4 things that fear and grief have in common

So I’m sat here casually reading Brene Brown’s latest book, “Rising Strong”, and just like that – I’m inspired! Seriously, this woman just breathes life into me!

This particular excerpt resonated with me immensely that I decided to jump up and write a post about it.

It is true that grief is very much like fear, yet I have never thought of it in this way before. The two powerful emotions share so much in common and are so unique to each of us that taking the time to understand their nature can be both healing and transformative. The more I reflect on my own life experiences, the more I understand that these two powerful emotions are inter-connected. Below is a list of 4 things that grief and fear have in common:

1. We spend the majority of our lives running away from each of these emotions

We run or avoid what is uncomfortable, naturally. I mean, who really enjoys discussing or doing things that lead us to experience emotions that cause us discomfort? The true answer to that is: brave people. Powerful people. And leaders.

Once we learn that our greatest lessons come from our most uncomfortable experiences, we begin to understand that even in times of fear and grief, there is something to be learnt. This is not easy to comprehend when you are “rumbling” (a term stolen from my ‘buddy’ Brene) with the emotions. When we’re delved deep into dark emotions, it may seem as though there is nothing past this feeling - that you will feel like this forever. But being brave means to face these uncomfortable emotions, to sit with these feelings and learn to process them. Remembering that these emotions will pass, just as everything else does, is the first step to learning to embrace them.

Once you stop running away from the dark, your torch of courage will shine brighter than any light you’ve ever seen.

Courage is not born by accident, it is birthed through the stormiest of weathers. Each time you feel like running away from that uncomfortable conversation, feeling, or action, ask yourself what can I learn from this process if I allow myself to go through it?.”

2. Both emotions are unique to each of us

No one can tell you what to fear in life just as no one can tell you how to grieve. Each of these emotions are uniquely interpreted and experienced depending on how you view and navigate yourself through the world. Whilst it is true that neither emotion is tangible, they do exist and are very real. Just as we experience joy, we experience pain, loss, and the fear of the unknown. These emotions are hard-wired in our brains and have evolved over the course of thousands of years. What was once the fear of physical threat (i.e. sabre-toothed tiger) has now evolved into psychological threat (i.e. the anticipation of something bad happening to us that will cause us to be embarrassed or scared or left out etc.). And the bad news is, our brains cannot tell the difference between a physical and psychological threat, hence the physiological response is mirrored.

Similarly, grief too can have both a physical and psychological impact. How we experience grief very much depends on how we interpret the event that has caused us to experience this emotion. Not everyone cries after experiencing a loss (whether that be of a loved one, a friend, or the end of a relationship) and not everyone interprets it as “the end”.

It is both destructive and unhelpful to judge someone who grieves differently to you just as it is unhelpful to judge someone who is scared of something you do not understand.

3. Both emotions are the greatest teachers

When we are in a place of vulnerability, we discover things about ourselves that have never been scratched before. Only those who lean into fear and grief become the greatest students of their lessons. It is in the moments that force us to “rumble” (again, thanks for the term Brene!) that we learn what it means to be courageous, to stand tall and to appreciate even the smallest of things in our everyday lives. Resilience does not come from dismissing the difficult emotions or acting tough, but rather, accepting that such emotions are part of our make-up and serve a purpose.

To be resilient is to be brave enough to embrace those “yucky” uncomfortable emotions that rise from time—to-time and to see things as they are, not more than they are.

4. Both emotions are a life-long journey

The most annoying thing you can ever say to someone who fears something is “just get over it” – this shows that you lack the ability to empathise with another person and are dismissing the nature of their fear. Whilst I am a massive advocate of “feel the fear and do it anyway”, I also understand that what might seem like a straight-forward thing for me to do may not be the case for someone else. Some people battle with fear their whole lives and this can have debilitating effects. It takes time to understand that “getting over” fear is never going to happen, what happens is we learn how to manage our fears. We learn that standing in front of crowds to deliver a speech will not kill us like we originally thought. We learn that it is OK to fail sometimes. We learn that embarrassing ourselves is quickly forgotten and that living life to its fullest will involve taking risks.

Similarly, we don’t ever stop grieving. We learn how to cope with grief. It is also a process that takes time to fully comprehend and, for the fortunate, we learn that life comes with hardship and learning to bounce-back and live with courage is the highest of all virtues.

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