Getting Unstuck from Fear with Inspiration from Audre Lorde

by | Feb 23, 2023 | client challenges

“We can learn to work and speak when we are afraid.”

What is fear? Fear is an emotion. Karla McLaren teaches that our emotions are not here to hurt us, emotions are signals and signs, messages that let you know what matters to you. Karla points out that fear is about intuition and action – fear shows up to let you know that something needs to be attended to.

When we’re in fear, we have to ask fear to show itself. Fear, what do you want? What do you want me to do? What action needs to be taken?

When fear comes up for me, I talk to it. I find that speaking directly to fear helps me to face it, instead of pretending fear is not there and letting it run the show. I also tune into and listen to my body, and ask myself, “How is fear showing up in my body?”

For example, I feel fear when I have a “performance” like a high-stakes presentation, or I’m afraid that what I have to offer will be perceived as too “woo-woo,” not weighty, without enough seriousness and gravitas.  Fear tells me that I am afraid because I want to be taken seriously. Fear is showing up because I think I will be perceived as a lightweight.

In these instances I have a desire to get it right, a drive for perfection and I experience the fear in my body as needles underneath my skin, heat rising in my face, sweat piercing my armpits. 

What I don’t like about fear is it makes me stumble, hesitate, turn myself inside out. Fear can feel like being smothered, being stuffed down, my heart racing, trying to come up for air.

We can get stuck and paralyzed by fear.

I gain comfort from the words of lesbian essayist, poet, activist Audre Lorde, who wrote about her own struggles with fear – the fear of speaking up. She said in a paper she delivered in 1977 called The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action

Of what had I been afraid?

And I began to recognize a source of power within myself that comes from the knowledge that while it is most desirable not to be afraid, learning to put fear into a perspective gave me great strength….

We can learn to work and speak when we are afraid in the same way we have learned to work and speak when we are tired. For we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us.

When you’re stuck in fear, don’t ignore it or try to be free it – talk to your fear. Ask, “Fear, what do you want? What do you want me to do? What action needs to be taken?”

And then get moving with your fear. As Audre Lorde said, “we can learn to work and speak when we are afraid.”


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