Facing Fear

Facing Fear

Brené Brown ends her Unlocking Us podcast with a rapid fire set of questions for her guest. One of these is, to paraphrase, ‘When you are full of fear, about doing something, what do you do?

Tell me if this situation sounds familiar, at least from pre-COVID times. You’re somewhere in a group. Maybe it’s a social group with friends and acquaintances and people you just met. Maybe it’s a gathering of people you work with. Could be a family group situation. You’re feeling good, maybe you’ve got some good food in front of you, or you’re sipping on a nice beverage. You’re relaxed, smiling and laughing along with every one else. Your guard is down. Then it happens. Someone says something racist, or repeats some lie about trans people or justifies something based on stereotypes. What happens for you in that moment? For me, it’s like a trap door opening up under me. My feeling of safety evaporates and I suddenly feel ‘otherness’. I am swept up in a surge of adrenaline, especially if the comment takes aim at one of my identities. A loud voice in my head insists that I say something, now, immediately, loudly, angrily. Other members of my head committee know that if we speak right now, in that moment of surge, our voice will shake, we’ll likely stumble over our words and we won’t have the impact we want to have. So I take a breath and consider my options. What kind of risk is there to me if I say something? Do I have a succinct and impactful way of expressing my feelings and beliefs about what has happened? Do I out myself and use myself as an example of why the statements are wrong and hurtful? What is the risk for me if I don’t say something?

What I have found over time is that this last question is the most important. The damage I do to myself when I don’t speak up for equity and justice is far greater than anything someone else could do. Even if I lose group membership, even if I’m physically threatened, to not say anything is to be complicit and I will carry that regret with me for a long time, sometimes forever. And when the bigoted action strikes home in me, to not do anything is to betray myself. There have been times when I’ve come back to the person at a later time to speak to them about what they said and why it was hurtful. Sometimes that’s the safest and most effective move. However, whenever I can, I act in the moment.

This is one of the most common moments of fear I come across in my life. I have a classic fight/flight/freeze reaction. In order to move from that place, I need to take a breath, center myself and do what I can to interject and counter the injustice being done. Sometimes in the midst of those first moments of panic, I wonder if the fear is more about the confrontation, or about how I will feel if I avoid the conflict.

So to answer Brené’s question, my answer would be “I take a deep breath and step into the fear of the moment, to avoid a future of shame and regret over not taking that step.”

What do you do when you are afraid and need to push forward in spite of that fear?

facing fear

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