Being in love can be frightening, and feelings of fear might threaten to undermine your happiness. However, you may be surprised to discover just how much you can learn about yourself and your needs by considering the roots of your fears. Further, once you understand what is driving your anxiety then you can begin to tackle it and stop it from controlling your relationships.
Engaging with your fear
Working with fear first requires you to think about the specific thoughts you have about love. For example, you might be scared to even take any steps towards dating, you may feel nervous butterflies in your stomach when you think of asking anyone out, or you could find yourself consumed by anxiety when you are actually on a date. Alternatively, the thought of falling in love may terrify you, or you might live in fear of passion fading as you spend more time with someone.
Write down all the fears you have about love, however small or large they seem. Looking at the list, try to identify any unifying features. Are you clearly frightened of rejection? Is commitment phobia a key theme? By externalizing your fears and examining them in this way, you are already starting to take more control of the situation instead of letting fear remain elusive and suffocating.
The roots of your fear
Once you have put your fears into words, you can learn huge amounts of information about yourself by spending some time looking at the origins of these fears. Although fears can feel cruelly inhibiting, consider that each and every one of them is actually a defense mechanism that your subconscious has put in place in order to protect you. It’s important to think about exactly what your fears are trying to protect you from, and how these coping mechanisms developed.
For example, many of your defenses may have their roots in childhood, when you first learned how to deal with feelings of hurt or rejection. Can you think of an incident or a series of incidents that might have triggered the fears you have now? What types of romantic relationships did you see when you were young? What did the relationship between your parents teach you about love and reasons to fear love?
You may also benefit from looking to your early romantic experiences for further clues, as adolescent experiences of love can be both deeply exciting and horribly painful. Ask yourself whether you might be overgeneralizing and assuming that each of your experiences with love will conform to a previous pattern you’ve seen in your life. All of these exploratory questions help you get to grips with the roots of your fears, disempowering and demystifying them.
You can use everything that you have learned about the nature and origin of your fears to come up with an appropriate battle plan for facing these demons. In many cases, just knowing why you are afraid can help you to act differently. For example, if you realize that you have unconsciously felt driven to avoid commitment because the relationship between your mother and father taught you that all long term relationships lack passion, you can acknowledge that there are different relationship possibilities out there.
When your fears come from adult life as opposed to early assumptions, it can be slightly harder to undermine negative beliefs because you know they are based on your concrete experiences as opposed to (for example) family myths. The trick is to actively go against fear, thereby proving to yourself that you can withstand the consequences and that you are strong enough to cope with the anxiety.
Most people find it easiest to start with small changes when it comes to facing fear. If dating has terrified you, for example, take a deep breath and arrange to have drinks with someone who seems nice but is not necessarily ‘the one’ for you. This date will give you a chance to increase your social confidence and provide an opportunity to differentiate between the frightening fantasy and the far less dramatic reality.
Further, if your negative feelings about love tend to kick in when you are moving towards a committed relationship, don’t forget that you can choose to share these anxieties with the other person. Using the links between your past and present that you have discovered, explain your fears in an honest and reasonable way that makes it clear your feelings are in no way a negative judgment of your partner.
Bringing fear out into the open like this is can be another effective way of diffusing its power and preventing it from undermining your relationship. When you disclose your fears and emphasize that you want to change, you and your partner can work together to create a safe, rewarding dynamic that is vastly different from the negative picture that has haunted your imagination.