What’s your fear story? What’s your pain story?
Fear and pain stories represent another facet of the shadow in that the reasons we use them are often hidden from our conscious minds. Fear stories are the terrifying tales we tell ourselves over-and-over about how we are not good enough to be, do, or have what we want. Pain stories are the narratives we have on repeat about our injuries or illnesses (physical or psychological) and how they hold us back from being, doing, and having what we want. They usually start as self-protection but eventually become excuses that keep us from potentially uncomfortable or difficult challenges.
I remember reading Eckart Tolle’s A New Earth all those years ago and being struck when I read his description of the pain body. I knew so many people actively feeding pain bodies, identifying with trauma, conditions, illnesses, and letting past pain define what was available to them in their present lives. Fear and pain stories operate similarly, hijacking the present with negative narratives incorporated into our stories in the past. Perhaps these stories allowed us space to lick our wounds or avoid stressful or fearful situations, but we have outgrown them and need to move beyond them. What was once a shield is now a barrier to progress.
As with shadow, fear and pain stories are sustained by that ancient part of the brain that seeks to protect us but lacks a nuanced understanding of the actual dangers of modern life. Fear is vigilant, too good at its job. It gets in the way of our emotional wellbeing and growth; it keeps us from striving to achieve all the things we want to in life.
This discussion of fear and pain stories doesn’t discount recent trauma or chronic pain and illness that require professional treatment. The focus is the skin that needed shedding long ago, that musty box of keepsakes in the basement that don’t add any value to your life and just need to go. You’ll know if you have one by the response in your body as you read these words. If you feel contracted and clenched up, you’ll probably want to take a good look at the way you spin your biography. The stories to focus on are the ones that needlessly hold you back from your potential. They are narratives that enable you to stay comfortably uncomfortable in your life and keep you from moving forward. For example, I knew a woman years ago who had had a terrible boyfriend in her 20s. He was legitimately abusive and hurt her deeply, but over ten years later, she was still using that story of abuse to avoid getting close to anyone, in spite of her strong desire to have a partner. When it comes to pain stories, you may let an ailment, such as asthma or IBS, be the filter through which you view every aspect of life. I’ve met plenty of people who use physical limitations as the excuse for not trying things they desperately want to do and who avoid taking life-affirming chances because of the stories they have created about their ailments. Again, if you have actual, present physical and health limitations, this is not meant for you, this post is for people who are holding on to stories based on outdated information. If you have a pain story, recognize how it helped you stay out of danger at some point in the past, but doesn’t serve you now.
There are also other, more subtle fear stories. Tales that sound like; I’m not qualified for that job, I will ask that person out when I have reached my ideal weight, or I’m not enough of an expert to write a book. These represent all kinds of experiences you’re missing for fear that you’re not yet good enough, fit enough, skilled enough, or smart enough. Here’s the truth. You are enough. Right now, and even if you’re not, you can figure it out. If you follow your fear back to the fundamental conclusion, the greatest fear is death. We all die. The seed of your death was with you the day you were born. In truth, if you follow your fear story down every terrifying path, you’ll discover that you’re more afraid of embarrassment, sounding stupid, and looking silly than you are of death. Here’s a secret, it’s almost never as bad as you expect, and when it is, you will still get over it. Don’t believe me? Look at Monica Lewinski.
Fear stories are usually about not being enough.
I can’t do the thing I want to do because I’m ____
- Not attractive/thin enough
- Not interesting enough
- Not loveable enough
- Not smart/skilled enough
- Not worthy
- Not lucky
- Not abundant
If I am myself they might…
- Abandon me
- Reject me
- Mock me
I am only loveable/worthy if I …
- Contort myself to meet the expectations of others
- Support them
- Suppress my own needs
Tricker fear stories tell you you’ll be, do, or have the things you want when some far-off, unlikely condition is met. For example, I’ll get a job I don’t hate when I’m more skilled. Chances are if you hate your job, you’re not gaining skills, and therefore, this fear story damns you to years in an unfulfilling position.
I’m sure you can come up with your own.
Re-writing the fear and pain stories in your life isn’t easy, but it’s powerful. I consider it a practice. Some days you’re an all-star, and other days you might as well have stayed in bed. As is true with most everything, releasing fear stories is an inside job, but the first step is recognizing that you have one. Inviting the shadow in and giving your fears a place to live is critical, but so is understanding them as the leftover programming they are, they are old code causing problems with the way your current system functions. Ultimately, you own the narrative. Learning to love yourself, including your limitations and quirks, and to see yourself through the same lens you see loved ones, is the cure to your fear and pain stories. Where your words lead, the mind will follow. Own your story.