Earlier this week I wrote about fear and a common story that often gives it juice: The Orphan story.
If this is your first time here and you’re in a rush (gearing up for Thanksgiving and all), you don’t need to go back and read my last piece. Nope, you can think about the story another way: The Scarcity story.
You’re probably familiar with the scarcity story. It’s located in the part of the psyche that tells us, “I’m scared, it might not work out, it could be the wrong choice, I could fail, I don’t know what it will be like, I won’t like it.”
Now, having these thoughts is not a recipe for disaster. Actually they’re quite normal. But if they keep you stuck and paralyzed and unable to move forward, well, then the story has got you by the neck. And you’re self-orphaning. Which means it’s high time to consider this question:
HOW CAN I STOP COOPERATING WITH THE STORY?
Today I’m bringing you a grab bag of strategies to do just that. And since I’m no stranger myself to the fear story, I can tell you I’ve practiced all of these at one time or another. And I’ve seen them work for others too.
Also, I deliberately chose the number thirteen, since it has a reputation for striking fear into our hearts. I don’t buy that, though, and this is my small way to stop cooperating with the story today and change its meaning.
- Create a healing circle with others whom you trust, a place where everyone can feel safe sharing their stories and giving support.
- Design and carry out a ritual that transforms the story. It could be as simple as lighting a candle each day, pondering the story for a few minutes, then blowing out the candle while imagining the fear dispersing through the air. It could be as complicated as finding an object that represents the scarcity story for you, then burying it. By doing so you signify that you have moved into another stage of life where this story has less pull for you.
- Bring compassion to the story itself. Recognize that although it hinders you, it does have a positive intent: to keep you safe.
- Draw, paint, or collage the story. Find some way to create an image of it.
- When you have the image, start a dialogue with it. Welcome it and speak to it as if it is another person. Tell it what you see there. Quietly listen to anything it has to say back to you. Ask it what understanding it needs from you. You may be surprised to hear that it has a desire to be in partnership rather than in conflict with you.
- Explore further dialogues with it through Active Imagination. A great way to learn it: Inner Work, by Robert Johnson.
- Ask for guidance from the rest of your inner cast of characters. Do you have a powerful magician who wants to name the fear as something else? Perhaps you have an adventurous seeker who wants to use the fear to start a journey into the unknown? What about a savvy ruler who knows how to manage, and can bring in some discipline and control? Or a wise sage who can step back and be very objective about the fear? And of course, there’s always the fun loving jester who knows that the story can’t help but transform when you bring in play, joy, humor, and life lived in the moment.
- Read a book that will bring your inner cast of characters to life. A good place to start: Awakening the Heroes Within, by Carol Pearson.
- Practice centering activities, such as meditation, yoga, guided imagery, etc.
- Let nature in. Every day bring it into your home, a handful of fallen leaves, a rock, a stick, a flower. Notice what looking at it does to the fear story.
- Walk out into the world. Be among others. Participate.
- Get a helium balloon. Write on it: scarcity story, fear, whatever you like. Tell it you want it to see more of the world. Gently let it go and watch it float away.
- TAKE A RISK. This is my favorite on the list. Sometimes we confuse fear with risk. But they’re not the same thing. Fear is an emotion; risk is an action. So take a risk and take a step toward your fear.
Some of the wisest words I’ve read on this topic come from author James Hollis:
Daily confrontation with these gremlins of fear and lethargy obliges us to choose between anxiety and depression…This archetypal drama is renewed ever day, in every generation, in every institution, and in every decisive moment of personal life. Faced with such a choice, choose anxiety and ambiguity, for they are developmental always, while depression is regressive. Anxiety is an elixir, and depression a sedative. The former keeps us on the edge of our life, the latter in the sleep of childhood.
Ah, anxiety is an elixir that keeps us on the edge of life! That keeps us moving forward.
And the depression he talks about? He doesn’t mean clinical or biological depression. Rather, he’s talking about existential depression, the depression that comes with scarcity thinking and self-orphaning.
So go ahead, choose anxiety and fear. At first the elixir may be hard to swallow, but the resulting transformation will be nothing short of magical.
What do you think?
I see fright and anxiety as something very healthy.
When I go seakayking and I get thrown over by a wave, I get a fright which is very healthy as it will give me physical strength to get back into the kayak.
When I sit here typing this and I feel fear for the wave and depressed that I still fall over by a wave THAT is unhealthy and can be stopped. If I let it grow in me I might never go seakayaking again AND that will be a great
Hi Wilma – Sounds like you really understand the concept of anxiety as an elixir. As you say, anxiety gives us the adrenaline rush and thus the physical strength to do what we need to do in a situation like sea kayaking. When it’s not a physical thing though, say something emotional like making a decision, I also think we can harness that elixir of anxiety to move forward. Thanks.
