Fear is a powerful motivator, but it’s a pretty lousy guide. Living in Colorado I’ve had the privilege of hiking in the Rocky Mountains. You don’t get very far on a trail before you come across a sign that states, “You Are Now In Bear Country!” This is followed by a list of rules for survival. One rule on the list states, “If you see a bear DO NOT RUN.” The experts know that I cannot outrun a bear. They also know that if I run, I could trigger a “chase response” in the bear and end up with the very thing I don’t want—a bear breathing down my neck!
The same is true in relationships. When my primary motivation is fear, very likely I’m about to do something that points me in the wrong direction. In fact, it may be leading me to the very thing I don’t want. It’s a great time to ask the question, “What would happen if I didn’t do what fear wants me to do right now?”
I’ve seen fear prompt behaviors that are harmful to relationships. Calling and leaving seventeen messages in an hour is usually fear-based. Interrogating your spouse for 40 minutes when they are 20 minutes late is usually fear-based. Checking phone records, putting a tracking device in the car, breaking into email accounts, hiding money in a secret stash—these are all usually fear-based behaviors that often backfire.
Fear-based relating is as old as, well, Adam and Eve! The Bible states in Genesis 3:10 that after they had eaten the forbidden fruit, Adam said to God, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” Fear has been a hindrance to relationships ever since!
So what should we do about fear? First, realize that you’re going to feel afraid at times, that’s normal. But we can choose to respond differently to our own fear by asking, “What would I be doing if I had no fear right now?” The bear experts tell us, “Do not run! Make yourself look bigger. Back away slowly. Speak gently! Look for rocks and sticks to defend yourself if the bear charges.” In other words, act differently than you feel.
The next time you are triggered to react out of fear, DO NOT RUN! Instead, have a plan to respond differently and increase your chance of success.
You can do this!