We all do it at times–our fears get the best of us and we unintentionally sabotage our relationships. Sometimes you may not even be aware when you’re doing this. When something triggers a fear, it is natural to react on impulse in an effort to “protect” yourself from potentially being hurt or rejected. Unfortunately, fears often mislead us. It is not uncommon to fear something that in reality does not exist. Fears are often based upon past relationships and experiences that inflicted real hurts and losses in our past.
The cause of the original fear often has no connection to or bearing on the present relationship. But, because the impulse to avoid pain is so strong, we can act on our fears anyway–most often in error–rather than face our fears. When this happens, trust and respect can erode in the relationship and push the one we love away from us. In other words, our fears can create a negative self-fulfilling prophecy and when acted upon, even end our relationships.
Fears are real emotions, but they are not always valid, nor based on fact. Most often, fears are based upon past hurts or experiences that leave a lasting impression and cause unnecessary doubts. The most common relationship fears include fear of rejection, commitment, betrayal, and loss.
It can be very difficult to dismiss fears, but in order to overcome any fear and avoid sabotaging your relationship fears must be confronted. How does that happen? Especially when most fears bring about impulsive reactions? Well, it helps to take a three-pronged approach:
Recognizing and Overcoming Fears
- Starting now, take some time to consider your greatest relationship fears. What do you fear? When was your earliest memory of this fear? Was/is it based upon an unfortunate life experience? Understanding your fear intellectually will not eliminate your fear, but it is the first step in recognizing why it exists and this very act will assist you in recognizing and addressing your fears and false beliefs.
- Explore your feelings about your fear. Now that you understand what the fear is and what triggered that fear, begin to accept and experience the deep emotions that were/are triggered by that fear. Often the genesis of any fear is some type of pain from loss. Perhaps you experienced a loss of trust or love, or acceptance, or security, or any other basic human need in relationships. Now consider the fact that you survived this loss. You are whole. You are stronger and wiser. The pain and loss experienced from any life experience is part of coming to terms with unmet expectations and hopes. But the good news is all of your hopes and dreams can still be realized, but just in different, unexpected ways. The future is unknowable, but we always have choices. And now, having learned from past experiences, we are much better equipped to face our future with a faith and courage knowing we have the knowledge and experience to make better choices.
- Acknowledge the fact that fears do not prevent bad things from happening–in fact, fears often cause greater loss and cheat us out of what we truly desire. Fears often create a need to build emotional walls and shut down our hopes and dreams in exchange for a limited life simply to feel “safe” and avoid potential perceived pain (not real pain). Fears keep us from exploring or realizing truly fulfilling relationships. Instead of protecting us, our fears guarantee we will not achieve our heart’s true desire. Fears limit our lives. We may feel “safe” when acting out of fear, but never fulfilled. So instead of giving in to fears, utilize your knowledge about your fears and why they were established to help you make better choices. By recognizing and learning from your fears, you are better equipped pursue a happier, more fulfilling life.
This will take some time, but that is part of the healing process. When fears arise, it’s best to take a step back to evaluate the situation until you can see and feel your way clearly. Emotions can be wonderful, but they can also be misleading. Gather the facts and consider the context of any situation. Use your past experiences and knowledge to make a balanced decision and choose what is best for you based upon that information versus your emotions of fear and/or anxiety. Even when fearful, know that fears limit and erode relationships–fears never enhance them. Our emotions and thoughts are fluid and change. Words and actions are permanent and leave lasting impressions so choose yours wisely and do not act on impulse. Take time out if necessary before responding.
Daily Practices that Help Overcome Fears in Relationships
- Know, accept and love yourself as a whole. Overcoming fears is part of the journey of life and not a part of who we are intrinsically.
- Reveal yourself through your words and actions. Instead of hiding from your fears, take small steps to reveal yourself. Your behavior should be authentic and the other person must not feel that you are hiding your feelings or avoiding intimacy to protect yourself. Start by sharing your thoughts and experiences with your trusted friends or family. This will give you a chance to open up in a safe setting and reduce fear of intimacy and enhance your relationships. You will experience acceptance from those that love you. In time you will know you can trust yourself with those you begin to care for without a fear of loss.
- Do not have an agenda. Share yourself and your thoughts and feelings without any anticipated outcome. In sharing our authentic self we allow others the opportunity to do the same.
- Remember that acting out of fear will not prevent unpleasant outcomes, and is likely to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Have faith in a positive outcome.
- Keep in mind that others experience their own fears and they are very likely to understand that you have your own fears. When you are authentic, it invites authenticity from those you have relationships with and creates a safe environment of understanding and acceptance.