What is the opposite of fear?
Most might say that the opposite of fear is courage. But I don't think so. I think that the opposite of fear is acceptance.
I'm talking about the kind of fear you and I experience when we think of an uncertain future, worrying about what might happen, feeling anxiety about what could happen that hasn't happened yet.
Why would I say that the opposite of this kind of fear is acceptance?
Because we can't control what happens in the future. We can't control whether or not we are hired for a job we want; we can't control if someone will like us as we are; we can't control if we will win the prize we're coveting; and regardless of any situation, we will never be able to control what someone else thinks, feels, acts, decides, or wants.
This is what causes the anxiety in the first place. Not knowing how someone else will respond to a situation, and realizing it could be beyond our control.
I used to think that it was up to me to be the 'damage control cop.' I would assess what could possibly happen and then try to ensure that the least amount of pain occurred. Most of all I was trying to minimize the pain I felt, but I was also trying to minimize the other person’s.
This was my default pattern before I learned acceptance: I fall in love and the first thing I do is to try to control the guy's feelings about me. I go into people-pleasing mode. I do everything I can think of to get the man I love to stay, by simply becoming irreplaceable to him. I give all of myself, all of my time, and all of my resources to the relationship in order to make the guy appreciate me and my generosity. I want to make him see how much he needs me. My fear is that if I don’t do these things, if I don’t make enormous sacrifices and put myself last, I will lose the relationship.
I was acting out of fear, to try to prevent the very thing from happening that I imagined could happen if the man didn't appreciate me enough. I tried very hard to control the situation. I would tell little white lies. For example, I might give up or minimize my own needs and wants just to make sure he was happy. I might pretend I liked the same things he did. I would make myself into who I thought he wanted. As a result, I began to resent the relationship, it wore me down, and my anxiety was not alleviated, because he began to lose his respect for me and often the relationship wouldn’t last. How could it, when it was based on such flimsy stuff?
If you’re battling fear, and you find yourself trying to control a person's response to you, you're not only not accepting the other person as they are, but you're not accepting yourself as you are either. You’re not being truthful or authentic.
Acceptance means having compassion for yourself, finding a way to see yourself as deserving of love and positive attention.
Acceptance leads to courage
When my first marriage was dissolving, and I was hesitating for years about whether or not to leave, I imagined I would be lonely and unloved after our divorce. When I finally accepted that I was lovable and deserving of kindness and self-care, and I accepted my husband for who he really was, I was able to let go. I did the thing that scared me most in that moment: walking out of an 11 year marriage.
When I had the same fears about leaving a job that I'd held onto for 10 years, believing that I would never have the kind of stability that this job had provided -- even though I no longer felt I belonged there, and even though I knew I was meant to do greater things -- I dropped the fears by accepting that this was about taking another fork in the road. I accepted that I could be a success at my next endeavor, whatever that was.
My acceptance led me to believe in myself and see possibilities I hadn't seen before. Acceptance gave me the freedom to try anyway and accept the outcome, whatever it would be. Courage had very little to do with it. The steps I took look like courage. But if I hadn't accepted that I needed these changes to grow, to be the best person I could be, and if I hadn't accepted that I needed to learn to be compassionate and kind to myself, I wouldn't have taken those steps.
Acceptance is how you remove the inner judgment and criticism you hold against yourself when you think of doing something risky.
It's not for nothing that acceptance is in the serenity prayer:
Words of wisdom from Gary van Warmerdam, student of Don Miguel Ruiz
I listen to Gary's podcast, "Pathway to Happiness," and one of them delves into acceptance as the anti-dote to fear. Here are a few nuggets of his wisdom I want to share:
Acceptance is letting go of fear. Being aware of what is going on. Accepting what life is and what might come. Being with what is, and surrendering the virtual reality we dream up. We embrace and are present with what is really happening in life.
Acceptance is not giving up, it's acknowledging. It's being truthful about reality. It's not resisting anymore what that truth is. It is saying: "I accept life as it is."
The practice of learning to accept and relax into life as it is, is a huge feat. Relaxing into what is going on changes your emotions, physical feelings and point of view.
The inner judge or critic says the opposite. It says: "I reject that this is so. I don't accept it. I don't want it. I won't let it happen. Something's not good." That is when we feel a visceral sensation in the body, a tightening, our heart racing, a sensation of needing to fight, freeze or flee.
Decide to have a better story. "I accept life as it is and I accept myself as I am. This doesn't mean I won't try to change it. It just means I won't fight the reality of it."
The judge rejects unconditional love. It rejects the truth and turns it into a story of good or bad.
If the judge's voice is really loud and harsh, that's where you can start: "I acknowledge that my judge's voice is really harsh. I accept that it's doing what it's doing." When you try to silence the judge, then you're wanting to change it, and that leads to not liking a part of yourself and rejecting yourself after all.
Acceptance is the anti-virus of the rejection story.
Through acceptance, we create a point of view in the direction of self love. We create a conscious channel of where we are right now, just the way it is. It breaks us from the judge and victim point of view.
If you find yourself saying “should” or “shouldn’t” a lot, that’s the voice of the judge. Ask in response: “How would I feel if I accepted that this is true with no judgment?”
There's a discrepancy between the world and our world of imagination. What we think the world should or could be. It's different from the world as it is. We can do that with our bodies too. We compare our bodies to the image we have in our mind, how we imagine our bodies should be.
The bigger the gap between the two, the bigger your emotional reaction. We try to make the real world fit our imaginary world (this is where control begins to play a role). But we can't control the world. Our imaginary world is made up. Acceptance takes the power out of the punch of our emotional reaction (often fear, anxiety, or frustration).
It's not about making ourselves perfect. It's about seeing the world and ourselves without judgment. Take a lesson from nature. A tree is a tree. A flower is a flower. A cloud is a cloud. This is the path to forgiveness.
This is the doorway to your freedom.