1 The Mother of All Fears: Fear of Self

The key to becoming who we truly are is this: We must overcome our fear of ourselves. This is the fundamental prerequisite for being all that we can be. In fact, in the final analysis, every kind of fear amounts to a fear of the self. For if we had no fear of our innermost selves, we couldn’t possibly fear anything in life. We wouldn’t even fear death.

But when we start to make our way along a path of self-confrontation, we don’t know that what we really fear is what lurks in our own unplumbed depths. And so it is that we so often project this very real fear of self onto all kinds of other miscellaneous fears. Then we deny we have those fears, and we set about covering them up.

Until one day we wake up and realize we have some enormous fear of some particular aspect of life upon which this tsunami of fear of our self has landed. Or maybe we just end up fearing life itself and so endeavor to avoid living it altogether. We do this in the same way we avoid knowing the self, to whatever extent it’s feared.

To go one further, we’ll sometimes project our fear of life onto the fear of death, since really life and death are two sides of the same coin. So actually, if we fear one we’re going to also fear the other. Fear of life and death, then, are a package deal.

Only when our search for self-knowing has gained a little traction do we become aware that what we’re really most afraid of is ourselves. We can recognize this by the backpedaling we do when it comes to seeing our part in our problems; when we resist, in all the more or less obvious ways we do so; when we won’t face our terror of letting go of our defenses, which would allow us to experience our natural feelings.

But the degree of our guardedness won’t be clear to us to begin with, because our guards have become second nature to us. We don’t even realize at this point that they’re unnatural and that life could be oh-so-very-different if we would just let them go. In truth, our inability to relax and let ourselves be guided by involuntary forces is a key sign of how much we distrust ourselves.

And exactly why do we hold back from allowing natural soul movements to guide us? Because we’re afraid of them, that’s why. We’re afraid of where they will take us. To simply become aware of this fear is to take a giant leap in the right direction, heading toward self-liberation, toward freedom from fear. For if we’re not aware of our fear of our self, it can’t be overcome.

The Real Self

Our Real Self cannot be manipulated into freedom; it can’t be forced or coerced into showing up and behaving well. Our Real Self can only manifest as a spontaneous expression. So if we’re afraid to let go, well then, we’ll stay locked in a prison of our own making.

What does it look like when our Real Self acts spontaneously? We intuitively know things that arise from within, not by way of an outer learning process. Genuine artists and clever scientists alike bring new creations into the world through this process, but for this to happen they must not fear their inner selves. Too often, they unknowingly block what wants to come bubbling to life.

When we fear what will happen if we don’t conform to our social environment, we’re experiencing yet another twist on the theme of Fear of Self. For it could happen that our true inner reality is at odds with what’s happening in our world; our inner values might be different from the values handed down to us. When that’s the case, our work is to refuse ready-made values, and we can only do that if we don’t fear what organically arises from inside. Whether they’re right or wrong, outer values will feel like shackles if we don’t choose them freely.

One of the biggest kickers about our fear of self is the way it dovetails with fear of pleasure. For we humans are pleasure-making machines, capable of experiencing intense joy. That said, a whole lot of people don’t enjoy any positive pleasure at all. And that’s a real shame, because every human alive comes factory-installed with the ability to surrender fully to the life force and all its tantalizing pleasure currents.

If we’re truly healthy and functioning as we’re meant to, we will spontaneously express this powerful force as it comes rolling through us. We won’t fear it and therefore we won’t reject it. It will light us up like a Christmas tree, enlivening us with gorgeous energy, tremendous strength and deep delight.

But for those of us who remain guarded and defended, who are constantly keeping themselves in check out of fear of letting go, these forces can’t shine. When we numb ourselves by deadening our feelings, we effectively—no surprise—become dead. This lack of aliveness, or state of disconnectedness, is rampant throughout our world, but no more so today than in previous eras. We could call it self-alienation, and in its wake flows a sense of meaninglessness and emptiness. All because our overly watchful, willful ego won’t let go.

