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Posts tagged ‘fear’

The Fear of Inadequacy

Going from a belief “I am not good enough”….to “I am enough”

Yesterday I went a networking event at Hammersmith and Fulham Town Hall. As I approached the building I noticed a sense of fear and an urge to run away. It is a familiar feeling, one that comes up whenever I approach a social situation. I remember as a teenager going to eat lunch on my first day at sixth form. I bought soup and bread and found a table, sitting down alone. As I sat surrounded by people chatting to each other the trembling started. I couldn’t stop my body from shaking. Try as I did to get the soup to my mouth it just fell back into the bowl, my arm was shaking so much. The more this happened the more anxious I became that people would see and laugh. That was my last lunch in the canteen. I told myself that I wanted to study and it would make more sense to eat at my desk in the library. A Mars Bar became my lunch. For the following two years I hid in the library every lunch time.

I thought that was just an unhappy memory. But today I woke feeling sad with a sense of panic sweeping over me. As the day progressed this feeling hung over me like a fog. I started to be curious about why I was feeling this way and let my attention turn towards it.  As I did this I suddenly thought of how scared I felt as a teenager of going to school, how I feared being laughed at as inadequate by the other boys, how the days with sport would be preceded by a night crying myself to sleep at the thought of having to play football – not so much playing football, but the pain of once more going through the ignominy of being the last boy to be chosen for the team, seen as a hindrance and unwanted.

This fear of school, the desire to retreat to the safety of home, to be with mum where I could chat and talk at ease, this was the back drop to my teenage years. Today as I walked into my bedroom after doing a work out in the sitting room, returning to the computer to start some work, it struck me that as an adult I have made all my choices based on being able to live self-contained or to retreat from the world and to stay in a safe familiar place: home or the monastery, or a commune. Even as a teenager at school I used to hang out with a few friends in the school green house. It was our base, and meant I never had to go into the school canteen, or mix with the other boys during break times.

Now I’ve chosen to work as a mindfulness teacher, going out to organisations and venues, and this has certain challenges. Each time I approach a place to teach I notice the fear of being with people again and the desire to run away. The root of it is a fear that I will be inadequate in some way, that I will fail. I know from experience now that once I am in and teaching this limiting belief that I will fail falls away. In it’s place is a feeling of joy, ease and competence. But I have to walk through this invisible barrier to get to that experience.

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When I think of going out to teach what I feel is not a confidence that I will be competent and at ease, but a fear of failure. This is important, for as one of the speakers at yesterdays event said, the brain’s job is to keep us safe and out of danger. If there is a belief that going out into the world is dangerous, that I risk failure and ridicule then what is the brain going to do? It is not going to engage with imaginative ways to promote my services and put me in front of audiences, instead it will procrastinate, delay and practice avoidance strategies to ensure I get no effective work done. As one teacher put it, the brain is a “don’t get killed mechanism”, that’s its job. It is not a face your fear and learn from it mechanism. If there was knowledge that a sabre tooth tiger lived in a certain area the ancient human’s brain did not think “it will help me in my personal growth to face this fear and go to where the tiger is”. Instead the brain would find all means of taking you away from where the tiger was.

Now we live with psychological fears as much as real threats. But the brain works in the same way. Going to a networking event = danger. Socialising = fear. Appropriate action = withdraw from these interactions. Even after 12 years of going to the Friday 5 Rhythms dance group, I have to make myself go. The thought of going fills me with dread. But I know once I am there and start moving I will feel amazing. | have to tell my self it will be OK, and remind myself how good I’ve felt after other sessions. Mainly I just have to put on my coat and go out, telling myself to go rather than listen to the urge to stay safely withdrawn at home.

Earlier today I chatted about this with a friend, and it was very revealing that he has the same pattern. I wonder how many of us who grew up as gay boys and teenagers perhaps share some of this sense of fear, shame, feeling of inadequacy? And the compensating behaviour of thinking I have to be perfect to be liked or of value, as I feel I am of no value myself. With both of us we see how we hold ourselves back from succeeding in work due to a belief that we are not OK. We procrastinate, the brain holding us back from going out into work that we fear will show our inadequacy. But this procrastination feeds our sense of inadequacy as we see others thriving and succeeding.

I first thought to work as a corporate mindfulness coach in 2012. I might have been in the early phase of bringing mindfulness into organisations. But I sat in my room, dreaming of finding ways to teach in banks, law firms, corporates, offices. But taking no real action to make this happen. In the meantime others started to see the opportunity of mindfulness, acted on the experience they had and took action. I felt like the boy sitting at the side wanting to dance but fearing everyone would laugh. Then feeling frustrated as some got all the applause for their dancing!  I did set up the Monday group, but that took a friend three years of challenging and an intensive immersion in a self development programme to finally take the first step.

Talking with my friend today made me wonder how many of us there are who show our social face, saying we are fine, when behind our mask we are feeling inadequate, feeling fear, doubting our ability to succeed?

