How to stop the fear factor from limiting our growth.
By Rubani Sethi
“Once I identified my anxiety about disappointing my parents, I was able to detach from it. I realised I had to take responsibility for my life. My parents might be upset, they might not. I had no control over that. I could only make decisions based on my own values,” says Jay Shetty.
I decided to write this piece because I was inspired by Jay’s podcast, On Purpose – “6 Refreshing Ways to Cope With Anxiety & Stop Fear From Stopping You,” where he talks about the different types of fear many of us face, and how to use them to motivate us towards what we want, which can ultimately lead us to peace and happiness.
The truth is we all have fears and how we deal and cope varies greatly from person to person. Whether our fears are self-taught, learned through experiences or interactions with friends, or passed down through family members, the fears we hold can range from being useful in protecting us and keeping us vigilant, to no longer serving a purpose beyond existing in the present situation.
From personal experience, when growing up, fear was something that always held me back. Now as an adult, and a counsellor in training, it has been vital for me to reflect back on my life and figure out where I learned these fears and why I developed them, especially because some served no purpose beyond holding me back from many opportunities.
Through this reflection, it really got me thinking about how fear shapes who we are, particularly the existence of fear in Indian households. Kirat Kogar, one of the contributors to this piece, helped me answer this: “Fear definitely exists in your stereotypical Indian household. I find that a lot of us are scared of being judged and often base our decisions on what others may think.
A question we often ask ourselves is, ‘What will people say or think about this?’ This question forms the foundation for other fears, such as staying out past a certain time, or being taught to never argue back if we are younger. Indian households may be afraid to accept new ideas and often find comfort in old belief systems.
As a result, younger generations are finding it harder to seek help, express their worries or ask for support, which can definitely lead to more mental health issues within our community. In the spirit of Pride Month, an example of this is the fear young adults have about opening up about their sexual orientation. The fear of judgment, and how their families will be affected, may cause the hesitancy to express themselves.
Now, although our community is adapting and is becoming more aware of mental health and its existing stigmas, some members still have a harder time shifting from a certain frame of mind and this can cause a drift between them and their children.”
To further explore what kind of fears can be found in Thai-Indian households, I asked community members to share the fears they hold; where they believe they learned them from; whether their fears are logical and useful, or do they limit them and dictate their decision- making; and finally, how they have worked to overcome them.
Fear of failure
The age that I discovered this – In my twenties
Most of us don’t view fear in a positive light. Whether it be something minor or major; fears if not confronted can hold us back, like my fear of failure. In my case, this fear had subconsciously stopped me from doing things that could have helped me progress towards achieving my goals.
This concealed fear of mine surfaced when I moved away from home to study in Australia. During the course of my degree, I began working early and started gaining valuable work skills. By the time I had graduated I had significant experience working a respectable 9-5 job that I enjoyed. However, as time went by, I realised that working for someone else was not the life I wanted, nor was it something I grew up familiar with as I was born and raised in Phuket, and my parents would work far beyond the typical 8-hour workday for their own business and their success grew as a result of their hard work.
Entering my mid-twenties, I had this fear of not being as successful and independent as my parents. I have been fortunate to grow up in a household where I was not pressured or held back from pursuing my passions. However, I still subconsciously created the pressure of needing to be as successful as them and to one day be able to give my children the life I had growing up. This fear still exists; however, I have been able to accept it as a challenge rather than a restriction and direct my energy to help me progress in life as opposed to holding me back.
Fear of change
The age I discovered this – 10
Drawing from my own personal experience, while I was growing up I relied a lot on my parents when making decisions because I had a fear of change and trying new things. It didn’t feel safe for me to make decisions as the outcomes were unknown. It could have been the simplest of things like, “Do I get on a bike or should I take the car out today” or more difficult decisions like, “Should I study psychology or business in university?”. I realised that I wanted to feel safe, secure, and protected in the choices I had to make, to make sure they were ‘right.’ And, in a way, maybe to even control the outcome of my different experiences.
Being the youngest out of my family members I grew up very overprotected and sheltered. I noticed that my family always wanted to keep me safe, and made sure I was never in any danger. I would hear some fear-based phrases like, “don’t get on the bike, it is not safe, you could fall off” or “make sure to not walk on the streets on your own, it is not safe” or even “this career choice would benefit your life in the future as it brings stability and security”.
I always felt rescued and provided with assistance even without asking for support. It was a special feeling to feel secure, safe, and protected while growing up, however, as I grew older, I understood how I may have picked up on my family’s fears and carried them on within myself. I noticed that I learnt this fear very early on as a child, so by the age of 10, I became more hesitant to try new things and was more uncertain in new social situations.
This fear can definitely cause limitations in life as I take more time to make my decisions and try to over-plan so that I am content enough with the outcome. A lot of times when I make my decisions based on fear I find myself learning less, feeling more anxious, and overall stressed. When I make decisions based on this fear, I find myself avoiding creating positive change, having extreme anxiety over what might happen in the future, and find it harder to accept life changes that are within or outside my control.