Sure, the average Joe and Joanne experience some level of aliveness, at least sometimes. But it’s a pittance compared to what’s possible. We can’t even imagine how much better things could be. Too often we label such aliveness as “unrealistic,” or maybe even think our longing for a different way of life is an illusion. With that we resign ourselves to living a half-dead life, assuming this is just the way things have to be.

It takes courage to hang onto this longing—no matter how late in the game it may seem—and believe that more can be had. But for that to happen, we must be willing to become alive. And to do that, we’ll need to face our Fear of Self.

The Big Vicious Circle

Why are we afraid to let go? Why do we fear that if we don’t stay hypervigilant, constantly watching for what could go wrong, something bad might happen? What is the dangerous something we fear will surface from the depths of our spontaneous being?

When it comes down to it, there are basically two things that could happen. One, there’s the possibility that some terrible monster will come out of us. Something destructive will rear its ugly head. Two, there’s the possibility that something wonderfully creative and pleasurable will surface. Something constructive and life-expanding will bubble up.

While it’s easy to imagine why we might fear the first possibility, it’s not true that this is the only option that frightens us. Sure, fear of our negativity is one good reason to baton down the hatches on our free-wheeling soul movements. For chances are good, we’re sitting on a powder keg of hate and hostility, anger and resentment, and cruel impulses buried inside. These we quite understandably fear letting out.

And make no mistake, they exist in every human being to one degree or another. They exist to the degree our positive expressions have been interrupted when we are young. Full expression of our life force is first prohibited by our parents and others around us, under the misguided belief that allowing us to express ourselves might lead to danger. Later, we do the repressing of our own selves.

So let’s be clear: Once we become adults, we are no longer constrained by our past. Rather, we continue to hold ourselves back by reigning in our natural constructive life force that was, once upon a time, forbidden by someone else. 

Here we go then, launched into one of the most famous vicious circles there is, caused by an error imposed upon us by the mere fact of what it means to be born a human. For when positive forces are held back, negative forces grow instead. What’s really happening here is that a positive force becomes twisted and distorted, disturbing its original essence and converting it into a negative force. This now-negative force isn’t a different force that has just come into existence. Our rage, for example, is not a new energy current or emotion. No, our rage is made from the same original substance as our love. And if we’ll let it, it can turn back into love.

In truth, this can happen fairly easily, since any negative emotion will readily convert back to its original natural form. To do this with our rage requires we first admit it exists, and then we need to fully experience it, doing so under proper circumstances so this is done in a way that doesn’t hurt someone else. As we allow ourselves to fully identify with powerful feelings such as rage, we want to keep a sense of proportion about it. It’s important we don’t turn toward rejecting our total personality because it exists. Then, and only then, our rage can be restored to the warmth of pleasurable and loving feelings.

Along the way, we may need to traverse other temporary emotions, including sadness, self-pity and pain. We’ll also probably need to reconnect with our healthy aggression and self-assertion. Basically, we’re going to need to own up to all our negative energy currents and experience them. And we’ll need to allow them to exist for as long as they naturally exist. That’s the way to transform what’s unnatural and destructive back its original loving face.

The Way Out

Let’s go back to that vicious circle for a moment. For that’s what we’re living with when we avoid the healthy procedure just outlined. Bottomline: The bigger our rage, the greater our fear of it will be. Hence, the more we stay on guard. And the more guarded we are, the less we are able to be spontaneous. And spontaneity is part of the formula for allowing our destructive emotions to return to their original state as pleasure currents. Sigh.

We have come to fear the destructive forces, which is understandable, but we often also fear the forces of pleasure and love, maybe even more so. We fear them because they ask us to remain unguarded, and to trust our inner spontaneous nature. Remember, that’s the only way for the love forces to be kept alive, by our being totally unafraid of ourselves. To give up being guarded, though, seems like asking for annihilation, because then we’re letting something other than our watchful ego work in cooperation with the process of living.

What’s it going to take to unwind this vicious circle? It all hinges on meeting what we fear. And what we fear are the love forces that require we give up our tight grip on life, where our watchful eyes are hoping to control and manipulate life, wringing all the spontaneity out of it. The further along we go, holding on for dear life, the more emptiness and frustration build, causing anger and rage to grow. In the end, fear of self grows too.

