Narrative Shifting in the Face of Fears
In our current Covid-19 laden reality, fears of the actual virus can be compounded by even greater fears of the impact in this crisis. I am personally facing fears around money and income, my children and their ability to socialize or get exercise, potentially limited access to food and resources, my own mental health in the face of isolation, and simply this feeling that I am alone. Fears like this are normal and natural and I know that we are all balancing legitimate fears with the tangential ones that can take over.
As a narrative therapist my work is learning to separate “problems” from identity, externalize these problems, understand how they impact us and ways that we can create agency to manage them. In this case, fear has the power to impact my life negatively if I let it. It could stop me from buying groceries, caring properly for my children, even keep me in a state of paralysis. Are there ways of turning our fears around to work for us? Can we take a different approach to manage our stories around what is happening around us?
I want you to think about your own life at this moment. Are you feeling scared, fearful, or overwhelmed? Maybe you have already reached a point of panic or paralysis? If it’s possible for you to do without becoming extremely overwhelmed, consider writing down or naming your specific fears as I have done above.
This is a practice I created about a year ago and it’s helped me through many struggles. It’s basically a fear inventory, beginning two columns on a sheet of paper. In the first column, I write all of these fears, in a stream of conscious, let it all out, who cares what it is kind of way. Sometimes I am even surprised to acknowledge I am having certain fears.
I already acknowledged some of my fears related to the pandemic, but there are more. I’m also scared of not having intimacy again (I’m recently separated and in the middle of a divorce). I’m afraid of being stuck in Germany and unable to return to the U.S. You can see how if I let my mind go, there are often hidden, unacknowledged fears. That’s okay, just write them down. Try to write in the most specific ways possible.
In the next column I take a two-pronged approach. I answer my fears directly in one or both of these ways.
1) Do I have control over this?
2) Is there anything I can do about this right now?
For example, if my fear is that I will be alone, do I have control over being alone? Not really, I have to quarantine. Is there anything I can do? Yes, I can call people, reach out, join Zoom meet ups, and fine ways to connect. Sometimes there isn’t something you can do directly, but you can also find ways that might mitigate the impact. You are thinking of positive ways to influence your feelings around the fear. Regarding money. I would say, to the first question, a lot of us are facing economic pain and in some ways there is nothing we can do about the global financial crisis. I can let go of the greater problem, but also, there are some things I can do. I can look for more freelance work. I can continue to reach out to clients.
This writing exercises always gives me perspective. On the one hand, it allows me to let go of the things that are out of my control. It also allows me to be creative around how to face and handle my fears. If you want to go further, you can also consider the ways in which fear as a problem in and of itself might have a negative impact. What would you prefer? Considering preferred modalities is also beneficial in shifting your fear narratives. For example:
1) If I wasn’t feeling fear, how would I behave or act?
2) What feeling would I prefer to have over fear at this moment?
3) What things can I do to achieve that feeling?
If the opposite of fear for you is serenity or acceptance, what can you do today to achieve that feeling. What has helped you in the past to achieve that feeling? This isn’t where I come in with a blanketed answer and tell all of you that you need to meditate. It’s about coming up with specific ways that YOU are met with comfort. That could be playing with your children, watching Netflix, or making a cup of tea.
Maybe the opposite of fear for you is not serenity, maybe it is bravery. What can you do today that is brave? All of these answers will be personal, but it’s helpful to think about how we can shift our narrative to motivate ourselves into different modes of action. There are many ways that shifting our narrative can be helpful to face fears and that starts with being very honest about the fact that we have a running narrative, that it is influenced by the media, our friends, and other cultural constructs, but also that we have the power to deconstruct these narratives.
If you would like to work with me in narrative sessions around fear, anxiety or troubling thoughts, please contact me. I am also happy to help you understand the benefits of narrative in your own life.