There is a simple rule in personal development, and it is this:
In order to make yourself a better person, you have to confront whatever it is you fear the most.
What you fear in the world, and what you fear inside yourself are the greatest molding forces you will encounter. Walking side by side with you throughout your life, these fears contain you within limitations and choose the person that you not just become, but the person you believe you are.
These fears either work with you or against you. And right now – they’re probably not on your side.
Consider these two questions, and truly give thought to the answers:
- What is your highest aspiration of being – is this not where you are free from fear and anxiety and suffering, and can live and achieve whatever material goals you pursue?
- What is your worst aspiration of being – is this not where you fears and anxieties and suffering have consumed and imprisoned you?
Now either reality is possible, the division between them exists in the division between how you relate to your own fear. Are you imprisoned by it or are you its master?
This relationship with fear is central to the human experience. Through our stories, we demonstrate the vital lesson of life – the hero who leaves the known to confront the unknown. This is the story of how we better ourselves and grow so that we can return and better help others.
This departure from the known to known is, as referred to by Joseph Campbell, called the Crossing of the Threshold. This, whilst interesting from a storytelling perspective, holds little value when applying it to our own lives. After all, how do we spot the threshold? Where is it? What does it look like? What does it feel like?
In terms of practical wisdom, it offers none.
But what are stories if not reflections of our own inner world. And what is the threshold other than the division between what we are comfortable with, and what makes us afraid? Crossing the threshold then is an act of confronting our fear. Therein lies the internal heroism.
In Jungian thought, this is known as confronting the shadow. The unknown part of our psyche that is home to the parts of us we wish to hide from the world and wish to deny about ourselves.
In my own life, this was a sense of unworthiness in relation to other people – which fed into social and sexual shame. To confront this meant I had to first acknowledge it was there, and then do whatever it was that that sense of unworthiness told me I could not do. I had to confront my fear, which was typically represented by women and relationships. Where it said no, I had to reply yes – and through that discussion, I allowed that fear to enter my life, and join with my identity. Instead of existing outside of me, as something I fled, it existed within me, as something I used as a map towards healing myself.
The parts we fear about ourselves, that we deny, flee or avoid, are in fact the exact thing that needs to be confronted in order to reach our highest ideal. These are the elements of ourselves that we need to bring into the fold.
And we only bring them into the fold, when we take the actions they are trying to prevent us from taking.
To become ourselves, we must confront ourselves.
This is the hero’s journey of your own soul. And each step you take across that threshold with you is a step closer to integrating your shadow, healing the divides within, and achieving what it is you strive for.
This is not something that can be achieved by reading, by working around the problem, or by thinking – it can only be achieved by doing.
What I’m saying is: be like this cat.
EVOLUTION OF FEAR
As men, our fears will often manifest in the form of anxiety with women. As with heterosexual women, we are designed by nature to pursue and desire the opposite sex. Herein lies the anxiety – whether you’re struggling with fear of failing at being successful, or fear of being inherently unloveable and destined to be alone – both of these fears originate in that simple animal understanding; that life is geared around mating, and mating is a competition, one that you can lose.
This simple anxiety is why everyone wants to be more attractive and more successful. It is no different than a flower evolving to have a more alluring display of petals or a lion to have a more handsome mane and powerful muscles. But as humans, these simple anxieties become mixed with our self-awareness, and become narratives about ourselves, our worth, and ultimately, our destinies. And this can cause us a lot of pain; pain we flee from.
But we cannot flee from it.
Now, to be clear, when I refer to the parts of yourself you deny. I’m not saying it’s as simple as ‘I’m afraid of approaching women, therefore I must approach them.’ No, what I’m saying is that there is a reason you’re afraid approaching women, and that must be confronted, one of the ways being through the act of approaching them.
Confronting fear is more than just acting despite it, it’s understanding where it comes from, it’s exploring it. Or more simply, it’s developing a relationship with your own soul.
There is a reason you fear failure. There is a reason you don’t think you can succeed. There is a reason you feel unloveable, unlikeable and unworthy – and this central, infantile fear is the root cause that you must confront. Through pain, struggle, and suffering, or you will never be whole.
This is a constant, endless process. It is not a band-aid solution, that will mend you forever, it is a constant process of making the decision to confront the central fear within your own soul. Because ultimately, that is how you want to live.
And as the hero teaches us, that is what it means to be a man.
DROWNING IN THE UNCONCIOUS
When you don’t confront your fear, your let your sense of responsibility for your life run on autopilot. Your beliefs and values, far from being your own, are in fact agents that are acting from a seat of unconsciousness – or more simply, puppeteered by the shadow.
It is often said, for instance, that if you choose to believe women only like tall men, that you’ve got bad, self-limiting beliefs. It is also said, that if you value material pleasure above all else, you have poor values because you’re not prioritizing your true happiness.
Both statements presuppose that holding a value or belief is as simple as choosing either or – but if you look at your own life, is this really the case? Are not our beliefs simply the manifestation of something already felt?
It’s not a simple case of replacing one belief with another because beliefs and values are held because of the way we feel – the two go hand in hand. And when we hold negative beliefs about the world and ourselves, we hold them because there’s something about ourselves that we are ashamed and afraid of.
The longer we continue to try and protect ourselves from our fear, the longer we submit ourselves to our beliefs and values to be chosen for us by our fear-born emotions. They are, in essence, more brickwork added to our protective castle. But what may seem to be a castle, is in a fact a prison. One where we will never change, and will never grow.
Don’t stay within the walls – face your fears, face yourself and escape.