Mastering fear is not about becoming physically stronger, or tougher, or more macho, or more aggressive, or more stoic, or more pumped up. It is about learning how to identify and change the conversation in your head.
When I was 14, I came face-to-face with my ﬁrst shark, a big blue off the Southern California coast. I looked at the shark, the shark looked at me — and I felt it: that static charge. Years later, as a sonar guy in the Navy, I studied how sound waves travel and propagate underwater. This was like that. An electric current running from the shark’s eyes to mine and back again.
I see this now all the time on the subways in New York. As I step into the car, I look left and right, sizing everyone up. When I lock eyes with a predator, some dude who’s up to no good, or some street guy who’s got something not right going on with him, he knows I see him and that I am not letting him into my head. That guy is not going to mess with me.
This is not about trying to project an attitude of physical toughness or belligerence. It’s purely about your interior monologue. When the conversation in your head is one of respect — I respect you, and you sure as hell need to respect me, because I am not looking for trouble and you are not getting into my head — people pick up on that. If you send out nervousness, anxiety, and the signal that your fear is taking over, people pick up on that, too.
FoBU — the fear of being unworthy, unimportant, unappreciated, unseen, unheard, unloved or unlovable — it’s a thing. For many of us, our response to this fear is so automatic that the feeling itself is unrecognized. When FoBU is triggered, it is astonishing how much energy we can put into trying to prove to ourselves and others that we are worthy of love.
We find freedom from FoBU by encountering it on purpose and seeing it for what it is. We discover that the power of FoBU comes from our desire to avoid it — not from the uncomfortable feeling itself.My favorite practice for finding some freedom from FoBU is breathing it in. Yup, making time to intentionally feel the fear that we have made a habit of avoiding.
Here is how the practice works:
Set a timer for ten minutes. Sit quietly and breathe softly and slowly through your nose. Rather than lifting your chest when you inhale, allow your abdomen to relax and open. The pace of this gentle breathing should be 5–6 seconds on the inhale and 5–6 seconds on the exhale. Don’t force it and allow for any natural pauses.
As you settle into this relaxed breathing pattern, bring to mind a situation that is likely to trigger the fear of being unworthy or unlovable. You are not trying to think through the situation — you are getting familiar with the direct experience of FoBU. Notice where you feel it in your body. Is it in your stomach, chest, throat…? How do you feel it? Is it tight, heavy, energetic, flat…?
On the in-breath, acknowledge the fear — you might say to yourself “I see you” or “FoBU.” On the out-breath, send this fear what it needs — you might say to yourself “open” or “love.” Meeting the challenge of FoBU with unconditional love can change everything.
The more you practice, the more familiar FoBU becomes. You can even get to a point where you can feel your diaphragm dropping on the in-breath as you make space to feel the fear. You can feel the transformation of that fear as your diaphragm pauses and then rises on the out-breath. And you can feel a sense of opening as you meet FoBU with acceptance and compassion. All of this can be enhanced by a calm, gentle smile while you practice.