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6 Crucial Lessons to Help You Live Fearless and Free

“Love is what we were born with. Fear is what we learned here.” ~Marianne Williamson

I got my masters in Clinical Social Work and became a therapist in 1997.

A year later, I got my PHD in Fear.

After a decade as a talent agent predominantly for super models, I was burned out. I realized it was time for a career change when I cared more about getting models into rehab, therapy, and eating disorder clinics than a lucrative Pantene contract.

When I landed in the modeling-agent world, I was convinced I would change an exploitive system. I did not, but the system definitely changed me.

I was desperate to get off the crazy nicotine, caffeine, adrenalin-fueled hamster wheel that had become my life, but did not know how. Apparently, though, the universe had just the plan.

In 1996, I applied to New York University’s Clinical Social Work Masters Program, never imagining I would be accepted. Much to my amazement I was accepted and spent the next two years remotely running the television department for Elite Modeling agency, getting my degree, and teaching acting as an adjunct professor at NYU/Tisch School of the Arts.

Immediately following graduation, the single most important life-changing event happened. I fell in love with my now amazing husband, Victor Juhasz. Vic was a widower with three angry, out-of-control teenage boys. As if being the divorced/widowed father of three sons wasn’t enough, he also lived in New Jersey.

I didn’t care. It was perfect. He was perfect. Intoxicated with love hormones, I thought this talented, successful, gorgeous man could have 22 teenagers, and I would still say, “It’s all good. Love will find a way!” Believe it or not, this was the calm before the storm.

Four months into our relationship, my father, 61 years old and in prime health, dropped dead of a heart attack.

Three months after my father’s death, I discovered a plum-size lump at the base of my throat, which was diagnosed as a large, malignant thyroid tumor. My heart ached as I underwent surgery and radiation while building a relationship with the three boys, whose own beautiful mother died of cervical cancer when they were 5, 3, and 1.

A mere five months later, based solely on my intuition, a more aggressive cancer was discovered on the other side of my thyroid. More surgery, radiation, and isolation followed.

On a quiet evening, two months after the second cancer diagnosis, I leisurely walked onto the back porch to find a huge stocking-faced man holding a .22 to the back of my husband’s head. We were robbed at gunpoint with our youngest son in the house.

My PHD in FEAR was officially complete. For the first time in my life I was afraid—all the time.

The therapist in me knew it was a trauma response; the human in me was still incensed. I made the distinct decision to become a fear expert knowing that I, nor anyone else for that matter, could really live life if fear continued to dominate my mind and my decisions.

I worked though my own fear with the help of my therapist and spent the next 14 years in my busy private therapy practice in New York City researching the effects of fear and the mind-body connection.

I turned my pain into purpose and taught thousands of clients and students to transform their own fear into freedom.

Here are a few truths I have learned about transforming fear.

1. Fear is a feeling, not a fact.

This is great news and comes as a surprise to most clients. Mortal fear is the only informed fear. If your life is in danger, the fight or flight response is adaptive and necessary. However, most of the time when your flight or fight response is activated, you are not in mortal danger.

You can have an initial fear response, recognize you are not in mortal danger, and calm your mind to create clarity.

2. Your mafia mind is a bully.

Your fear mind, or “Mafia Mind” as I call it, operates the same as the real mafia. Instead of extorting money, your Mafia Mind extorts joy and potential happiness from your life by threatening you with what might happen. A lot of things might happen and they might not, so harness the power of your intention to create what you want to happen.

3. Be here now.

Present moment awareness is essential to stop fearful thoughts from becoming your reality and dictating your decisions. Never mind what was and don’t be a fortuneteller. This present moment is unique—there has never been and will never be another. So let go of the, “well this is what will happen because that’s what always happens.”

4. Meditation.

A dedicated daily practice of stillness and silence strengthens your “be here now” muscle. Living more in this present moment will decrease fear generated “future tripping” into what hasn’t happened and “past tripping” into what no longer exists.

5. Exercise gratitude in motion.

A John Hopkins University study indicated volunteering as little as two hours per week increased feelings of happiness and decreased feelings of depression in volunteers. I made volunteering a mandatory experiment for clients struggling with fear and anxiety and found positive results.

Fearful obsessing is very isolating. Sharing your gifts with others is the fastest way to get out of your head and into living.