We will remain caught in this vicious cycle as long as we refuse to take the steps needed to overcome our resistance to meeting our fear. And typically, at the top of our list of things we want to avoid is dealing with our fears. Yet, if we can make a start in facing the self—and sorry to say, this will mean doing more than making some kind of general nod toward the existence of our negative feelings—the relief and liberation will make our efforts worth it.

Once we get underway, we’ll see that doing this work of self-discovery is neither as dangerous nor as difficult as we might imagine it to be. Our steps in this direction are blessed, and they will allow our life to open up. Our pent-up emotions must be lived through to be transformed, but bear in mind, this doesn’t mean we go around acting out our anger. That will only lead to retaliation. We must seek out therapeutic supervision where our inner expressions will not cause outer harm.

The more we take responsibility for our destructive feelings, acknowledging them and expressing them safely, the less will we feel compelled to act them out. We will stop over-reacting to situations as happens so often in our daily lives, and we will no longer inadvertently and indirectly spread our anger onto others. We all do this way more than we realize.

The more quickly we get through this work of self-transformation, the sooner our experience of greater pleasure can take place. But for as long as fear of self exists, it will be impossible to feel fulfilled. Absolutely impossible.

Giving and Receiving

We all need the sustenance of affection, warmth and acceptance of our uniqueness in order to thrive. But when our need to receive these things goes unfulfilled, our psyche takes a hit. For just as our bodies need pleasure, so do our souls. Without it, our growth will be stunted.

As children, we were all dependent on having our needs met by others. We needed to receive. In addition, children have a need to give. So while we readily recognize the frustration that came from not receiving enough, we tend to overlook the frustration of not sufficiently giving. As we grow up, it is understood that a child who didn’t receive enough may find it difficult to give of themselves, but usually we stop there. To better heal the damage of not receiving enough—beyond realizing that we are not helpless regarding our past and we can now establish a new balance—we must also recognize that a far worse pain of frustration was created when we couldn’t give what we had.

By overly focusing on the aspect of lack of receiving, a generation of self-pitying people has been created who felt they’d been shortchanged by life because they didn’t receive enough. They became parents who were emotionally crippled, and this led to over-giving in the next generation. Rather than feeling the pain of their frustration and seeking to find a healthy balance, they created a generation of helicopter parents.

The continuum of giving and receiving is a soul movement that must flow. And in order for us to be healthy and to feel fulfilled, we need to be part of this ongoing process. We do that by allowing these forces to function, passing positive forces onto others and receiving what others are letting flow into us.

So the possibility always exists for us to give in a healthy way. Instead, too often we heap more pain onto our heads by withholding what we have to give. This pain is actually far worse than the pain of not having received enough.

Think of it this way. If more of anything builds up, a tension will be created. And this overfullness is not going to feel good. So if we are holding back our Real Self because we feel fear, we’re going to feel that tension. As such, we are pained as much by our not giving as by whatever it is we complain about not getting.

For a long time, religion has taken the lopsided approach of over-emphasizing giving: It’s more blessed to give than to receive. By constantly stressing the need to give love, give mercy or give understanding, loving seems to be a pious command that is fulfilled by way of sacrifice. People go on to develop the hidden belief that to love is to impoverish oneself. If we don’t suffer in our loving or shortchange ourselves in some fashion, it’s not considered real love.

To this day, many people’s unconscious concept of love includes certain actions that go against their own best interests. In short, love is seen as a pleasureless, sacrificial, depriving act that impoverishes us for the sake of being “good.” No wonder we fear loving. Religions have historically also denied the pleasurable feelings that love causes in the body, accusing them of being sinful. From this perspective, people must either give into its spontaneous manifestations and become “wicked,” or we cut out the very feelings that make up its force and love as an unpleasant duty. No wonder love is rejected.

Many people have spurned such a false concept of love, only to swing over to the other extreme, remaining greedy, selfish children who insist on receiving exclusively and without needing to give in the least. These are the two undesirable extremes that humanity bounces between. If we search with self-honesty for both sides within, we’re apt to find both of these distortions.

