Fear shows up in our life in big and little ways: it underlies panic, anxiety, stress, worry, low self-esteem, doubt, judgement, criticism and an exaggerated need to control. We may not realize how prevalent fear is in our life until we really stop to examine our thoughts and behaviors.
When we’re motivated by fear, it’s likely that the result we produce in our life is not optimal. If we’re panicked, we don’t think clearly and can’t make the best choices. If we feel afraid that others won’t like us, we play “small” in our life, we avoid situations where we feel exposed, depriving ourselves of the chance to let others know us. When we try to control others, the result is usually an argument, resistance or withdrawal (by the person we’re trying to control).
Our brain is wired to produce fearful thoughts as a result of millions of years of evolution (think: survival of the fittest). So, it’s not a mystery why we are subject to so many calamitous thoughts. The problem is these thoughts rarely reflect truly dangerous situations (think: life or death). Instead our fear is mostly around imaginary outcomes, or ego-deflating circumstances: rejection, embarrassment, shame, etc.
Co-parenting fosters this kind of fear–often disguised in the ways I’ve described. We criticize our ex because we’re afraid he’s a bad parent, we get angry when he criticizes us because we don’t want to feel shame or consider that we’ve made a mistake. He gets angry, we cower instead of brushing it off.
So, how do we tame our brain and reduce the occurrence of this unproductive and damaging emotion? It takes mindfulness and self-reflection. If you notice yourself getting whipped up into panic, anger or an obsessive need to control, acknowledge the fear at work. Second, take a deep breath. Breathing calms down our nervous system. Next, question your thoughts. What is so frightening about this? What is the worst that can happen? Do you really know the truth about this or are you catastrophizing? What if you just let it be? Take another breath. Be willing to recognize that your thoughts may be illogical based on reality instead of imagination.
Be patient. It takes time to rewire our fear-driven brains, but with time it will change. Your life will reflect your new way of thinking because you won’t be reacting to everyone and everything. You will begin to see that things have a way of working out without your interference or involvement. You will be in control of the one thing you should control: your mind.