TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual abuse
Fear is one heck of a powerful emotion and I used to let it rule my life in massive, massive ways. I overcame it though, continue to do so and have learnt that taking steps towards fear is the bravest and most rewarding thing you can do in life.
I first learnt about fear as a child, playing in my garden with a kitten, unbeknownst to me, a man was watching me through the fence. The moment I looked up and saw him indecently exposing himself to me, fear took over my life.
The area I grew up in wasn’t safe and this wouldn’t be the last time I would meet the local paedophile.
Children try to make sense of the world and to make sense of this situation I blamed myself.
I shouldn’t have been in my garden playing, I shouldn’t have been riding my bike in front of my house, I shouldn’t have been walking with a friend on the underpass.
The only way I could keep myself safe was to be extra cautious, extra vigilant, extra fearful. I slowly began needing the light on as I slept, somebody to be in a room with me at all times, my Mum to be at my side always.
Fear ruled me and it made it impossible to live. I was always terrified and it was exhausting.
Eventually, I went to a child therapist and the lessons I learnt there saved my life. Not just then but now and will for the rest of my life. I learnt how to overcome the most crippling, life destroying fear and I am always thankful that I learnt those techniques at such a young age.
Whenever I have got to a point where fear is ruling me, telling me I can’t do something, that I am not enough, I use the same techniques I used at such a young age to wrestle fear into submission.
So, if you want to overcome a certain fear in your life then check out these lessons I still use in my life today and see if you can implement any of them in your life.
You are in control
The scariest thought for me was that someone was going to force me to overcome my fear by throwing me in the deep end, and that thought was terrifying, crippling and overwhelming.
I learnt that anything I did or didn't do was up to me. I was in charge and I was safe.
I would choose whether I would tackle my fear, I would decide when and how and I could change my mind at any point.
Knowing that fact eased that feeling of spiraling out of control and enabled me to take positive steps forward.
Take little manageable steps
I was maybe 7 or 8 years old when I was targeted by that paedophile and the thought of being able to sleep without the light on or have a bath without my Mum keeping watch was an impossible reality.
I thought it could never happen, it was just too scary.
And that’s ok.
You don’t have to go after a fear by exposing yourself to it fully. You can take tiny steps that aren’t overwhelming.
How that worked for me was to start out by being in a room alone as my Mum stood just outside the open door for 10 seconds. It was so damn scary, but I managed it, I lived.
We would take a break and then try a little more time, each second feeling like a lifetime
Before long I could be alone in a room for 5 minutes, 20 minutes, an hour…indefinitely. The fear was washed away and I could barely remember feeling it.
How can you take bite sized steps towards your fear?
Can you make a plan of easy steps to take first and leave the harder things until you feel more comfortable? Plan a route for yourself with tiny steps forward.
It’s ok to go backwards
Sometimes we would try something and it would become too much, I wasn’t ready and would panic.
It would cause all those feelings of fear wash through my brain and I would become afraid again of things I had recently conquered.
Overcoming fear can be a tremendously exhausting pursuit. Sometimes you need to take time away from it, sometimes you need to recharge in a comfortable place.
Be kind and patient with yourself as you overcome complex and powerful emotions.
Keep note of how you feel
After each attempt of trying something new I would write in a special notebook what I did, how I felt and how scared I was on a scale of 1 to 10.
It was easy to forget previous progress that I had made, but looking back at earlier entries gave me perspective on how far I had come.
It also helped me identify areas that still affected me so I could target them.
Move towards fear
It is only natural to want to hide away from fear and hope it will either go away or you won't have to deal with it.
Truth be told, you don’t have to deal with all fears you have if you don’t want to.
For example, are you scared of spiders but hardly ever come in contact with them so it doesn't affect your life? Then don’t worry about it.
But what if you were afraid of flying and your dream job meant international travel? Then I would suggest that that would be a great fear to overcome so that you are able to live a life you love.
When you have identified a fear, then move towards it, learn about it, take steps to come into contact with it.
If for example you fear public speaking then why not start with just speaking to your mirror in the bathroom, then in front of friends, then to a very small audience… and before you know it, you’ll be speaking comfortably to hundreds or thousands of people!
You are capable
You may think that only brave people overcome fear, or really confident people, or people that have a skill or personality trait that you don't.
The truth is, all types of people overcome fears every day, they are just people who have decided that life would be better if they took action.
You can be that person too, just remember that courage isn’t the absence of fear, it’s feeling that fear and choosing to do it anyway.
The start will always be the hardest as you may not know how powerful you already are, but you are wildly powerful and if I did it, then you can too.
What happened next?
The police were called; a report was made.
The man exposed himself to other children.
He was never caught.
A few years later a girl was raped in the same underpass that I was targeted in.
I don’t know if it was the same man but I’ve always believed it was.
The rapist was never caught.
I chose to focus on getting stronger even if this monster was still out there.
Today when I feel fear I calmly know that I can overcome it, that I am powerful beyond measure and nothing can stop me. You know what; nothing can stop you either.
If you have experienced a traumatic event that has led you to struggle with PTSD or any other serious conditions please seek professional help from a therapist or doctor. You don't have to deal with this alone.
I have used the British spelling of paedophile versus the North American version (pedohphile).
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