“[If] you hold fear in front of you, it doesn’t dictate your behavior. But I think, because we’ve lost our capacity for pain and discomfort, we have transformed that pain into hatred and blame. It’s like it’s so much easier for people to cause pain than it is for them to feel their own pain.”
– Brené Brown
That quote came from an interview Brené Brown did with Krista Tippett in an On Being podcast called Strong Back, Soft Front, Wild Heart.
What I found fascinating in listening to the discussion was that even though Brown was talking about relationships between people, I kept thinking of how this applies to our relationships with ourselves. With that mindset, the podcast had a lot to offer from a mindful eating perspective as well.
Why Feel Fear?
I’ve written before about the importance of being vulnerable. One reason is that if you try to wall off certain feelings like fear and pain, you’ll numb all feelings, including joy. Being vulnerable also means you get out of the safety and comfort of what’s familiar so you can learn something new.
As Brown says: “I really believe, with every fiber of my professional and personal self, that we won’t move forward without some honest conversations about who we are when we’re in fear and what we’re capable of doing to each other when we’re afraid.”
But it goes even deeper than that. As Brown points out, if you don’t let yourself feel your fear and pain, it doesn’t mean those feelings go away. It simply means that they burrow deep inside and start driving you to act in ways that you wouldn’t normally.
This is when you might cause pain that you didn’t intend. Maybe it’s to other people, but when we’re afraid, we’re also capable of doing bad things to ourselves.
Consider this from an eating perspective. If you don’t let yourself feel the pain in your life, you might be tempted to distance yourself from it by eating food you don’t need. You might eat enough to the point of being physically uncomfortable. You might use blame and shame language on yourself, feeling guilty for what you did, telling yourself you’re a terrible person because you overate.
You set yourself up for low self-esteem and feeling powerless and out of control.
On the other hand, if you allow yourself to confront that pain, you can choose how to respond to it instead of letting it drive your behavior. You can choose to move forward despite the fear – and you’ll often find that you’re capable of more than you think.
Tip 1: Set Boundaries
When you keep causing yourself pain, it can be hard to move out of that cycle, especially because you don’t trust yourself anymore. This is something Brown also talked about, and she made some suggestions for how to build trust and be open to the fear.
One of those tips is to set boundaries. This might be easier to do with other people, where you can place a literal distance between yourself and someone else.
But you can still set boundaries with yourself, particularly in how you talk to yourself. You can define what self-talk is okay and what isn’t okay.
It might help to think of this like you would with a coworker, someone you have to interact with but also need some rules for interaction. What kind of behavior and language are you okay with? What would cross the line?
Then try to pay attention to that self-talk. If you catch yourself crossing the boundaries, acknowledge it and take a step back. See if you can understand what prompted you to act that way or use that language, and think about what you could do differently moving forward.
Tip 2: Stay Kind
This brings me to the next tip – kindness.
It’s very easy to be kind when everything is going well and you’re in a good mood. But even when you’re feeling down and depressed, stay kind to others but also to yourself.
So many people struggle with this. It doesn’t seem like it should be that hard to be kind and gentle with ourselves, but this is often harder than being kind to others.
This goes along with setting your boundaries. Even when you cross them, or maybe especially when you cross them, look for ways to be considerate with yourself.
Tip 3: Be Curious
And finally, use curiosity as a guide.
If you’re curious, you’re less likely to be afraid. Instead of reacting to the pain or sorrow in a destructive way, you can explore why you’re feeling that way.
You can also be curious about what you can do to help that feeling.
This is something we talk about a lot in mindful eating. If you’re sad or depressed or lonely or angry, you don’t have to reach for food. You can consider other options to express those feelings. You’ll feel better and you’ll be less likely to cause further pain.
Fear Isn’t as Scary as You Might Think
Our culture has been taught that fear is bad, that it’s something we should pretend not to feel.
But no matter how much we pretend, the fear will still be there. If you’re open to it, and you explore it with curiosity and kindness, you’ll help yourself learn to live with that fear, to be brave in the face of it, and to carry that courage into the rest of your life.