I’m a late bloomer, I’ll be the first to admit. Being a people-pleaser I have spent the majority of my life putting myself in servitude to others even when I many times didn’t do it voluntarily. I never realized it being a problem until a few years ago someone said, “Oh Jamie, I really appreciate you doing this. I knew you, of all people, wouldn’t mind.” For some reason it just struck me, her response to my shifting of my plans to accommodate everyone else’s… did everyone else “mind” doing such a task and I didn’t? Should I have?
It’s amazing to me what I have failed to do in my life, or have done quite uncomfortably, because of what other people have spoken either to my face, behind my back, or alluded to on social media. The thing is, is that fear can make people do or not do lots of things and I am included in this group. Fear kept me from excelling in my career, fear caused me to keep a career longer than God intended, fear caused me to be an eggshell walker (enabler) with people, fear kept me from joining certain personal and professional organizations, fear kept me from doing my art and music and fear kept me holding onto friendships long past their expiration date. There are things that I do in spite of fear… writing on this blog is one of them.
Edward Welch wrote, “Any time you love or want something deeply, you will notice fear and anxieties because you might not get them. Any time you can’t control the fate of those things [people] you want or love, you will notice fears and anxieties because you might lose them.”
Fear can cause people to behave a number of different ways, some of them quite ugly. Again, Welch says, “Listen to anger and you will frequently find fear.”
I think of a conversation shared with me between my friend and her dad. Her dad told her, a year after graduation, “What exactly are you going to do with your life? Is this it? You can’t do anything!” The dad’s tactic? Shame. I will shame my daughter to motivate her to do better. My friends response? Feeling judged and unloved.
Now, the dad had a common and honest fear. Maybe he feared his daughter would never be self-sufficient and worried about how and when she would be able to “make it” on her own. Maybe the dad’s fear was a little more selfish and dark and he worried about how other people perceived his parenting ability based on the success/failure of his children. In reference to Welch, this father couldn’t control the fate of his daughter so it evoked fear which resulted in a parenting tactic that has backfired on the majority of us.
My girlfriend, not surprisingly, has suffered as a people-pleaser her entire existence and has been an unhappy martyr in the process. She lived in the world of “I ought” to do something instead of “I want” to do something and now suffers from severe anxiety as she grapples with the two. Her anxiety has evolved to such maddening heights as she behaves like someone with agoraphobia (perceiving people “unsafe” or causing anxiety so she just avoids all social events as much as she can while at the same time feeling guilty because she “ought to” attend them.). Her dad’s ill tactic was perceived by the daughter as judgement and it has now grown to a severe insecurity around others as she believes people are judging her often, just as she believed her dad did.
I’ve written before about after I made a huge decision in my life that I knew (more than I know that the sky is blue) what kind of backlash it would receive, I sat in a church pew listening to this song. This song has changed my life, it literally has… for both my husband and I. The more we clung to the truth in that song the more our lives fell into place… the correct place.
You split the sea, so I could walk right through it
My fears were drowned in perfect love
You rescued me, so I could stand and sing
I am a child of God
See, rather than fear our financial status or what people think of us and our problems or our actions or our attitudes or the ways in which we conduct our lives and raise our children, we aim to only fear what God may think. When we die we will answer to no one else but Him.
When people are shackled by other people’s opinions they are not living their lives for themselves or even for God.
So, what it is that you aren’t doing or ARE doing out of fear. How are you reacting to your fear? Do you shame people in your life in bold and brazen ways or passive aggressively? Do you gossip? These tactics, they attempt to make us feel better for who we are. As we rank and file other people, and inflict pain sometimes, we attempt to elevate ourselves or prove that we are correct… this is the reaction to fear that Welch writes about. I’m no less guilty than anyone else. By the grace of God himself I do this much less than I used to but sometimes evil creeps in and old habits try to surface.
The other night at dinner, my husband rattled off something to make the kids laugh, a statement I was likely told at about their age. He said, in this very serious tone, “You know, you can pick your friends and you can pick your nose but you can’t pick your friend’s nose.” The children, of course, burst out laughing because they were not expecting a joke 1) at dinnertime and 2) from a serious tone out of their dad. Yet, this scenario is true for so many things. It’s a joke about the truth in control. We cannot control money. We cannot control people. We cannot control God himself. What we CAN control is our reaction to this fear. How do we control our fears?
