“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” ~Jack Canfield
Buried deep within the broken heart of every great loss is a nugget of wisdom. I experienced the greatest grief of my life just a few months ago, and with it came an opportunity to uncover ugly truths about myself I’d been hiding from.
In facing my pain, I have discovered that underneath the conscious, big-hearted, beautiful person that I am lives a small girl who is terrified of being misunderstood and abandoned by those she loves most.
The surface signs alerting me to these fears looked something like this:
My boyfriend and I are lying in bed reading one night. His mind is lit up in fiction while my soul is on fire with a spiritual book. We have often shared these evenings with one another, smiling and supportive.
This night I want more. I want him to be as excited about this chakra healing book as I am. I want him to crawl into my body and feel everything I’m feeling and see everything the way I’m seeing it.
I think he can feel me wanting more, and it freaks him out. He energetically hides in the bushes, further away than I’ve ever felt him go, and I panic.
The warning signs that go off in my body read: IF HE DOESN’T GET THIS HE IS GOING TO LEAVE YOU. DO YOU HEAR ME?! YOU ARE GOING TO END UP ALONE.
I don’t actually hear those words, I just feel a need to push my feelings onto him and basically tell him he’s wrong for not feeling the way I do. He looks at me with big, helpless eyes and responds:
“I think it’s okay that we’re different.”
I stare blankly back at him while an inner struggle ensues. I can feel my ego fighting. It wants to win. It wants him to see things my way. It wants to be right. It wants him to be just like me.
But I know better.
I move from my head to my heart, and I know it’s okay that we are different. What is important is that we love each other, respect each other, and support each other. So I melt into his arms with a smile, an apology, and a “You’re right.”
But I don’t let him be right. That night I do, but every incident after that I don’t. And he never says it again. He never reminds me that it’s okay that we’re different.
So the other times, later on, when he doesn’t see things the same way as me, the warning signals go off, and no one reminds me that it’s okay. So I panic, and I spin the fear into all kinds of stories that justify me bullying him into being like me. All because I’m afraid he is going to leave me.
And he did leave me.
There are many ways I could tell the Leaving Me story, but the truth is that it’s as complicated as human beings are. One part of it, the part I take responsibility for and the part I’m focusing on here, is that I fought his perspectives that were different from my own, leading him to feel like he couldn’t be himself with me.
I did this because I was afraid to lose him. I was afraid that if we were different in some big ways maybe we wouldn’t make it. I felt safe when we were agreeable and felt unsafe when his thoughts differed from mine.
But I was safe. I am always safe. A part of me knows this, but the part of me that comes to life when the fear arises is the part of me that needs a reminder. I didn’t know I needed to be reminded at the time. I didn’t even know I was doing it at the time.
But now I know. I just needed those simple words, “It’s okay.”
It’s okay that we’re different.
He is someone who doesn’t know how to fight for himself. It’s not something I understood about him at the time, but I see it now.
I am strong in my conviction. I am forthright. I speak my feelings decisively and with ease. He sweats and stutters, but mostly he shuts down.
I suspect he shuts down because he is afraid. He is afraid of losing himself, but really he is afraid that I won’t love him for who he truly is. He doesn’t trust that he can speak up, that he can challenge me, that he can tell me it’s okay and that I’ll believe him.
The tragedy is that I don’t know it. Neither of us knows it, really. We’re blind to our shadows, only seeing our own reflections after we’re over.
I don’t know he is shutting down because he’s scared, and I don’t know I am trying to make him see things my way because I’m afraid. It’s all this delicate dance that happens backstage, until one day he tells me he doesn’t feel like he can be himself with me, and everything comes crumbling down.
You might be thinking that we were too different, and maybe the truth is that I should be with someone who can share my excitement about chakras. I don’t know.
I do know I loved him more deeply than I’ve ever loved.
I know that our relationship was the healthiest, most beautiful relationship I’ve ever experienced.
I know that I messed up by not letting him be him completely, and I know that he messed up by not sharing his true feelings with me.
That is a lesson, yes. But there is a deeper lesson, and it’s a lesson about fear.
I acted controlling because his differences triggered my fear of abandonment, a nerve that runs all the way through my heart and back into my childhood. The irony isn’t wasted on me that my reaction to my fear inevitably created the very thing I was attempting to avoid. And that is the lesson.
When we act from fear we begin our journey to the guillotine.
Fear hides behind many guises, ruining plenty of love lives.
We’re afraid we’re unworthy of love, so we push our partner away when things get too intimate. We’re afraid to be abandoned, so we try to control the relationship or smother our partner. We’re afraid we won’t be accepted as we are, so we don’t show our true selves.
We act from fear when we’re too busy to pay attention, when we’re too stressed to slow down, when we make assumptions instead of asking questions. The very thing we are afraid of often becomes our reality when we live from our fears. It’s an act of self-sabotage.
Relationships are a beautiful opportunity to see ourselves more clearly, but we each have to be looking. You have to be willing to see you, and your partner must be willing to see them. And this all needs to move very slowly, very delicately, and very lovingly. It’s the way we make it through.
Fear has a million different faces, but your soul always knows the way. When you feel your body tense, when your voice rises, when you begin to shut down, when you begin to explode, when you run away, when you shake with anxiety, your body is telling you.
Slow down in those moments. Breathe. Let your breath open you up into the vulnerable space of love, and let it cocoon you until you can step out from that place.
Tell your partner all about it. Tell them about your fears, your discovery of your fears, and how they can help you through it. But don’t put it all on them. This is your work, and this is a practice, one that you have to keep coming back to over and over again.
You might need some gentle nudges along the way. It’s okay to be different. But if you keep showing up, and if you continue to be willing to see the truth about yourself you will break through the boundary of fear and into the heart of love.