6. Get a check up from the neck up.

Seek help from a licensed professional. Years of my own psychotherapy before and after my year of fear created a safe space for my healing.

One thing I know for sure is you have the power to free yourself from the mental prison that fear creates. Anything worth having is worth working for, and you deserve to live fearless and free.

Photo by krystalchu

Avatar of Terri Cole

About Terri Cole

Terri Cole, founder of Live Fearless and Free, is a licensed psychotherapist, transformation coach, and an expert at turning Fear into Freedom. Currently, Terri is wrapping up her first book, “Flip Over and Float - 8 Steps to Sustainable Change” and filming “The Conversation” for Lifetime Network. Learn more at http://terricole.com/.

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  • http://hubbyshome.com/ David

    Hi Terri, I like the concept of the Mafia Mind. I hadn’t thought about it in this way before.
    “Get a check up from the neck up.” This made me smile because it’s a lovely turn of phrase, and it’s nice to see such a recommendation because sometimes people need help beyond what they can do for themselves.
    Thanks,
    David

  • Hope

    A very encouraging post for everyone to think on what stops us from being happy. Thank you! :)

  • http://twitter.com/TimBrownson Tim Brownson

    Agreed Dave. I spent 20 minutes last night assuring a client that seeking professional help for depression was no different than seeking any other medical help. If you wouldn’t refuse a caste for a broken arm, why would you refuse therapeutic help or even medication that may help you over a short-term hump for severe depression?

    I’m not in favor of using medication as the first port of call, exercise and meditation are way too effective for that, but sometimes it’s necessary.We need to de-stigmaitize mental illness in all its forms, and there are a lot of forms!Nice post Terri!

  • Michelle

    Was having a bit of ‘Mafia Mind’ freakout this morning…took a few deep breaths…opened FB and this was the first post on my page! Hmmm…the Universe whispering perhaps? Well I’m certainly listening. This all completely makes sense! Thank you:)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Olga-Garcia/26103506 Olga Garcia

    Terri, 

    You sound like such an amazing woman! This morning I had to confront the ‘fear’ again. I now understand that no matter how much I want to put a bandaid on it, it will be there, begging me to pick the scab and make it bleed again. It’s my choice to listen. Thank you so much for sharing your story. You’ve inspired me to face the fear in so many ways. 

    You’re awesome! 

  • http://facetsofjoy.com/ Joychristin

    So much to love about this insights in this article!  I think many people are so afraid of fear that they invest energy in avoiding it, burying it, denying it..allowing it to be paralyzing; instead of working *with* it and allowing it to be transrformative, a catalyst for change. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000038925531 Andre Wiley

    I have to tell myself ALL THE TIME to be HERE…. NOW. I find myself to be less inadequate when I do :)

  • Lv2terp

    Thank you for putting your traumatic experience “out there” for the world to see, that is courageous and therapeutic.  This is a wonderful, and extremely helpful blog, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom! :)

  • Terri Cole

    Thank you for your kind words, David. I always looked at therapy as a gift to myself. It really changed the course of my life and helped me see that I could do or be anything I just needed to change my mind!
    love love love
    terri

  • Terri Cole

    Agreed and agreed Tim! Even if you know you need your tooth pulled and you might be able to actually do it~you would never even consider it!! Mental health up keep is an act of self love for sure ;) And yes yes yes on meditation and exercise as a solid way to keep the feel good hormones flowing! My first ever guided meditation CD is available right now on my site. I used guided meditations so much with my clients instead of on the spot iphone recording i decided to create a cd that addresses the most common issues people struggle with today!
    love love love
    terri

  • Terri Cole

    Well THANK YOU for responding! I am so grateful my story resonated with you.
    love love love
    terri

  • Terri Cole

    Totally helpful Andre! This moment is the only one that exists and it is AMAZING!
    love love love
    terri

  • Terri Cole

    Thank you! So true that the energy wasted on avoiding can be used for transforming. Letting go of fear is the key ;)
    love love love
    terri

  • http://www.juhaszillustration.com Victor Juhasz

    All very good points made here.  Thanks for sharing.

