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ASK THE THERAPISTS: Fear of what other people think is paralyzing

Fear of what other people think can be immobilizing, but there is help.
Fear of what other people think can be immobilizing, but there is help. - 123RF Stock Photo

I have so many fears that hold me back from being who I want to be and its driving me nuts. The biggest one these days is the fear of what other people will think of me. The thought of being publicly criticized and rejected totally paralyses me but there’s a side of me that has dreams of becoming someone and helping the world. Can you help?

Jenny

Thank you for writing in with this important question, it’s a good one for all of us as we prepare for a new season and a fresh start. It sounds like you’re at a crucial point in your life, where you’re ready to leap into your dreams but feel tethered by a few strings of uncertainty.

First, let’s realize fear is designed to keep us safe by helping us avoid harm, not a bad survival mechanism, right? Giving fear some respect can help you move beyond the inner battle of trying to override or ignore it. Start by asking yourself: is your fear keeping you safe or is it keeping you small?

Have you heard of the two different acronyms for fear? Instead of Forget Everything And Run, which we do when we’re in the state of fight or flight, fear could also mean False Evidence Appearing Real, which encourages us to question our habitual thoughts and activate our rational mind. If it’s criticism you’re afraid of, know that you’re being criticized all the time already — it’s what people love to do. Anything that makes you stand out will attract complaints, so darling, you’ve got to learn to eat criticism for breakfast, and maybe lunch too!

Every time we step into new territory in our lives there’s risk involved. Your efforts may get panned, but they may also elevate your whole life. And while some feedback is important, I suggest before you take any action at all, you make the commitment to rise above the backlash and the accolades and get super clear on your why. Why do you want to take the risk and leap into your dreams? What is it that’s pulling you forward? The stronger your why, the better equipped you’ll be at keeping the critics from sabotaging your dreams.

What’s helpful when we’re on the verge of making a brave move is to read about people who have already taken the leap, like actor Jameela Jamil, who had to rise above the critical comments she received when she gained 75 pounds from medication. She chose to focus on her passion for protecting young girls from the toxic influences of social media and she’s making a real difference in women’s lives.

Fear often presents itself as opposition, outlining all the reasons why we shouldn’t start on our dreams. Be prepared to have a little face to face with your inner resistance that causes you to procrastinate or convince yourself out of a good idea. The cool thing I have found is the more I challenge this resistance and push through it, it tends to hold less and less power in my life.

When Joseph Campbell said to “Follow your bliss,” he was advising us to follow that dream that keeps calling us into our best life. But let’s be clear, your best life is not the most perfect, most thin, most beautiful or rich version of you, that’s the dysfunctional standards of our society talking. Let’s define your best life as you at your happiest, doing what you love and contributing constructively to the world. Crystalize your vision. Let it consume you so much that the voices of the critics become the white noise in the background that supports your creativity and nurtures your dream into reality.

Blair

As Jenny mentioned above, there’s always going to be haters. It’s actually part of our human construction to want to stifle another’s light so we can feel OK about our mediocre life. Please know the critics are just doing what they are innately wired to do. No, it’s not supportive, and no, it’s not nice, but you can’t control another person’s behaviour so get used to it.

If other’s opinions and judgements are holding you back, I’m guessing your centre of self isn’t strong enough. Spend time each day stoking your inner flame, however you choose to do that. Surprisingly, for such a good person, Jenny has had her share of this stuff come her way. I’ve watched her over and over, build herself back up through the wisdom in sacred teachings, tapping into friendships and strengthening her vessel: her physical body.

There are two things we humans can do with fear. We can either try to stifle it, which takes a massive amount of energy and doesn’t get rid of it, or we can let it flow through us. Of course, I’m suggesting you focus on the latter and mobilize the energy of fear. You can do this by breathing deeply, calming the mind and taking productive action. When most people receive a criticism or negative feedback, they tend to withdraw and/or freeze up. When we face an obstacle in our business life, instead of losing a day on a pity party, we put our heads down and get to work doing anything to shift the momentum.

Taking action not only changes our energy and keeps the fear flowing, it builds courage. It takes courage to believe in yourself when others don’t, it takes courage to act even when you’re scared to death, and it takes courage to step out of the familiar mediocrity of life for the sake of your potential and happiness.

Finally, my sister had a Latin phrase on her fridge for years and one day before she died, I asked her what it said. She replied with a straight face, “Blair, don’t let the bastards get you down.”


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Blair Abbass and Jenny Kierstead are certified therapists, award winning educators and partners in life and business. They are the co-founders of Breathing Space Yoga Studio/Teacher Training, Yoga in Schools and Girl on Fire. They have been married for 17 years, but who’s counting.

askthetherapists@herald.ca

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