Right-Sizing Fear


I spent my Saturday morning at one of Haymarket Center’s fantastic workshops. The speaker, Chaz Franke, LCSW, led an inspiring session about addiction and developmental trauma, sharing dozens of powerful stories all driving toward this beautiful quote from one of Freud’s first students, psychoanalyst Theodor Reik in his book “Listening With the Third Ear”:

“The other day, I heard about a little boy who was spending the night at his aunt’s house and complained about the fact she had turned out the light. ‘What is the matter with you Tommy?’ asked the aunt, ‘You sleep in the dark at home, don’t you?’ ‘Yes, auntie,’ replied the boy, ‘But it is my own dark.’”

The boy’s response puts a beautiful point on how we can view our own relationship with our fears: they are not to be ignored, rejected or judged. And while they might not be unique, particularly to others, they are ours which makes them important and worthy of exploring and honoring merely because they are part of us.

Making friends with our fears, then, is part of what grants us freedom - from judgment most importantly.

I often share with clients that one of the goals of our work together can be to “right size” fears - that fear is allowed to occupy a room in the house that is your life, but it is not allowed to be the whole house. To do that, for many, it can be helpful to know that fear activates your hypothalamus in the same way as excitement and, when it's predictable it activates the brain's reward center as well.

So, if you know fear lives downstairs in the pantry, versus being surprised that it’s in the house at all or judging that it’s taken root, you’ll already be on your way to having peace around it.

One of the strategies I use to remind myself my fear is welcome is Instagram. My feed is intentionally curated to offer a showcase of life-giving imagery and reminders that I’m imperfect and therefore awesome. (More on curating positive social media later!)

 There are so many edicts and offerings on how to befriend fear, but this beautiful imagery from one of my most favorite mental health advocates, feminists and writers, Ashley Ford, is one of the most helpful I’ve seen:

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No matter where you are with your relationship to fear - be it steadfast enemy, “it’s complicated,” or intimately involved - it is entirely possible to be “just friends” with it - to be ok with that which you identify as keeping you stuck, seemingly impossible to overcome and totally unique.

 The goal is not to be unafraid - it is to reframe, to “right size” and to feel the fear.

Preferably with someone else. (Raising hand! 🙋🏻)

Comment with your own favorite fear quote, an Instagram handle that inspires you to make friends with your fear, or a “just friends” strategy that works for you.

-Emily Drake, MA, LPC