I find myself attending less social events and tend to feel nauseous when I think about change. Although my decisions keep me in my comfort zone, I find myself having less opportunities to grow from and I feel sometimes unhappy with my choices.
The only time this fear is useful is it keeps my mind active on how to keep myself safe during challenging situations. For example, if there is an emergency, to know how to get out of a building in case of a fire, or not to walk alone at night in dimly lit areas, moreso, being mindful of my environment.
When I decided to change my mentality and the way I looked at the world I was able to slowly adapt into trying new things as well as learning more about myself in this process. To help me cope with this fear I tried a few things such as: following my heart and the decisions that made me feel happy, allowing myself to make mistakes so I can learn and grow, setting goals in what I want to accomplish and how I can get there, using positive self-talk every time I felt self-doubt, avoiding avoidance, and journalling my thoughts and writing down my fears.
Moreover, I understood that if I felt scared of a decision that I had to make, it was often the right one to make. When I learned to trust myself more, I began making the right decisions for myself. Take a risk because if you live in fear, you’ll never be able to push yourself to grow.
Fear of failure
The age that I discovered this – 22
The fear of failure can make it scary to take the leap. We live in a community where almost everyone knows each other, and so to some extent we all trip on how others perceive us. I think this brings about a fear of failure.
I don’t think I’ve overcome this fear in every situation but in the ones that I have (more work-related), I like to embrace fear and call it a ‘part of my story’ that I can one day look back at and see how far I’ve come along. I like to tell myself that no human in this world has a 100 percent track record, so it’s okay to fall, because everyone does. Failure creates experience and experience brings results (I swear I didn’t Google that [Laughs]).
I believe fear exists in a stereotypical Indian household, but I think parents are a lot more understanding and open to adapting in Thailand compared to what I’ve seen in India. It’s either that or children don’t listen to their parents at all. This could be a debate of its own [Laughs]. I think we are privileged to have been able to grow up in a country like Thailand where we have the freedom to choose who we want to be as we are exposed to a diversity of cultures, so I think the majority of the household fears we hold are based around our safety and wellbeing.
Fear of communication
The age that I discovered this – around 5-6
I was lucky to be raised in a household that is open-minded, but deep down there is a fear that has been instilled in all of us, the fear of communication. As someone who is passionate about psychology, I believe that being able to express one’s feelings, bad or good, will give you relief. It was always a contradiction for me when I’ve been taught from a young age to always keep what goes on at home and your personal life private; happy moments, sad moments, and everything in between. I used to always listen to my international friends complain about how their mom forgot to buy their favourite groceries or how their parents would argue, or even how they shared a conversation about having partners.
Though most of us know that this fear came from a good place, I couldn’t help but think about the amount of stress one must hold to not be able to speak of their troubles to the people they are close to. I for one have experienced that and it took me a lot of unlearning the fear to be able to start talking about my personal life to others, and I still sometimes have the fear come back.
It is very important that we know this fear exists, a lot of people have been shutting themselves off for not wanting to share how they really feel. We need to let people know that it is okay for them to share what’s going on, it is okay to let someone in, and to start slow. My mum would always make sure I knew that I could talk to her about anything and that was the beginning of I unlearnt this fear, I started slow.
KIRAT KOGAR adds: “I think one way to tackle these fears within a household is honest communication. To communicate and ask our family members to explain the circumstances or why things go a certain way instead of limiting and using fear to make decisions. One way is to explain the situation instead of starting the phrase with “don’t…”
Other ways you can create safe spaces and approach a topic positively is by:
- Being an active listener and make sure you understand why you are being advised to do things a certain way
- Speaking to your loved ones in a clear, respectful and considerate way to accommodate our needs
- Address your concerns with a problem- solving approach
- Definitely keeping a positive attitude for working together
- Keeping your expectations realistic on what can be done at home
- Talk about the concerns and communicate your positive experiences
- Lastly, by reflecting on how you feel and how they may feel in each situationthat arises.
When you show your family that you value their experiences, ideas and opinions and take their concerns seriously, they are also more open to understanding your viewpoint and therefore, can be more open to your needs.”
As a counsellor in training, Jay Shetty’s podcast proved useful in helping me understand the roots of my personal fears and as well how to help my clients accept their fear and acknowledge its presence.
There are many things you can do to overcome your fear and not let it consume you, whether it is reaching out to professionals who can help guide you through your fears to understanding the root cause to apply the appropriate intervention, or taking some down time to self-reflect to look back and see where these fears come from and what you can do to help yourself overcome this fear to not let it limit you and dictate your decisions.
Fear exists in all of us and I hope this relatable piece motivates all of you to reflect on the things that scare you the most, why they exist, and what you can do about it. To start, I definitely recommend you listen to Jay’s podcast, particularly his six refreshing ways to cope with anxiety and stop fear from stopping you!