Hi Patty – I’m really glad you mentioned “Awakening the Heroes Within.” It’s one of my favorite books and I read it at a time when I really needed to be able to draw upon the energy of certain archetypes. It was a guide for me when I wasn’t sure where I was going. Thanks for these 13 tips.
Hi Amanda – Neat that you are also a Carol Pearson fan. I did some training with her five years ago, and her work has really influenced not just my own life but my work with others as well. There’s so much insight there, and she makes it very accessible. BTW, what are your current dominant archetypes? Would love to hear. Mine are seeker, creator, magician, jester.
Right now, I would say Creator and Lover. Not too long ago the Seeker was really dominant. 🙂
Wonderful list you’ve got here! A lot of those things ARE distractions and hey, whatever works! Just coming to the realization that our thoughts are so powerful and they are choices we make, these thoughts, helps immensely! The older you get, the more you will see this for yourself. Being an old crone now I only wish I had this much insight decades ago. It’s the blessing (and curse) of old age! Ha!
Hi SuZen – I get the feeling you’re a wonderful, wise-woman sage! Sounds like that’s an archetype you have really honored and embraced in yourself. So thanks for sharing it with us here in the comments.
Patty — I’m back for the second part. I loved your list as it contains so many gentle and warm ideas about dealing with “self-orphaning.” I like that term, by the way.
In my case, one of the best things I’ve done to deal with my own childhood beliefs and fears is creating a collage. I’m not actually that artistic (thank goodness for Photoshop), but I think my personal collage really helped me retell my story. When I look at it, it makes me feel more powerful and whole.
Like SuZen, I only wish I had this wisdom earlier in my life. Thank you:~)
Hi Sara – Very cool. I’d love to see that collage. Images are so powerful to help us retell the story, as you say. I’ve been doing collages of my dreams lately, and it has been eye opening. Thanks much for your comments. p.s. Everybody is artistic. You included.
Thank you for these tips. I really like the one about writing on a helium balloon and then letting it go. It’s like “poop”, there “they” go. I can already imagine the sense of relief.
Hi Barbara – Nice to see you over here. Yes, that is one my favorites too. I did it once it a group and there is an immediate sense of freedom and definitely a change in perspective. Thanks.
Great list, Patty! Thanks for defining anxiety in a positive way. I do feel very much alive when I’m anxious and it’s nice to be able to flip that switch and know it’s a good things instead if thinking it’s a bad thing.
Hi Belinda – Yes, there’s a sort of hum that happens we choose anxiety. An energy beneath it that changes when we change our perception of it. For me it often leads to creative inspiration. Thanks!
This is great advice! I often do similar things when I re-tell a once painful memory. These serve as great tools to help transform our outlook on life.
Hi Steven – Welcome, thanks for stopping by. It sounds like you transform the past story by your perception in the present. I don’t know if this is like what you’re saying, but it reminds me of a quote from William Bridges: “the past is always changing.” Or something like that. His point being that when we look back at the past, we have the choice to do so through a different lens, which means that the story we thought was true is quite different.
Here’s the clinical perpective – this is how anxiety and depression were discussed when I was getting my degree in counseling. So here we’re talking about clinical levels of anxiety and depression…
Anxiety – The most basic mental malady, so to speak.
Depression – What happens when the person’s anxiety doesn’t do any good. Life-problems aren’t solved and the person gives up in hopelessness.
Neurosis – A kind of maladaptive end-run around anxiety. So the person, say, washes his hands fifty times a day as a way to alleviate anxiety.
Hi Paul – Right, this is very different from the clinical perspective. I remember all that from grad school too. But don’t you think it’s interesting that depth psychology chooses to view anxiety, depression, neurosis as the psyche’s call to growth, as a way the unconscious works to get our attention and balance out the power between ego and soul? Of course, I am immersed in it right now, so I’m particularly fascinated by it. But I notice a difference in clients too. When they see their pain as pathology vs. when they see their pain as part of an archetypal story. The latter seems to lead to more purposeful action and change, less “woe is me.” Thanks!
That’s been my personal experience and I remember doing a major paper on that for a class – research showing how depression can set the stage for personal growth.
At the same time, you see people stuck for literally lifetimes in depression or neurosis. So seems hard to generalize…
Beautiful post, Patty. Thank you. I love the distinction between fear and risk. Even when things are wonderful we sometimes fear. Loss or lack seems to be the basis, what isn’t known or the potential for these. Where fear is necessary, as in life and death situations, we often still need to manage our emotions for the best possible outcome. I do so through daily thought and practice. My motto is “fear not!”
Hi Judith – Thanks for stopping by. You say it well, we do need to manage those emotions through practices. I like your motto!
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Love your use of rituals here. It a nice, positive, coping mechanism that can be a touchstone for those with anxiety. I’ve been using this for years with my scented candles 🙂 Thanks for this great list.