Yesterday, my therapist and I spoke about control. Specifically, the desire to control people and things outside ourselves. She said exactly what every mental health professional and book I’ve ever come across has said–that the only thing in this world we can control is ourselves. But then she added something I’d heard, before, but never quite understood. She said that when we feel fear, it is because we do not TRUST OURSELVES. That fear is a lack of confidence in our own ability to manage the things that happen or might happen to us.
She went on to say that this lack of confidence is the root of all anxiety. That those of us who suffer with anxiety are constantly looking to control everything external about our lives, because we are afraid that if the thing we deem bad or scary happens to us we will not be able to handle it.
“Every fear has a root,” she said. “Our job is to find that root, because once we find it, we can then address the core need that drives the fear.”
For instance, I struggle with “FOMO” (fear of missing out.) Whenever my partner goes places and does things without me, I become anxious and afraid. But that fear, like every fear, has a root—it’s not about my partner doing things without me, it’s about the fact that somewhere along the way I learned that others going and doing things without me equaled rejection and abandonment. So my core need is to belong and my fear is a lack of confidence in my ability to handle rejection and abandonment.
Here’s the amazing thing about this:
If I walk the fear backward, I eventually get to the root of my own lack of confidence, and that is something within my power to change. To give an easy example, (though not one I’m currently struggling with) if I walk backward through the fear, the statement: “I am afraid my partner will cheat on me,” eventually becomes: “I am afraid of rejection, losing my partner, and losing trust” which eventually becomes “I am afraid that I cannot get over rejection, I cannot get over losing my partner, and I do not know how to trust once trust is broken.”
The difference might seem slight, but it changes everything. In the first statement (where most of us usually stop), the only possible action I have to prevent my fear from becoming a reality is to constantly monitor my partner for signs of cheating and try to control their behavior in an effort to make sure that never happens. With the last statement, however, the solution can be found within myself. I can learn how to handle rejection in appropriate, healthy ways; get over loss; and trust again, even after heartbreak.
And in that tiny, tiny shift, the world suddenly looks a little less scary. I may not yet know how to trust again if my partner cheats on me, but I can learn. And in that, there is a tremendous amount of peace. My job becomes less about making sure nothing “bad” ever happens, and more about making sure I can handle whatever happens. Whether it’s the loss of a home, a job, a relationship, physical health, or the failure of achieving a lifetime goal, my focus changes from making sure these things never happen to building the skills and acquiring the tools necessary to become confident in my ability to travel successfully through everything that comes my way. As Glennon Doyle once said:
“Every time I’ve walked through the mess that I thought would burn me up, I’ve come through unscathed. And after doing this often enough you learn that you can go through anything. The secret is not that I have to avoid the fires, but that the fires will never burn me up.
I have learned that I am fireproof.”