Are You Really Afraid of What You Think You’re Afraid Of?

160_F_68199924_qZUfTcFn0PcmSOb68IErHNTwHbm7iEJPWhat is FEAR anyway? False Evidence Appearing Real? That’s a cool acronym but is that really what fear is? And if we go with that acronym aren’t we engaging in some kind of compulsion? “It’s not real. It’s just my OCD. It’s just my thoughts. It’s just my imagination.” Say that enough and it sounds just like reassurance. And we all know that reassurance takes us down the rabbit hole.

What is there to be afraid of? Is it the thing in our mind worrying us? Is it really about that thing

I’m a recovering entomophobiac. I’ll always be recovering because I think about bed bugs all the time. I’m having to still “BOSS IT BACK.” In the past my fear of bed bugs caused me to avoid movie theaters, clothing stores, and hotels. I almost quit a teaching job once because a student told me the dorms were infested. I’ve slept in my car when I already paid for a hotel room. Once after years of bossing it back, I really got shook up. On the way to the hotel the cab driver told me the city was infested with bed bugs and he had just pulled one off his neck. OMG! OMG! OMG! I knew if I avoided that hotel room I’d only suffer. I had to BOSS IT BACK! I went in the room, slept in the bed and endured the pain. The next day I made sure I took a cab. By night time I barely thought about bed bugs, and when I did, I shrugged it off. To this day I’m still afraid. But I don’t let that fear stop me from doing anything I want or need to do. But, is it really the BUG that I’m afraid of?

Loss of Control
I’m not afraid of the bug itself. They can’t kill me. They can bite me but so do mosquitoes and I still go outside. I could even let a bed bug crawl up my arm. Here’s the kicker: AS LONG AS I COULD KEEP TRACK OF IT! I’m not afraid of the bug, I’m afraid of losing control. If I’m infested with bed bugs I’ve lost control of my whole life! In my mind it’s catastrophic. My home is no longer mine. My body has become a parasite’s vessel. I’ve lost complete control. 

The Process
I’m not afraid of the bug, I’m afraid of the process of decontaminating. The process of getting rid of bed bugs is life-less and time-consuming. My freedom will be taken from me and I’ll have to waste precious time cleaning and taking life. I won’t be able to spend my time doing what I want to do. I’m being forced to use my time on something I didn’t choose. I’m being forced to be involved in a mass killing. The process of getting rid of bed bugs is wasteful. I’m afraid of going through that process. I’m afraid of getting stuck rewinding and replaying the traumatic process.

The Outcome
I’m not afraid of the bug. I’m afraid of the outcome of the extermination. After spending precious time getting rid of the bed bugs, what if it doesn’t work? I’m afraid I’ll have to do it all over again. I’m afraid that I don’t know what the outcome will be. I’m afraid of the uncertainty and getting stuck regressing to a life of hyper-vigilance.

This thing in your mind that you’re afraid of—is just a story. Your fear is real, but what are you truly afraid of? Loss of control? The Process? Not knowing for certain the outcome?

This is day 14 of a 30 day challenge. Apply these 3 questions to your feared object or situation and see what you come up with.

By the way, here’s a much better acronym:

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3 thoughts on “Are You Really Afraid of What You Think You’re Afraid Of?”

  1. For me the story almost always goes back to fearing not being in control. Loss of control, getting stuck and losing time. It helps a lot to take the power away from the story the OCD creates and understand that the story my brain comes up with is rather insignificant. If I can catch myself before analyzing “the story” and work through the anxiety I find I can move on with my day much quicker.

  2. All three of these things contribute to my feared situation(s). However, when looking at loss of control, the process and the outcome, one dominates the other two: the outcome. I fear the outcome because I never know the outcome. The future is uncertain. I crave certainty, but all that exists in this world is uncertainty. I have different degrees of certainty about different things but there is no absolute certainty, only guesses. I can guess with a high degree of confidence that if I throw a ball up, it will come back down to my hand. I can guess with much less confidence about what the weather will be on May 23rd. I used the example of throwing the ball because gravity is very much like uncertainty: both will always be here, and fighting them is counterproductive. I try every day to learn to accept uncertainty just as I accept gravity.

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