Today has not given me any solutions, so I am not able not offer that in this email. But it has shone a light on a habit pattern of thought that keeps me from acting on my intention to find new clients and be effective as a mindfulness teacher, or go out and socialise and meet people. Perhaps the simple phrase “I am enough” is one to ponder as I meditate. How would it feel to really believe that and act from a place of feeling ‘good enough’, rather than fearing “I am not perfect”?

Ruby Wax on Mindfulness

Today I’ve attached a talk by Ruby Wax.  I went to see her show when she was in London recently and this is an earlier version of it. She is a fantastic proponent of mindfulness as she does not fit the stereotype at all! I was at a mindfulness conference a few years ago where she was the final speaker.  All of the previous speakers had had an appropriate tone, demeanour and register – calm, softly spoken, speaking form stillness. Then Ruby Wax came on! A few people were late coming in as there had been a break and she looked at them and said “what the F…k, …..”and made a joke about being late! There’s an authenticity to her presentation as I feel the rawness of the place she is speaking from. She is not pretending to be fixed or to be free from the struggles and mental anguish that led to her depression. But she speaks eloquently of the pain and of how mindfulness provides her with a tool to be with it.

As a friend of mine once said of himself “I’m a mess in progress”. Sometimes it helps to hear from someone who is at ease with the mess that they are and is able to share form that place without their inner critic getting in the way and telling them to shut up and put on a good front. The sad thing in life is that we all show our Facebook personas to the world: happy, successful, full of fun and interesting activities. But this is only a part of our life and by this collective act of not sharing from the place where we struggle we are all left feeling that our dark place is a strange anomaly only felt by us. In fact it is what we all feel, it’s what unites us – the fear of our sense of lack, our fear of failure, the thoughts that say we are no good or are only of worth if we keep succeeding and being the best – it’s this that we all share and keep  hidden. The result is that we can feel so alone with this secret, and it’s a delight to hear someone like Ruby Wax openly laughing at it and showing how she found her way through by using mindfulness.

I hope you enjoy this, her humour is distinct and may not be for everyone but if you listen her overall message there’s a lot of learning in this half hour.

Social phobia and the fear of groups

As a teen and in my twenties I had an extreme phobia of talking in groups. I only felt safe talking to one other person. As soon as it was no longer a one-one interaction I felt overwhelmed by fear. Fear of being seen to be stupid, having nothing to say, being boring or unwanted.

As a teen I realised that nothing I thought or believed was unique to me: all that I thought and knew was learnt from what I had read or heard. And I started to feel that I was somehow not real, that whereas others were themselves I was just a construction of borrowed thoughts, beliefs and ideas. This made me fear speaking as I felt I had nothing genuine to say.

It was only on coming into contact with Buddhism that I started to realise that this sense of being no one was actually in line with Buddhist teaching and not a deficiency in my personality! According to Buddhist teachings we are all simply constructs of our social and cultural conditions and there is no soul or real self at the core of this. Instead there can be a waking up to the non-self, Awareness, the ‘isness’ of Being. Through my involvement with Buddhist groups I started to feel more comfortable in myself, but I still feared talking to more than one person. On study retreats I was known as the silent one! Everyone else would be jumping in with their thoughts and opinions in the study group and I would sit in silence, not knowing how to join in the conversation.

People who know me now know how ready I am to get into a conversation! Although I still feel a certain fear in public groups, I have learnt not to believe in this and to let go into the free fall of not knowing as I open my mouth and let a conversation start. One of my biggest lessons was realising that no matter what I do I will never be liked by everyone. The burden of wanting to be approved of by all I met was too much. In the end it seems we have to accept some will like us no matter what we do, some will arrive at a balanced view of us depending on our actions, and some will dislike us no matter what we do!! So why worry about the impression one is making when there are some who will disprove no matter how much we try!

Over the last 24 years I learnt to relax and let go of the fear of being in groups. I know how painful it can be and if you experience it I know it can feel as if it will never change. Please be reassured though, it’s simply a self view – and Buddhism teaches that all self-views are in the end empty of any truth, they are simply a story about ourself we choose to believe. The talk linked to at then d of this blog gives a profound invitation to let go of the story. You may connect with what the teacher says or it may seem too abstract. I hope it will give food for reflection. And that you can see that if someone who once couldn’t speak to more than one person at a time now happily sits and talks to a room full of 40 these things can change!

The most important part of learning to let go of my fear was to realise I didn’t have to get it all right, that making a mistake didn’t make me a mistake, and that it’s all right to simply have a go and seem to fail. It requires lots of Loving Kindness to oneself to let go of the negative scripts we may have constructed that we are no good, unlovable, not worthy. As we give this Loving Kindness to ourselves the internal judgements that look on so critically at our performance softens and we can start to accept, in the fantastic quote from a teacher I met in my early years of Buddhist practice, that we are simply “a mess in progress!”

Click here to goto the talk by Gangaji

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