  • Terri Cole

    Hi Olga,
    Thank you for sharing here with us. I am so grateful that my story resonated with you. I would re-frame your analogy to say the by pulling of the scab one last time you can tend to the wound and heal properly ;) When we push away the truth of how we are feeling or deny what is~those feelings stay with us and turn into depression or something else u do not want. You are stronger than your wildest dreams.You can face it and come out the other side~healthier and happier.
    love love love
    terri

  • Terri Cole

    Happy to be a part of a meaningful coincidence in your life ;) If we get still and silent everyday for a period of time the whispers of the Universe become undeniably clear.
    Thanks for your comment!
    love love love
    terri

  • Terri Cole

    So glad you found the post encouraging, Hope.
    YES YES YES to authentic Happiness ;)
    love love love
    terri

  • Terri Cole

    And thank you for reading Victor!
    love love love
    terri

  • Tomasi Patricia

    Amazing!!! You are an inspiration!!!

  • http://hubbyshome.com/ David

    Tim, I’m reading an interesting book at the moment called ‘Incognito: The Secret Lives of The Brain’ and it’s made me think more about mental illness. It turns out It’s not as straight forward as I’d imagined!

  • http://hubbyshome.com/ David

    Absolutely Terri. It takes time to make changes to the way we think and a trained professional can aid the process in terms of the time it takes and the quality of the results. I’m delighted that you were able to find purpose from your own fear and that you’ve been able to help other people.

  • Terri Cole

    Thank You Patricia!!
    love love love
    terri

  • Otterspace2001

    Great little story. I found your own journey encouraging and timely. Earlier today I connected my life long habit of procrastination to my attachment to “outcomes”. In other words, I was overly concerned what people would think of me if the outcome was a “failure”. Upon further reflection, at a deeper level, what I really feared was “shame”. I was afraid I’d experience shame if I failed so I often chose simply not to complete a project to avoid that feeling. But I realized today (again) that what people think or say to me cannot cause shame for me unless I react to their assessment with shame. A pretty empowering thought and one I aim to stay aware of and work to make my own responses to my perceived failures merciful if not down right, positive. Ya-  Thanks for the reinforcement.

  • Terri Cole

    Wow that is a profound realization and like you I am grateful when the universe helps me to remember what I really know down deep. All of this is a gift and a privilege~this entire ‘life school’ thing is about becoming expanded and illuminated and we can only do this by learning and we only learn by trying. LIVING in the present moment is my goal~gratitude for all of my lessons is my feeling of choice. Thank you for sharing here.
    love love love
    terri

  • Mia

    Thank you for sharing. Very inspiring.

  • Mjdel226

    Your story provides not only inspiration, but much food for thought! It’s hard to not let fear control me. I use it to “protect” myself… I fear failure and being seen as less than perfect, so I do the “what ifs” and “what has always happened in similar scenarios” routine to keep myself from trying because I don’t want to be seen as imperfect or unsuccessful. It’s totally debilitating! I’m posting your 6 tips on my fridge to remind me. LOVE the mafia mind concept – SO TRUE!

  • Dance a new world

    I’m reading Incognito – very slowly – making me think!  Good book!

  • Terri Cole

    Thank you so much for sharing YOUR inspiration here! Consider this the moment of turning the corner from DEBILITATED 2 LIBERATED! So happy this resonated with you! Cheering you on like a wild maniac ;)
    love love love
    terri

  • Terri Cole

    Thank you for reading & commenting <3
    love love love
    terri

  • http://liveohana.blogspot.com Angela Marchesani

    This is so honest and so helpful! Fear can just PARALYZE… but at the same time, a little dose of fear helped you identify the second growth. I love your emphasis on mindfulness, because only with full attention and presence can we tell whether to push past fear or heed its warnings. Great post!

  • http://twitter.com/laviyah laviyah

    I love that you opened up so much of yourself here.  I think I am still suffering from the trauma of what has happened in my family.  I am still not quite there on the sharing, although my husband blogs about it.

  • Terri Cole

    Something Deepak Chopra said to me many years ago inspired me to tell my story. He said, “If you help another suffer less by sharing your story you have put karma in your karma bank.” Although I am quite sure in this life I have done ok who doesn’t want a little extra good karma ;) Actually honoring your story and being witnessed is what will shift fear and shame into something better. When u can I am happy to witness for you.
    love love love
    terri

  • Nitika

    OMG I am obsessed with this article!  Totally need to print it out and keep it on my fridge as a reminder <3

    Nitika Chopra
    http://www.YourBellaLife.com

  • charles

    good story and good ideas for coping with fear although it doesn’t deal with the underlying reasons for reacting and how to prevent at least initial re-occurrences when starting to use these ideas. i ask this because as an example, i look at the survey taken on this site which asks “Do you forgive easily?” and 69% say No or it depends. i wonder whether the 69% will be changed by the article without your further explanation of how you got to the point where these became valuable for you, i.e., is there something that you learned about yourself as you worked with your own fears, or did you just try these and they were so effective that you were never afraid again? that answer could be valuable.?

