“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.”
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
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/.