No disrespect to Susan Jeffer’s classic book; Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. It’s good, but this strategy is even better. Much better.
I’ve figured out how to be fearless.
I was called “colorful” last week. “Thank you”, I responded. I’m putting my colorful-self and my colorful work out into the world. (I also get ‘quirky’ a lot, and I’ve been clinically diagnosed as ‘different’. I said thank you to that, also.)
My colorful work, for the most part, involves attaching stories to data. To be more specific; attaching my extremely personal stories to psychological data.
Stories + data = marketing.
The data is effective psychological strategies and tactics for good mental and physical health. I used these strategies to save my own life as well as others.
How I was both bullied and a bully
My stories include: How I was both bullied and a bully. How I escaped 14 years of abusive relationships. How I was looking for people to assault (preferably criminals). How I’m a recovering control freak. How I figured out I was lonely because I would reject people before they could reject me. Also, I did this because my family taught me I was defective. How my future ex-husband was still with his future first ex-wife when we became involved (I’m now his second ex-wife; not to be confused with his first or third).
Th loneliest feeling in the world
My extremely personal stories also include: How I’ve saved the lives of strangers but failed to stop my uncle killing himself. How, as a 19-year-old university-student under-performing dropout, I felt like a failure. And how that is the loneliest feeling in the world. How my personal experiences of stress, procrastination, under-performance, anxiety, depression, anger, and abuse gift me empathy for the pain of others. How I (sufficiently) overcame a fear of failure to return to university as a mature student and acquired a Ph.D.
So I’m sharing quite personal stories.
I attach my stories to psychological data for several reasons. I know personal stories help the psychological strategies stick – and if they stick, they work. They relieve pain. They provide an easier way of being in the world.
I also know that are not only are my stories tragically common, but that they only differ from others’ stories in the details.
Rejection. Heartbreak. Loneliness. Terror. Avoidance. Numbness. Sickness. Vulnerability. Connection. Re-connection. Love. Bullying.
I’m doing this because, just as Heidi Hackemer found when she shared her story of being assaulted and becoming strong, people recognize their stories in your stories. And then they realize that they are not alone.
And feeling lonely and disconnected – unconnected – has to be the most profoundly painful experience for such a profoundly social species as humans.
Several years ago I realized that in order to help us feel less alone, I was going to have to share my most excruciating stories. Those things I was scared people would find out? Those shamefull things I’ve done and haven’t done? Those things I desperately wish I could undo, but can’t? Those were the stories I had to put in the public arena. Where the haters are. Where the bullies are.
I knew the stories I least wanted to share would likely be the same ones that helped the most people.
I had anxiety attacks when I thought about it. I pushed through the fear. I reminded myself that this was bigger than me.
As I inched my work out of the closet, the anxiety episodes gradually became less frequent and weaker (aka ‘graded exposure therapy’ – good for fear phobias as well as arachnophobia).
Where existential anxiety lurks
But, sometimes, the anxiety was still there. Still deeply unpleasant. Like something’s gone badly wrong. Still exhausting.
As I was sick of the anxiety, and prefer to work with my brain’s own endogenous drugs, I was bitterly pleased I had no amphetamines lying temptingly around.
And then, about a month ago, I stumbled on the ultimate endogenous cure for fear.
You see, I’ve been bullied most of my life.
On the rare occasions no one else was bullying me, I’d pick up the slack and bully myself. As you do.
The two categories of ‘bully-talk’
Dr. Brené Brown handily summarizes both ‘self-bully-talk’ and ‘other-bully-talk’ into two categories:
“Who do you think you are!” and
“You’re not good enough!”
When I thought of putting my stories out into the world, my ‘go-to place’ was “What will they say? What will they do?” And, as ‘they’ are the bullies and the haters, the answer was always “nothing good”.
In fact, as charming as I am, I conservatively estimate at eight the number of people who hate my guts (not to be confused with the hordes who merely dislike me). And most of those eight have a bottomless capacity for vindictiveness. Which is a little anxiety-provoking.
Or it used to be.
I do appreciate a good useful epiphany. And, girl, did I get one.
Of course, the haters and the bullies were not just out in the public arena. They were in my workplace, my family, my home, and worst of all – of course – they’d infiltrated my head.
The bullies mistake
My epiphany was realizing my bullies had made a critical mistake. Most of the time they’d bullied me, I was just minding my own business.
That was it. Simple. Yes, putting myself and my work out there will attract extra wannabe bullies, but I know from bitter experience that playing small will not protect me from bullies.
To paraphrase Taylor Swift, I know the bullies gonna bully. Regardless of whether I play small or play big.
So. I’m making it worth my while.
Comment below: I’d LOVE you to share your fear-busting (or not) strategies for sharing your work and speaking out. Really. Fear of the haters is blocking the oxygen to too many vital, world-saving voices.
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