Let me again restate that I suffered much of my young adult life through midlife with anxiety which includes anxiety attacks, claustrophobia and IBS (something most people don’t want to admit or talk about). So, how have I moved on?
- Learning. I’m ALWAYS learning and I hope to ALWAYS BE learning. What started as my first self-help purchase of “The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook” in the onset of my panic attacks has grown to so many good books you can find listed here (those books are only from the past couple of years, by the way).
- Therapy. I wrote extensively about my opinions on the positive work with a good therapist here so I won’t restate them. I do, however, want to touch on a very important point that escaped the post. Not everyone is a bonafide “therapist.” I use the word “therapist” interchangeably with “counselor” but these words shouldn’t be interchanged with ANYTHING ELSE. Counselors and therapists are trained in mental disorders and diseases that I wouldn’t trust my mental health in the hands of people who aren’t licensed in my state to practice counseling (abbreviations include “LCPC,” “LCMFT,” and the like). I have, in my past, visited people without those credentials and I wouldn’t say that those visits were wasted efforts in my search for peace and sanity but I know that good and thorough work with someone who is trained and licensed has been a more beneficial process than other attempts. On a side note, it has also been helpful to do work with Christian counselors who are licensed but that’s my own preference. (On another side note, be wary of people posing as “doctors” who are eager to take care of ALL aspects of your care which include mental health. I said no to an unlicensed chiropractor at his strong suggestion that I drop my counselor and see him exclusively for everything.)
- Effort. I’ve written before about the effort I’ve put into therapy. Showing up and sitting in someone’s office isn’t doing any work. Work includes prescribed reading, journaling, self-care or whatever it is I’m told to do. In an effort to move past my current situation (should there be one) requires effort and it requires me to be BOLDLY HONEST about what I’m dealing with. In an effort for someone to truly help me they need to know what my problem is, how I treat others, how I’m being treated myself, how I’m reacting, etc. Maybe it’s part of paying someone to help me, but if I’m paying someone then I’ve got a certain level of commitment to the “program.” I will do the work much like if I hired a personal trainer to whip me into shape.
- Authenticity. I’ll admit, I was mistaken about what authenticity actually was when I first started being authentic. I spewed a lot of my life to a lot of people, people who didn’t “deserve” to hear my story. It’s not that people needed to meet a certain criteria or pass some test for me but in sharing your deepest and darkest stuff, it’s honoring the space between you and the person you’re speaking with. If only one of us is practicing authenticity and vulnerability then it’s not going to work.
- Connection. Related to “authenticity” is “connection.” Humans are wired for connection. Connection is why social media is so addictive and popular. We want to be connected to other people. Now, obviously, me sitting across the table sharing coffee with a girlfriend is oftentimes a better connection than posting something on social media and dialoguing that way, but connection is what we crave. We cannot authentically connect if we struggle with shame and fear. If I am afraid that you will judge me for what’s going on in my home or you won’t be compassionate with me about it, then I won’t be authentic with you and I will hold back. My connection with you will only be so deep. On the other hand, if I trust you with my heart then the things I share with you make our connection deeper and stronger.
It goes without saying, that above all of those points, our hearts need to be pointed to God (yet, I would argue that for some, if not most, hearts cannot point toward God if mental struggles are in the way. It’s been my experience that mental health may need to come first or in tandem with heart work.). “Be not afraid” is written (in a variety of phrases) over 300 times in the Bible. My favorite being:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. – John 14:27
That’s my favorite fear verse because it points to the truth that God is beyond our comprehension and abilities here on earth. He won’t give us peace the way our world gives us peace. He is the ONLY thing that is secure.
Do I still deal with fear? Most definitely yes but I can tell you that I recognize it very quickly and try to redirect my heart as soon as possible. Are you afraid? Are you afraid you won’t succeed on those resolutions? Are you afraid of failing at work? Are you afraid that you won’t be able to pay the bills this week? Are you afraid of what’s going to happen when your loved one dies? Do some hard work, I guarantee it will be the BEST work you could ever do for yourself and your loved ones.