I’m frightened of fear. I’m terrified of being afraid. Fear is one of the big eating disorder drivers. Fear of getting fat. Fear of being insufficient. Fear of not being enough. Fear of failing at my eating disorder and feeling all those fears. Fears that were unexamined and unrealistic.
Anxiety and fear go hand in hand. I get anxious when I think a situation will make me afraid. I’m anxious, often, about leaving the house because when I get there, wherever “there” is, I might be afraid. I might be anxious. It’s the same no matter where “out” is or what activity is involved. It’s the same when I think about going to the store, or to a park, or taking a walk, or visiting with friends. I’m not afraid yet. But, something might happen that could make me feel bad, and since I’m afraid to feel bad, I get afraid of the situation, so then even thinking about the situation makes me anxious.
It’s all very confusing.
When I start addressing the fears, however, and debating them, I find that they are constructed on shifting sand. It’s really quite annoying. After all, I have a lot of years of not challenging fears and anxieties and that now seems like so much wasted time.
Still, we only know what we know when we know it.
What is fear? When you Google that question, you get 1,330,000,000 results. No doubt there are interesting articles aplenty, but I was searching for something basic.
Fear is an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat. That’s according to the dictionary, which is an utterly under-utilized resource.
Take food. I’m afraid to eat. Afraid to let go of the reigns I’ve shackled on food consumption. Afraid if I do, I’ll get fat. Afraid I’m already getting fat. And fat would be bad. Because that would mean I’m worth nothing. If I’m not perfect, and perfect is thin, I’m worthless. That’s the underlying belief that has driven my behaviours my whole life.
Stoicism and CBT encourage me to attack those beliefs and thoughts. Drill down. See if they’re valid. See if I really have a reason to be afraid. And, if I don’t need to worry about being afraid, I don’t need to be anxious.
Will eating make me fat; specifically, will eating a sandwich make me fat? Probably not. Am I fat, not do I feel fat but am I empirically fat? Do other people think I’m fat? Do I wear large clothes? Do I have issues because of excess weight? No. Am I as thin as I’d like? Also no, but to be that thin I’d have to be a skin-covered skeleton. Am I worth nothing if I’m imperfect? Do I think that about other people? My family, my friends? Of course not. Is it logical to apply that belief to myself? Do I have evidence that suggests the people in my life do think I’m worth something? Yes.
What then is there to be afraid of?
This works for all the beliefs I hold. That’s the nice thing about a dialectic approach – its universality. The biggest problem is doing it consistently. It does get old. Sometimes, I just want to chuck it all and wallow. Open up my Amazon app and get a new thinking style delivered.
Fear is awful. It’s paralyzing and miserable and we’ll do almost anything to shake it. Unfortunately, many of the tricks we’ve learned to help us cope are not helpful. Cutting, starving, and self-hatred do nothing to alleviate the symptoms even though that’s what they’re ostensibly designed to do. The behaviours I adopted to deal with the uncomfortable feelings make me feel far worse than the initial problem ever did. How’s that for irony?
Which is why I have a newish attitude towards suggested curatives like CBT. I gave good support to them in theory over the years. I just never put them into practice. I knew they wouldn’t work for me. I approach things differently know when it comes to trying things that might help. What the hell and why not? It probably won’t make things worse. And when the suggested action works? That’s just brilliant. Humbling – I could’ve been doing this all along – but brilliant.
Do you try and avoid difficult emotions with problematic coping behaviours?