It took me a while to post about this character strength. I did not know how to approach bravery at first. I do not consider myself brave. In fact, in the last few years, I have discovered the real meaning of the word “anxiety”. The fear which comes in waves of sweat, heat, irrational fears and that sense that something terrible is about to happen – we just really cannot put our finger on it. It’s terrifying. What’s even more frightening is the reaction of people around us – their inability to relate to our state, or even for a second try to imagine it. I come from an Eastern-European background, from a place where people get on with things — a place where vulnerability is not a sign of strength, but still of weakness. I think the lack of validation can be a multiplier of that anxiety and so if you know how to protect yourself, put on a thicker skin on and get over your fears you are seen as strong, brave even.
Whereas in the new, modern world of emotional intelligence, the real bravery lies in opening up and living with a high level of vulnerability. Because it takes courage to open up and risk the pain of rejection or mockery, the real bravery lies in small acts of kindness when we cannot be bothered to stop and help another person. It’s in the time we spend waiting patiently for our kids to put their shoes on or for catching up with that one more butterfly. It’s in the kindness at the end of a tiring day.
I love Bristol for the daily acts of courage of people who live here. The other day I was walking down my street with my dog to the park. On the street corner, I noticed a little boy on his little bike, almost cycling into the road – with no parents around. I stopped to see what the boy would do to make sure he would be OK. As I did so, a car slowed down, and a lady driver nodded at me. I waved back showing I have no clue what was going on, so she slowed down, even more, to find the parents with me. Seconds later, the mum of that boy appeared and took care of him, but it was so lovely to feel connected in that simple act of caring. Was it brave? I think that in today’s world in which politicians and salespeople wish to divide us so much, we need to make an effort to re-connect with each other. And that does take courage sometimes. Courage to slow down, to stop, to engage with another person, to make time and to care.
There is also a different type of courage – facing our fears by exploring them in more detail. I got out of the habit of courageous acts, so this year, I have put my name forward to the annual charity SkyDive to test my attitude to my new sense of anxieties. The hight of the jump was quite a symbolic expression of all the new fears I have accumulated in the recent few years.
I have dedicated a large chunk of my last decade on studying fears and anxieties, so I would like to look at the list of most common ones:
- Fear of death – I would like to start with this one because our inner need for transcendence over death is probably the strongest drive in life. Working in bereavement support, I had to explore my feelings about death in many ways, for quite a long time. I read a pile of books. I talked to many professionals. I worked in therapy on my multiple losses too. I journaled about it. I explored it with my friends. I have realised that sooner or later, all our mental health problems tend to boil down to this very fear. Fear of the finality of our death, the ultimate end of our own life. Through this journey of facing my fear of death, I have grown more self-aware than ever before. I have learned to hold space for people in some challenging points in life – I am told I am taking the holding skill to a pretty impressive level. I am convinced it’s due to all the hard-working of looking at my personal fear of death directly – not ones, many times. Thinking about death affects our tolerance levels and escalates to many other areas of mental wellbeing, so it’s worth considering spending some time reviewing our attitudes to death.
- Fear of being alone – so many of us do not know how to do it anymore. There are many layers to being alone, of course, and as I train to become a therapist, I am uncovering newer layers still. I do think many of us struggle with having time, so we fill it up with anything that would keep us busy – busy from thinking, feeling and merely being in the moment. We fear to realise that our lives might be empty (of passions, of people, of goals). As if the emptiness was terrifying when it could be healing, steadying and grounding. I think it’s worth practising being alone to cope with this fear better. Being alone allows us to re-connect with our true selves. That can be revolutionary! It can also be scary as it might uncover a pile of other problems, so be gentle and kind to yourself. Make time for your self and celebrate it without judgement.
- Fear of people – is something we tend to suffer from more and more, especially in the new world, which is trying so hard to divide and isolate us. We are slowly losing the sense of community. Our social groups are smaller. We have hardly any time to maintain friendships or stay in touch with family. In a highly individualistic society, individuals are quite lonely and scared of each other. That makes me sad. That fear is understandable, though, and so easy to conquer. Just say hi, smile or help someone. That’s all it takes to re-connect with another.
- Fear of failure is a difficult one because the new, elusive and almost impossible definition of success is so embedded in our social structures, in advertising, in false expectations! We end up beating ourselves up over failures when, in reality, they are just a path to better understanding. We learn through failure, yet so many of us dread this form of learning. Practice it. Practice failing and giving yourself permission to look back and learn from it. With that new perspective, you might realise how great failing can be.
- Fear of war – is something I have felt for the last few years of Brexit and something many of my peers are living daily now. I can only hope that all those fears will prove unnecessary, but I also notice that they already take their toll on us. We live in a divided society, and similar dividing movements are coming up in many European countries – which is worrying. The very thought of war (old, or the new cyberwar) was unsettling enough for me to lose my blogging voice for quite a while. I have no answers to this one, but one: hope. I am an optimist, and I hope that we will figure this out too.
I am scared of heights. I dislike large spiders. As I make friends with my fears, as I slowly embrace my new vulnerabilities, I am also becoming braver day by day. Sometimes I think that with my newly discovered anxieties I am growing stronger than I ever was before.
I would love to know what you think about the common fears and your personal experience of some of the ones mentioned above. Let me know.