Reclaiming Your Fears

Published on November 24th, 2020

Updated on January 3rd, 2024

Reclaiming Your Fears

A friend once told me that fears are “paper tigers” and it took me a second to truly recognize the depth to that perspective. I can allow my fears to be untamed and larger with my imagination, or I can see it for what it is, right-sized and scary-looking, but harmless.

Paper is incredibly transformative. Paper is created from a tree and formed into whatever length or width needed. It comes in various flavors: countless hues and different textiles. Paper is viewed as a flimsy, weightless object.

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Tigers are seen as ferocious and wild cats. They are fear-evoking for the majority, just by looking at them from a distance. A paper tiger is what I have learned about fear. A paper tiger is aesthetically anxiety-inducing from a distance, until you see it for what it is: a feather-like and powerless.

It is kind of like a fear of the dark you may have had in childhood. You wake up in the middle of the night with the urgency to relieve yourself. You know you must get out of your bed, make it to the lightswitch that is seemingly miles away and turn the light on.

All of this really needs to happen within milliseconds, otherwise the monster under the bed will surely capture you. You take that courageous leap of faith and make it to the otherside of the bedroom, flip on the lightswitch and see that there is, in fact, no monster out to get you.

There are so many analogies that give away fear’s true identity. Fear is a make believe problem that excuses us from going after what we desire in life.

Fear keeps us from:

The list is endless. We all know how fear has held us hostage from any forward movement we want to make. The big questions are what does it mean to reclaim our fears and how do we do it?

The term “reclaim” is synonymous with subdue, tame or reform. These words are used to describe reclaim in the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary. Recall the paper tiger. With paper, we can reform it. We can reclaim it. We have control over what we do with it and how we respond to it. We do not have control over what may result in a situation, but we can take responsibility for our response to it.

Changing your perspective of fear is the first step. You do not have to take it in as truth, that fear is this over-powering, ominous enemy of yours. Fear alerts us when there is potential for peril, but can also take on too strong of a role and tell us to fear more than what is necessary. That is when the logic of seeing the “paper tiger” for what it is, can be helpful.

When we notice that fear is present, we get to talk to it like a friend. It is the polar opposite to our initial thought of immediately wanting to rid ourselves of the fear. By befriending fear and allowing it to be present with us, helps to right-size it, which leads to our reclamation.

Internal Family Systems is a model of therapy that introduces parts of ourselves. The many parts hold titles like:

These positions are responsible for reacting to what fears surface for us. The goal is to sit these parts around the table and tell them to behave, in a kind-loving way, of course. It is only when our adult selves can take a stand and run the show, can fear have a lunch break.

Some people picture this as a committee circumventing a conference table or a school bus full of the parts of us. You can use what works for you. When you can tease yourself apart from that of fear and other emotions, then you can understand what the reclamation of fears looks and feels like. It is truly liberating and will help you feel like your life is more manageable.

The next time you see a paper tiger, remember to allow it to be there with you. The basic act of acceptance offers up space for reclamation. We get to decide what fills our minds, hearts and bodies. From where I stand, filling up with the power and control over our emotions is far more empowering. It is far more empowering than the build up of fear that typically past our time and energy.

Moving forward, know that the ball is in your court. You get to talk to those parts of you that need some love and support. You get to command those not-so-helpful parts of you to take a backseat and let yourself steer the direction you wish to go.

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