I am a chronic worrier. I wish I wasn’t. Even as a child, I was prone to anxiety, and it didn’t stop because I got older and wiser. My fears simply evolved as I did.
Sometimes, I think back on the things I was afraid of — especially the fears that never had any basis in reality. I wonder at all the time wasted tying myself up in knots for events that would never come to pass. I cannot get back that time, but maybe I can start shifting my perspective on worry going forward.
If I could travel back in time, I might hand myself a writing assignment, a clever life lesson disguised as a creative exercise. I would ask myself to write all my fears about a particular subject down on a sheet of paper and put it away for safe keeping. Then, every few months, I would advise taking it out and seeing if any of those things have come to pass.
Over time, looking at those worries, I would have found that they were either valid and relevant to my life or meaningless worries that were never connected to reality. Perhaps, in time, I would have let some of them go. It could have acted as evidence that some things I’ve feared never came to pass.
Of course, this could work as a current assignment, but I think the next level of this writing exercise would be to examine the needs underneath the fears. The fact that we worry all the time could just be down to a naturally anxious personality, but oftentimes, our worries are rooted in real trauma.
If I look back at my relationships, I can see the anxiety clearly. My fears were not subtle. I was afraid to love in case I got hurt. I was afraid to trust in case that trust was betrayed. If I made the leap to love and trust, I then began to be afraid that my happiness would end, a classic case of what Brene Brown calls foreboding joy. I was always afraid of wanting too much and being let down because my life experience had taught me to fear this. Abandonment issues coupled with a lack of love can do this to a person.
I would love to go back and prove to myself that these fears were unfounded, but many of them weren’t. In some cases, I put my love and trust in people who were undeserving of it — with clear red flags in play that I was ignoring. Even when the person was fully deserving of my love and trust, the relationship itself still dissolved, leaving me alone with my grief. My foreboding joy has a root cause, and without addressing it, it’s hard to tell myself that my fears are, in fact, unfounded.
The larger perspective is that, yes, some of our fears are based in reality, but we waste so much time worrying that we don’t even get to enjoy the times when we’re happiest. We’re too busy borrowing grief from tomorrow because something happened yesterday to hurt us. We rarely fully occupy the present moment because we’re too busy trying to protect ourselves from ever hurting again.
The bravest thing we’ll ever do is to love other humans even knowing that they’ll likely hurt us — whether they mean to do it or not. The boldest thing we’ll ever do is to acknowledge our worry but refuse to let it take the driver’s seat in our lives. It may be as simple as telling that worry, I see you, and I hear you, but you don’t get to take today’s happiness away from me.
Worry creeps up on me even now, and I pull out a sheet of paper. I write on it in bold letters: YOUR FEARS ARE UNFOUNDED. Then, I write the fears. And underline them. Under each underlined fear, I write the thing I need. Then, in a dramatic fashion, I circle the need and draw an arrow out to the side. I may not be able to fix every worry, but I can do something to try to meet the needs.
In my need for security, I remind myself of my own resilience. I’ve been through so much. My life is proof that I will show up for myself no matter what and take care of my family whatever it takes.
In a need for love, I give some to myself, but I also spend time with the friends who don’t hold back “I love yous” — and don’t judge me for needing more of them.
Maybe our fears are unfounded, but maybe they aren’t. What matters is that while we’re busy worrying, we’re losing precious time in the lives we’re living. There are needs beneath those fears, and we can at least start to tentatively try to meet them. We can answer those fears with some small action and begin to center our thoughts on what we have, not on what we don’t or fear will come to pass.
Hard things will come no matter how much time we spend worrying about them in advance. We are no more prepared for having wasted time in worry. That’s the illusion that keeps us locked in anxiety.
I am a chronic worrier, and today I am gentle with myself as I shift my focus. I’m not tending to those worries; I’m tending to my needs. It won’t give me back time in the past, but it gives me back today.
This post was previously published on Hello, Love.
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