again, sometimes that message's advice will save your life.

So: do not ever ignore fear. Ignoring fear is not bravery, it's stupidity. Evaluate your fear. Look at where it's coming from, what's triggering it. Fear is an emotion our body uses to guide us. And trying to go outside your comfort zone, whatever your comfort zone is, will almost always trigger it (get back by the fire, we know the fire, don't go out, it's not safe); don't ignore that either. Listen to it; it will give you a map to your mental geography. If you want to go outside your comfort zone regularly enough to expand it, you have to know where that comfort zone is. And your fear tells you, every time you venture up to the edges and outside.

And never ignore fear only because you cannot identify its source and an explanation for it; that fear may be the fear that will save your life. That fear may be the fear that your subconscious has generated by picking up a thousand tiny things and put them together and now frightens you badly, saying, leave, get out, run, anywhere but here.

I've ignored fear before and that's how I learned not to. I said, no, surely this makes no sense, I will hang out with this person anyway. Well, I didn't get axe-murdered (obviously) but I did get scared to utter hell and ended up quite literally running away from them. I don't honestly know what would've happened if I hadn't gotten the hell out, finally, when my conscious mind finally decided enough weird shit had been said and I started running; I just know that I never want to be that frightened again. And if I'd listened to the fear sooner, I never would've gotten to that point.

Fear isn't the mindkiller; it's really the shepherd dog of the mind. Whatever patterns the mind already knows, it wants to keep them intact (and it has no idea whether those patterns are good, bad, or indifferent). It drives the mind to the same path; maybe there's better pastures to graze, but it knowsthis path. It will sniff out coyotes and other predators and warn us away, also. But it's not good to be herded; and that's all down to how we choose to interact with fear. Better to have a dog that communicates with us things like "coyotes ahead," or "strange scent, dangerous," or "that's an unfamiliar path, don't know what's down it," and make the decisions for ourselves.
I have heard that idea before -- about fear being a message from our ~subconscious, a message that bears listening to but which we are to choose how to respond to. It's an idea I could certainly stand to be reminded of, though.

I really like the image of fear as a sheepdog -- the idea of "instinctive" responses being rooted in familiar patterns, and tending to keep us in familiar patterns, but (familiar) patterns of course aren't inherently good (or bad).

In a similar vein is willful_zephyr's comment:
I've always taken that as letting fear rule you, letting it make the decisions, that is the mind-killer.

Even further, being ruled by the fear of fear itself goes on to be the soul-killer.

To that end, you are correct in that it must occasionally be embraced. You need to learn your fear well enough to know when it is being wise and when it is full of crap. Mostly, we all need to learn to function while being afraid.

I like the non-neutrally coded message metaphor.
Krista in her post also has a really evocative story about how fear causes us to be much more attentive -- and how that isn't inherently a bad thing.
There is, indeed, much to fear in Arizona. Here, the terrain is baked hard.

This ground will chew you up and hork you out along with a mouthful of tobacco spit. The gravel crumbles underfoot and the rocks are spiky.

Everything has poky spines, from the saguaro’s skewers to the barrel cactus’ fish-hook harpoons, to the innocent-looking teddy-bear cholla’s pincushions. Even Camelback Mountain is named after a spine, which it resembles – all bony vertebrae and pithy humps. Our hiking guide carries pliers, in case our tender flesh might need a good yank or scrape. It’s a scary place.

I do this hike twice. The first time, I wear my tried-and-true Merrells, which are the stylistic equivalent of wearing Kleenex boxes on one’s feet. Like the old “It’s boxy but it’s good” slogan for Volvo, these are sturdy sensible shoes that any British Depression-era sanitorium nurse would have been proud to wear.

I clomp with impunity over hill and dale with these bad boys. I scarcely notice the danger. I dare a saguaro to piss me off – I will kick you in the effin face, cactus!! If I had a big gun like the Whole Foods peeps, I would blast baby animals like Leonard Smalls in Raising Arizona.

The second time I hike, I wear Vibrams, essentially barefooting over Nature’s minefield. Now my senses are sharp. I am paying attention. My steps are different – I have to chart a course from step to step, dancing from rock to trench to crevice to slippery sand. My toes grip like a gecko’s. I am there, deeply present in the experience.

Fear has a way of capturing our attention.
Also from Krista's post:
Fear of negative evaluation: FNE.

I love me some TLAs. I’ve long been a fan of FMO – fear of missing out. FMO is what you experience when you can’t say no to things. ‘Cause, like, what if you miss something? What if something happens and you’re not there? What if there’s some crucial piece of information you don’t have?

If you have FMO you’re nodding right now, except you’re probably distracted because you’re also watching an instructional video and downloading an article and doing some committee paperwork, just in case.

Fear of negative evaluation involves constant preoccupation with other people’s potentially negative judgements of you. You do everything you can to avoid these judgements, because they scare the hell out of you.
  • You might be a people-pleaser. Approve of me! Approve of me!
  • You might be a pre-emptive self-criticizer – you shoot in like a ninja to crap on yourself before anyone else can. If you ninja crap yourself then you got there first, bitches!! You are the baddest and the best putdowner! Nobody else can hurt you with their slings and arrows like numero uno!
  • You might fret and worry and whittle your spirit down to a little nub. What if? What if? What if?
  • You might avoid situations where you could look bad or stupid. Looking bad or stupid is shameful and to be avoided at all costs. Consequently, of course, there is no juice in your life because to do anything fun or exciting or adventurous usually involves some potential element of silliness or screwups.
Notice what all these have in common? Two things:
  • Despite being focused on other people’s judgements, FNE is – ironically — incredibly narcissistic (What do they think of me? They must have noticed me! They really really give a shit about every tiny thing I’m doing and saying and thinking! They are so carefully observing me that they totally notice that extra piece of toast I ate!).
  • FNE leaches your life dry of every last bit of joy.
The f_w comment thread was also interesting, about how people develop responses that are sense-making and even relatively effective in toxic/abusive situations but which aren't so helpful/appropriate in other situations. In addition to the bit rydra_wong quoted, this comment from ekaterinv also felt resonant to me:
Plus if that's all you're used to, you don't know it's possible to deal with conflict in any other way. Things are either smooth and seemingly perfect or they're completely fucking out of whack and you're being blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong EVER, and are an evil, horrible, rotten brat from hell for not cleaning your room well enough. You feel you can either be a mouse or a rampaging lion, and rampaging lion looks a lot more appealing when you're angry.

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