Telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth is foundational to living a life of integrity. I don’t know anyone who would argue that point. But I know a lot of people who struggle with applying it when it comes to breaking free from unwanted sexual behaviors.
Why is it so hard to tell the truth about our sexual struggles? One word: FEAR.
Fear rises up when we are confronted with the choice to tell the truth about our secrets.
“What will my friends and family think about me?”
“What if I lose [fill in the blank] by confessing?”
“If I tell the truth, will I really be able to stop my unhealthy behaviors?”
“Will I have to carry a label, like ‘addict’ or ‘hypocrite’?”
Wave after wave of crushing fear washes over us as we consider the consequences of exposing the truth about our lives. And such fear usually keeps us from ever being vulnerable — with ourselves or others.
How can we overcome fear and engage the kind of vulnerability that leads to personal integrity and healthy relationships?
Here are 5 tips to help you overcome fear and live the abundant, satisfying life God designed you to live:
1. Acknowledge Your Fear
This may seem obvious, but few do it. Most choose instead to ignore or deny fear, imagining that if it is just “left alone” it might disappear on its own. This is fantasy-thinking. Fear is real, so admit it is there.
When you feel afraid (notice I said when), acknowledge it. Say to yourself, “I feel afraid right now.” This one simple act can start a chain reaction of calming your mind and engaging your will to respond in healthy, assertive ways.
One way that helps me acknowledge my fear is to “personify” it. In other words, I imagine my fear as an old, short, gray-headed professor. He regularly stands up in the corner, wagging his finger at me while saying all the lines I listed earlier (and more!): What if this? What if that?
By simply acknowledging that he is there, I am on my way to overcome whatever he wants to toss my way.
2. Listen to Your Fear
Once you acknowledge your fear, you would be wise to listen to it. Fear only has one message: Warning, warning, danger ahead!
Sometimes fear is telling you the truth, such as in the case of stepping off a curb when a bus is approaching. That is a real danger that you would be wise to avoid!
But many times, fear is lying, telling you there is danger when there really is no danger. When you know that fear is only a messenger of warning, you can begin to listen to it in a way that discerns if the warning is of real harm or perceived harm.
One way to tell the difference is to ask yourself, “Is this fear dealing with ‘What Is’ or ‘What If’?”
“What Is” is reality.
“What If” is fantasy.
Real danger exists in reality. Only perceived danger exists in fantasy. This doesn’t mean that “What If’s” can’t materialize in real life (for example, “What if my parents disown me when they discover my secret?” can happen), but in the mind “What If” questions are not happening in reality (yet).
Listen to your fear and evaluate the legitimacy of its warning.
3. Name Your Fear
After acknowledging your fear and listening to it, name it. This might require the help of a professional, such as a counselor or coach. Naming is about getting clarity on what it is you’re dealing with.
Think of naming your fear like getting a diagnosis from your doctor. You might go see your doctor because you have a pain in your stomach (you have acknowledged it is there and “listened” to it — which is why you are seeing your doctor!).
The doctor helps to better define what is causing the pain and names it. It might be indigestion. It might be an ulcer. How you treat the symptoms depends on what is causing them.
To name your fear means digging into whatever is causing it. Let’s focus for now on a key phrase in the title of this article: being vulnerable.
You are afraid to tell the truth about your secrets. You don’t want people to know what you’ve been hiding behind your mask. As you start digging deeper into why this fear is so powerful, you might discover that it is rooted in wounds of abandonment or rejection or shame.
Now is the time to name your fear.
My “fear professor” has had many names over the years: Mr. Shamy, Dr. Perfectionist, Prof. Rejection. When I see him stand up in the corner and start shouting his warnings, I listen carefully to determine what his name is. Once I’ve got it, I then know how to respond.
4. Talk to Your Fear
Remember, fear is giving you a warning. It is telling you to watch out for something. Once you determine what that something is named, it’s time for you to talk back.
Let’s go back to the beginning of this article and the difficulty with telling the truth about your secrets. Fear begins to shout warnings at you, providing all kinds of “What If” possibilities that could go wrong if the truth is revealed.
But now, you choose to respond differently than you have in the past. You acknowledge that you are afraid.
You listen to your fear, discerning what underlies it. You name your fear; let’s call it “Rejection.” Now it is time for you to respond to your fear. It only takes two words: “Thank you.”
If I lost you, hang on. I would guess that isn’t what you were thinking should be the response to your fear. Thank you?! Are you nuts? Why would I thank my fear? Aren’t I supposed to punch it in the nose or curse it?
I get it. We all want a solution that eliminates fear. But there is none. Remember, fear is a warning system. It’s the only thing fear does: warn! If you could eliminate fear, you would die (quickly!).
The goal is not to eliminate fear, but to listen to it and learn from it, so as not to be controlled by it.
Therefore, thank your fear. Then, ask it to sit quietly in the corner while you choose to do what is right and good in spite of whatever your fear has just shouted at you. If fear rises up, thank it, remind it that you have heard it, and ask it to sit down. (Repeat as necessary.)
Talking to your fear is not about having a “dialogue.” Talking to your fear is “putting it in its place” and making a grown-up, wise decision in response to whatever warning it has given you.
5. Share Your Fear
Finally, fear is not something to handle alone. We are made for community. You need some friends who know your fears. I get the irony of sharing your fear about being afraid to tell the truth about your secrets. It seems like a vicious trap.
But the only way to overcome the fear of being vulnerable is to be vulnerable.
I think back to when I took driver’s ed and we were learning how to respond if your car begins to spin because of icy or wet road conditions. The instructor said, “Turn into the direction you are spinning.” We all gave him the same puzzled look.
None of us would have considered that the best way to deal with a spinning car. Our solution seemed much smarter: turn the wheel as far as you can in the opposite direction and close your eyes!
But the driving instructor was right. It’s counterintuitive, but by turning in the direction of the skid you actually give yourself a better chance of slowing down and regaining control of the vehicle. To turn in the opposite direction ensures a sideways skid that eliminates any possibility of regaining control.
In a similar way, overcoming fears of being vulnerable requires “turning into” the fear by sharing it with others. To ignore it, deny it, or fight it is effectively creating a “sideways skid” down the road of life.
This doesn’t mean you share your fears with everyone. But someone needs to know. Consider a friend, pastor, counselor, or family member. If you are really feeling paralyzed by this thought, I recommend starting with a professional. They are bound by confidentiality.
The Truth Will Set You Free.
No one is perfect. We are all flawed and broken. We have all carried secrets that have harmed our life and relationships in some way. We all have fears.
Being broken and afraid doesn’t make you strange — it means you are human. But you have a wonderful choice in front of you today. You can decide to live in the light of truth and grace, not fear and hiding.
God loves you no matter what secrets you carry. And he invites you to step out of the shadows and into the light of authentic community, with Him and others. Here are just a couple of verses that might encourage you in your quest to overcome fear:
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?
You can do this. Fear can be an ally that reminds you of your need for God and a community of friends who know your secrets.
Be strong and courageous. The truth will set you free…
And as always, if you have any questions about this or need any advice on your sexual and/or recovery journey, ask us anything you want HERE and we’ll answer your question in an upcoming Office Hours segment