I have a hard time writing for the public consistently, and an equally hard time promoting my writing or pursuing larger readership opportunities. Today I was invited to submit something I had written to a newsletter for an organization and community I am part of–and I felt the familiar seizing-up feeling, and a host of delaying strategies arise: “Well, first I need to figure out which website the article should link to, and also it would make more sense if it was a series, so I need to plan that out…”. My anxiety started to rise as I contemplated this rapidly growing mound of tasks that I was piling like boulders in front of this opportunity I was afraid of.
So…I decided to investigate.
I opened my journal. Knowing my fear of writing is larger than just this opportunity, I started with this question: “What seems scary about writing?”.
Turning my awareness to my body, the flavor of the fear was that writing was somehow confrontational. If I said what was really true for me…that might bring up a reaction in the person reading it. The scenario that popped up was that my words would trigger something in them, and their response would be to silently leave.
Feeling into my anxiety, I realized I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to somehow take care of the other person–track their reaction, correct any misunderstanding, repair any damage, make them feel safe again–so they wouldn’t bolt.
I realized that this is just something that happened with certain people in my past who dealt with uncomfortable feelings in themselves by fleeing the scene, or going silent. Feeling caught between being honest and being alone, I took on responsibility for their feelings and reactions, in an effort to maintain connection. Or I kept my reality to myself–it just not being worth the energy to try to make sure it was understood in a way that didn’t create disconnection.
I realized just how prepped I was to do this, and how much I had generalized these people and situations to all people who might hear me express myself. And of course that is not accurate.
So then I asked myself the next question…”What could be different?” If I had a new experience…if I didn’t generalize my past into my future, and let something new occur, what would it be?
Ok, what if I said stuff…and they stayed? And responded? What if they “got” it…or if they didn’t get it, they asked me about it, so they could understand?
What if my writing connected them to me? Helped them see me, and want to come closer, rather than flee because of the truth that surfaced in them? What if they were ready for the truth? What if what I wrote helped them to see themselves…and they liked that?
Yes! Of course. Of course this can happen. And of course this is why I want to write. This is why we all express ourselves–so we can be known, and connect. And this is exactly the kind of experience I want to give people: of seeing themselves, discovering themselves.
Touching into this possibility, my fear shifted to excitement and anticipation. Yes, this is what I want! Of course.
To heal these kinds of fears requires us to use discernment to undo our generalizations. Yes, there are times when people cannot hear what I have to say. Even if I say it in compassionate clear ways, sometimes they are just not open or ready. Sometimes they might react, and even leave. But that doesn’t happen always–or even often. And the rewards of expressing myself are that people who are open, come closer. They hear me and want to engage. I create the opportunity to see and be seen, to know and be known. I create more connection, not less. And I contribute my own discoveries to the great human project of understanding what it is to live, which is meaningful and fulfilling for me.
Now I have a truth I can use to counteract the fear. Not to make it wrong–those situations did happen in the past, and they were painful. It’s understandable to be afraid, and want to avoid more pain. And at the same time, the world contains many more possibilities that I want to experience. I don’t have to let my life be limited by anticipating only what I’ve already experienced.
How to use this process for yourself:
- Identify something you stop yourself from doing. You are drawn to it, but you hold back.
- Ask yourself what experience you are avoiding by not doing it. What is the fear? What might happen that scares you? (This works best not as a mental question, but as an investigation of your body–what is it anticipating?)
- Let yourself flesh out that scenario. How is it familiar?
- Ask yourself what else could happen, if you didn’t expect this scenario to replay itself. What is another possibility? What would you like to happen? If you had a fantasy about what could be different, what would it be? What is the best possible outcome? Let yourself feel this, and believe it–this is also possible.
- Discern. Distinguish what you expect from what is actually likely. Accept that sometimes the negative outcome might happen (and won’t kill you)–but what is possible will also happen, and probably a lot more often!
- Take a notecard and write down an affirmative summary of what you’ve discovered, using the most powerful language that speaks to you. Use this to remind you when the habitual fear returns. Include what is possible and why taking this action is important to you.