How to Find your Buoy of Safety When You are Drowning in Fear
Have you ever been gripped by paralyzing anxiety? Are you having difficulty overcoming fear?
What I Learned from Panic and Fear
My daughter and I celebrated her high school graduation with a vacation in my home state of Hawaii. To make it extra special, we purchased a zodiac/boat excursion on Kauai to go snorkeling offshore.
The zodiac raft raced us through the azure blue waters with dolphins playfully jumping alongside. We breathed in the salty fresh air and relished the sun’s warmth on our skin.
Once we joined the main boat, we were quickly outfitted with our snorkel gear sans life jacket or float, and jumped in. Not for a moment did I have any hint that I would soon have one of the worst experiences of my life.
We swam in the beautiful waters, floated on the gentle waves, catching glimpses of fish below us. About thirty feet from the boat, I suddenly stopped, panic-stricken. I was sure I was going to drown.
I had passed compulsory swimming classes in grade school, high school, and college. While snorkeling, there was no reason to think I’d drown but fear was immediate.
With a fragile control of my panic, my numb brain reasoned I could swim to the boat if I kept moving slowly toward it, one stroke at a time.
Eventually, I made it back to the boat’s safety, and collapsed onboard, sick to my stomach.
What I Learned about Fear that Day
In my complete panic, I thought I was going to die. Yes, unreasonable—but that thought totally gripped me.
In those moments, I barely hung on to my mind. Thankfully, lifelong patterns kicked in.
There were others around me. Had I yelled “Help,” I would have been rescued. But my tendency to push down emotions, even strong ones, prevailed, and I couldn’t voice my distress.
Moreover, my early adopted strategy of being self-reliant was so powerful, the thought never occurred to me to ask for help. It was up to me to save myself.
Fear in its primal state reduces us to survival mode because we believe we’re going to die. When fears are the basis for our lives, our choices become limited.
It’s essential to look to see how fear may be running your life, hidden from your awareness.
What Happens When Fear is a Stranger
I’m not a fearful person. Yet when fear arises, it’s extreme and manifests as panic. It’s like someone who represses anger, and out of nowhere rage explodes.
The other incident of panic came when I was biking recently. We never learned to ride bikes when we were kids. Consequently, my sisters and I are “dangerous” to self and others when we attempt to ride. But, I decided I was going to become comfortable on a bike.
At the end of my ride, I approached the sidewalk and garage too quickly. When I realized I wasn’t going to turn in time, I panicked, lost grip of the handlebars, hit the garage, and fell to the ground.
Again, extreme fear disabled my mind and my control. But I learned more.
Fears Reveal our Vulnerability
Had I shouted out for help when I believed I was drowning, I would have exposed my helplessness and raw panic to anyone near me. But I was “programmed” to hide such vulnerability–even at the possible cost of my life.
Like many of you, I can hide my vulnerability very well, even from myself.
After all, we are brought up to behave as if raw feelings don’t exist.
What are Our Common Fears?
Fear of failure? Fear of success?
In my view the most common fear is the fear of change.
When people report seeing patterns in their lives, how they
• end up fighting about the same things at every family gathering;
• work in jobs that they hate;
• stay in marriages that are making two people and children miserable
–they cope rather than change.
How about you?
When you decide to make a change, you face an unknown future. The unfamiliar can be uncomfortable.
When you see yourself refusing to make changes to end your suffering, you probably fear change.
These fears may not seem like the same fear I felt when I was headed for the garage door or desperately getting to the boat.
Yet it’s the hidden and powerful fear that runs your life.
See Also: “Feararchy” – The Hierarchy of Fear
What Our Fears Tell Us
When you think of your fears, doesn’t it come down to this? You fear for your safety, a basic survival issue. You believe, I am not safe.
Unfortunately, you may not discover this because you focus on fleeing from this disturbing uncomfortable feeling.
You rarely understand that a personal survival sense of safety is involved when you consider any change.
What You do to Keep Yourself Safe
When you’ve done the conventional things to make yourself feel safe–obtained your education, career, friends and perhaps a family, safety isn’t usually seen as an issue.
But when you don’t have them, you think: I need
• a relationship,
• a better career,
• more money, or
• better friends
You think personal security or safety comes from having certain things in life.
You don’t get to “I feel unsafe.”
Yet any change ultimately stirs issues about safety and survival. You hang on to lifelong beliefs, patterns, and strategies tenaciously, as if survival was at stake.
Your History has Given you Reason to Feel Unsafe
Many of you know your own history of family drama, fighting, illness in the family, accidents, losses, abandonment, betrayal, or abuse that are your reasons for feeling unsafe.
Basic trust was broken when you were young and wounded by neglect. You were alone and needed to feel safe.
If you can imagine a young version of yourself being hurt, feeling lost and desperate, you will sense the instinct to survive rising in response to the fear of dying.
That powerful fear is the driver behind everything you do to survive and make yourself feel safe.
Honor and appreciate it for what it is.
It’s the spirit that kept me swimming to the boat; the spirit behind my decision as a senior to learn to ride a bike.
Crashing and falling to the ground taught me I wasn’t going to die. It was so freeing; I laughed as I picked myself up off the ground.
How Can you Deal Effectively with Fear?
You can lose any one of the basic things in life that you gather to make yourself feel secure–family, friends, partners, money, reputation, or your health at any time.
It’s foolish to rely on external sources for the deep sense of safety you need.
Yet how do we build an internal sense of safety?
Go to the Source for the Truth, Where the Fear Originated
The source of the truth is in the young heart that first experienced the fear. There was no logic or language then, just the instinctive response to hold that fear secret, deep in the heart.
When you can go to this source of your need to feel safe, you can transform the fear.
Your intention takes you there. You don’t need any language. You are there to provide a corrective experience—to make a compassionate connection with the part of you that felt lost, alone, abandoned, and afraid.
A heart-to-heart connection restores trust and a sense of safety. You can be reassuring in your stance–you, the adult, knows with certainty that all the fears, especially the fear of annihilation or death, are not true.
See Also: 5 Tips to Eliminate Fear From Your Life
Other Ways to Have a Sense of Safety
• When I see beauty in Nature — flowers, birds, waterfalls, mountains, canyons, meadows—and get absorbed by the beauty of what I see, I forget the fearful me, and I feel safe.
• When I appreciate the gifts and full presence of an artist or musician or performer, I forget the small me — safety is no longer an issue.
• When I am grateful for what I usually take for granted — the sun that nourishes all life on earth, and the Earth for the oxygen and plants that support our lives–I know I will always have this support and caring.
• When I know the space and peace of meditation, I experience myself as something other than the usual me, that has no judgment about death.
• The more I connect with Oneness in others and in Nature, there is a sustaining sense of safety.
When We Live through a fear, What Happens?
It was a delightful and relieving experience to read what Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the German plan to demoralize Londoners with the continuous bombing during World War II. The opposite result was a surprise.
When Londoners survived the bombing—living through their worst fears and still being alive, they were invigorated and unstoppable.
Having a fear and moving forward anyway, and learning that the fears were worse than any imagined outcome, is liberating.
Know the Power of Fear and Freedom from Fear
Choose to ride a bike when you’re afraid, panic and fall, to learn that you don’t die.
Choose to make changes because avoiding changes makes life stale or distressing.
Choose to move ahead and risk making mistakes.
Choose to let go of the familiar, to choose what is different, new, and unknown.
Choose to move through fear to learn what lies beyond.
Then you will know freedom, aliveness, and your best dreams realized.
“Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears.” Les Brown