Focusing on fear brings up fear for me. My particular response to fear is diarrhea. Other responses can be over-eating, rationalization, withdrawal, depression, procrastination, sulking, anger, violence. In particular for men it seems difficult to feel fear. This leads to the fear of fear, a dead-end street.
There is a lot at stake when I feel frightened: my strength, my power, my maleness, my identity. As a man I often wouldn’t let myself feel the fear, I would feel something else or nothing instead.
I remember driving my car and being cut by another driver, who overtakes and then slows down right in front of me. Immediately I shout at him. Mirjam, next to me stays calm and simply asks me: “Did you get a fright?”
Women tend to feel the fear, men tend to feel the anger to cover up the fear.
I recall an experience where I consciously let myself feel my fear. It was in the bush, where the trail ended, near a waterfall. Some men I had spoken to before told me that there was absolute wilderness beyond the waterfall, once you climbed to the top of it. When I got to the waterfall I noticed the chasms between slippery rocks. There were obstacles to be overcome to even get across to the other side, especially for an inexperienced bush person like me. What I became aware of were two different reactions. One was to diminish my intention to get to the top of the waterfall “it wasn’t really that important to me”. The other tendency was to push through, to push myself to jump across. I guess that’s how often accidents happen. I sat down on a rock at the bank of the river being drawn between the “coward” and the “pusher”. I felt my fear and took my time to rest.
I once was inspired by Susan, a friend from Ireland who told me, “when I need to make a decision, I observe what I do.” That’s what I did. After sitting and focusing on my body, breathing calmly, I noticed that I got up and looked at different options to get across. Carefully negotiated my steps and jumps across the river. I let myself have as much time as it took and gave myself permission to return if it proved too difficult and dangerous.
Arriving at the other side gave me a sense of achievement. I had learned that it was possible to “feel the fear and do it anyhow”. It was important that I allowed for both options, the excitement to get across and the possibility not to. I trusted the process with no investment in either outcome.
A very simple everyday situation is inquiring, asking for something. I find this much more difficult than Mirjam. As a man it seems shameful to expose my “not-knowing”. To find a street, I rather consult my map than to ask someone. It seems a subtle difference, yet an important one.
With regard to sex I grew up with the false belief that I should know it all. Again, it seems, that my maleness is at stake if I don’t know. However, male and female experience of pleasure are so different. If a man has to prove his maleness in sex, this inevitably leads to less than satisfactory experiences. The blissful experience of pleasure is sacrificed for achieving a goal, as if it was part of a business plan. No wonder, so many women lose interest in sex.
In this area to allow not to know is a prerequisite for openness and communication, and also for true satisfactory partnership. Sexuality is the area where men and women often miss each other. To experience sexual pleasure as a joint experience, as a man I have to overcome my fear of not-knowing.
Fear has power over us, when we do not make space for it, but instead fight it. Whatever we fight becomes bigger. We reinforce its resistance.
As a man, it is important to make friends with my fear. Life becomes much easier if I can allow myself to feel fear. I am wondering if the disadvantage that men experience with regard to shorter life expectancy or more heart problems than women is due to the fact that men aren’t used to feel their fear. Making fear my friend rather than seeing it as an enemy can create more balance in my life. Fear shows me to be cautious, gets me in touch with my body and asks me to attend to my needs at the time. I also recall the saying of one of my early Gestalt trainers Bruce Reid: “what you are afraid of most is what you need to do next.” Where there is fear there is also excitement and aliveness.
Copyright © 12/1998 by Rumijabu | Originally published in Integrative Dialogue #9, Dec1998