  • http://twitter.com/MaryKatherineee Mary Katherine

    I love how honest you are about everything you went through and how you turned your pain into purpose! I think it’s a great idea to be authentic and realize if you do have a PHD in fear. But my question is can you have it in only one area of your life – say relationships? 

  • Terri Cole

    Charles~
    Thank you for your thoughtful comment. It is impossible not to feel fear and I still feel it all the time~it just does not paralyze me or run my life. I do not think the sensation of fear is bad as it informs us of important things~ it is fearfully projecting into the future that can get in the way of our happiness. In #6 of the post I talk about my many years of therapy to understand the underlying reasons for what was not working and liberated me from many behaviors that were not in line with my goals. None of the changes in my life have occurred “magically” all came with much work and a desire to be happy and satisfied. Thank you for inspiring clarity in this post!
    love love love
    terri

  • Terri Cole

    Thank you Nitika! An honor to be on your fridge ;)
    love love love
    terri

  • Terri Cole

    Angela~
    Yes fear is informative and by being mindful we are dialed into what our bodies are telling us about how we feel about everything. Since it is impossible to be free from fear and that is not the point~it is really about making it work for you and NOT letting it control & constrict you and dictate your decisions. Thank you for your comment!
    love love love
    terri

  • http://life-accomplished.com/ Tonya

    Wow what an amazing amount of things you overcame. I was touched at how strong you seem and your boldness to conquer fear and not settle with that being the norm. Thank you for the lesson! 

  • Terri Cole

    Mary Katherine,
    Thank your for that astute question! You can be blocked by fear in one area and not in others for sure. To de code fear of relationships, it is helpful to connect the dots backwards to what you learned about love from your family of origin and early relationships you may have had. By uncovering your limiting beliefs about love blue print you may realize that much of what you think is reality was created by other people. As you marinate on your experience you can start to see that you can change your perception of love and how it can be…and then things begin to shift away from fear based thinking and towards creating what you seek ;)
    love love love
    terri

  • Terri Cole

    Thank you for your kind comment Tonya!
    love love love
    terri

  • Brooks

    I just discovered your blog…wow…very interesting story you have and so encouraging to me. I especially appreciate the focus on mindfulness. I’m transitioning back to work after a sabbatical, and this is my main goal. i’ll be writing about the journey on my blog: http://ahungrylife.com

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Hi Brooks!

    I know this comment wasn’t addressed to me, but I thought I’d hop in. This is actually a community blog. I publish a post from a different writer every day. I especially appreciated Terri’s courage in sharing her personal experiences. Her stories and lessons really inspired me. I’m so glad they resonated with you as well!

    Thanks for the link to your site. I’ll check it out!
    Lori

  • Tania

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience. It has definitely assisted me.  

  • Angela

    Hi Terri, thank you for sharing your experience. Today is one of those days that didn’t start off the greatest…in other words Al Capone is raging strong in my mind today ( love the Mafia Mind analogy) wrecking more havoc than usual. Your strength and insight are inspiring…thanks again for sharing :)

  • Anonymous

    Wow and thank you for sharing! I love these points. “Fear is a feeling not a fact!” Oh how I have let fear run my life in so many situations from speaking up, to love, work, friends etc. But the last couple of years I feel like I am a phoenix rising from the ashes who will no longer let her mafia mind bully her anymore!

  • http://www.jewelocean.com/ draniqa

    good lessons to overcome fear. thanks for sharing this ..

  • Rahul Pandey

    I am feeling very fearful these days. Maybe the ‘Mafia Mind’ is creating all this nuisance. I am getting rejection repeatedly in job interviews. I can’t figure out of all the people why it’s me who gets rejected even if the interview goes very well. This rejection streak has created a feeling of fearfulness in me. People are talking on my back that I’m not good enough and all that stuff. I don’t know what to do. How to overcome this feeling. Please help me. I’m in dire need of it.