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  • Writer's picturetheokuczek

Why you can’t always “push through fear”

It’s everywhere in self-help and personal growth culture.

“Push through the fear, you got this!”

“Don’t let the fear own you!”

“All you have to fear is fear itself”

While there’s something to be said for the sentiment and intention of these statements (there are even whole modalities of psychotherapy and treatment orientations with exposure therapy), they can often leave people feeling like they are underachieving or doing something wrong if they cant “push through their fear.”

Here’s why:

Fear is a normal human emotion.

In first world countries, the majority of us are not threatened with our lives on the daily, fear is one of the most basic emotions and at the core of what it means to be human. Many have heard of the fight or flight response and it’s there for a reason (I’ll expand and PsychoBabble about this in another article).

Sometimes it’s as simple as “pushing through the fear”. You get onto the other side of a perceived fear and realize its not as bad as you thought it was going to be, you survived, the relationship didn’t end, etc. Pushing through fear can be a way of working with hesitation and certain situations.

When it comes to fear having a relational component, it’s oftentimes not that simple.

We are a social species and part of our evolution and adaptation to our environment included the need to have close relationships in order to stay safe so we could procreate. When there is the threat of loss of relationship we can often feel paralyzed to change something, especially if there’s any way it could threaten an important relationship. Evolutionarily speaking, we don’t survive without close relationship. A close relationship threat is akin to death. Is that a good enough reason to have fear?

Now just because most of us can say that the end of a certain relationship won’t end in death, it doesn’t mean the threat of loss won’t create fear, especially if it remains an unconscious component of that fear.

Sometimes our ‘inability’ (I put that in quotes because theres nothing wrong with you if this approach doesn’t work for you) to “push through fear” means that we need a lighter approach. If you expect yourself to just be able to drop your shoulder and run into everything that scares you, you’re likely to feel inadequate at times when this approach isn’t working for you. This is where psychoeducation and psychotherapy come in. Understanding attachment tendencies and looking at the broader context of your history, in relationship to a fear, can be incredibly important.

In most cases, understanding comes before compassion. So sometimes instead of dropping your shoulder or holding you breath into something, the opposite is needed. Take a step back, take a breath, and bring curiosity to the situation. This is often called mindfulness.

Either way, you want to process the perceived fears and get onto the other side. One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to personal-growth and healing. Find an approach that works for you own unique constitution and history. Just because society idealizes the imitation of strength and power, doesn’t mean it’s the best approach for personal development.

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