In either case, there must be a fear of self. Otherwise the natural urge to give abundantly would arise. We would give as abundantly and generously as all of nature does! This would happen on the material level all the way down to the most subtle levels.

This equation always comes out correct: The greater our natural inclination to give, the less will be our tendencies for self-deprivation, masochistic withholding and suffering; the more we embrace false giving through self-impoverishment and lack of self-assertion, the less will there be a spontaneous flow of real generosity.

We can ask ourselves: Where am I holding onto an old grudge or an old perspective that leaves others out due to a resentment or some kind of censorship? Am I willing to allow a new attitude to surface from the depths of myself, to see things in a new light? When the latter happens, it does so naturally and not by force. It makes room for seeing a new reality about someone else that makes the old grudge meaningless. It sees no shame in giving up a useless scrap of pride. It finds no lack of character in having compassion and forgiving.

This is the way forward—by way of many seemingly small incidents—to loosen the grip of our withholding that’s responsible for far more pain than any lack of receiving. Once we get this ball rolling, it will become easier and easier to allow the natural flow of warm feelings. But at one point, we’re going to have to make a choice: Do I want to stick with my old ways, excluding and resenting and restricting, or do I want to welcome and follow a new strength from within?

Watch for such decision points. For needless to say, we’re going to need to notice when the point of decision appears. But rest assured, they will be right there on the surface, easy to spot. These are never lost in our unconscious the way some other material can get lost. It’s just that most of the time, we prefer to gloss over them.

When we find ourselves standing at the point of such a decision, it may feel like we’re out on a ledge. The new way may look scary and risky. The old way—the cold way of separation—may seem safe. But really, can that even be true? Giving ourselves over to an apparently new force will be like stepping off into the great unknown. We might be able to sense the liberation of it, but still it will cause us to fear…what’s next?

If we can let go enough to give up our destructive attitude, whatever that might be, we will embark on a whole new way of living: We’ll start living from the inside out. This is the healing we’ve been seeking and hoping for. This is the how it comes about. It can’t come any other way.

A New Way

Let’s not kid ourselves, the first steps won’t be easy. We’ll waffle there, teetering on the cusp. This is a good time to notice how we exclude ourselves, how by tightly holding on, we constrict the flow. When we see ourselves there at that cusp, we can become aware of where our options will take us. We can go the old constricting way, with all its rigidity and pat formulas for how things should be. Or we can sit back and watch new vistas open up. We don’t need to pressure ourselves. Just observe.

By remembering what each way means, we’ll become ready to let go of the old way that refuses life, that limits love, and that foregoes happiness and unfoldment and giving forth of our riches. We will start to form a new understanding that makes room for others.

If we don’t stop the flow, the new way will steadily increase. This beautiful flowing movement contains a self-regulating mechanism that we can totally trust. To whatever degree we are willing to let go of our self-centered, self-destructive and self-pitying attitudes, to that degree our fear of self will automatically diminish. Something new will start to take over from within. The creative powers will spring to life. We won’t keep putting the brakes on our own life force.

As a result, we won’t keep inflicting painful frustration upon ourselves. We’ll be filled with the immense pleasure of following our natural inner movement. We’ll be able to experience the joy of both giving and receiving.

When a vessel is closed, it can’t be filled any more than it can be emptied. As long as we remain in the old closed position of refusing and isolating, we can’t receive. As long as we won’t let go of our self-imposed limitations, we make it impossible to give. By holding ourselves guarded and tight, we don’t actually protect ourselves from danger, and what’s more, we seal ourselves off from the healthy universal forces—those that would love to stream into us, and those that would gladly come streaming out of us.

May these words help us on our journey to experiencing fulfillment. May they kindle a spark that lights our way when we face the decision point between holding on tightly and gently letting go. Little by little, may we relinquish everything that bars our way to our final destination.

“Be blessed, be in peace, be in God.”

–The Pathwork Guide

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Phoenesse: Find Your True You

Read Original Pathwork Lecture #155: Fear of Self—Giving and Receiving

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