When you’re scared, be a scientist

You’re having drinks at a bar when you notice your partner flirting with someone attractive. Alarm! Alarm!

“Who’s that guy she’s talking to? Has she told me about him? What does he want?”

We all get scared sometimes, even if we don’t always realize it when it happens. We feel distressed in some vague way, but only when we look closely do we realize that what we are feeling is fear.

After you silence the alarm bells, you might think about your reaction for a minute. Logically, you know you have nothing to worry about. What your partner is doing is harmless. She loves you.

Yet you felt jealous. Why is there a disconnect between rational thought and your feelings?

It’s time to don your lab coat and your goggles. 👨🏻‍🔬

Simply ask why, repeatedly:

  1. Alarm bells went off in your head. Why?
  2. You felt jealous. Why?
  3. You didn’t like your partner flirting with someone attractive. Why?
  4. If she flirts with someone, that must mean she likes him—and I don’t like that. Why?
  5. I worry that if she likes him, she might leave me for him. Why?
  6. I am afraid of being alone.

Eventually, you can’t go any deeper. You’ll arrive at something that simply produces fear in your body. We can call this your root fear. In the example above, the root fear is the fear of being alone. This is a common and powerful fear.

You might not identify your root fear the first time you go through the exercise. But if you keep investigating, eventually you will.

My own root fear is that I am somehow “not good enough”.  So my list of “whys” might look like this:

  1. I’m about to meet a new group of people. I feel nervous. Why?
  2. I feel nervous because I worry that these people might not like me. Why?
  3. I want them to like me. Why?
  4. If they don’t like me, I might worry that I’m not a likable person. Why?
  5. I need validation from others that I am likable. Why?
  6. I’m scared of “not being good enough”.

Once you figure out your sequence of whys and you identify your root fear, you might feel immense relief. Simply understanding what’s going on, even without being able to affect your emotions, can make a huge difference.

Now, I believe that sharing our fears makes those fears less powerful. That’s why I’m telling you about my root fear.

I would love for you to share your root fear as well. What do you think it is?

Yours,

— Peter

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