I remember about a million years ago, playing at the beach. The wind was up and there were the most enormous (for an Italian 10 yr old) waves ever. Along with about a gazillion other kids, I was hanging around in the shallows waiting for the big waves to pick us up and toss us about. We all had some kind of floating device and the waves were only going to take us back to the beach just behind us anyway, so we were pretty damn safe, but it still felt epic. Much screaming was involved. We were having a ball.
My mum decided to come in, too. I don’t really know what possessed her, because a. she’s never been the playful sort and b. she can’t swim. Still, she had her floater, same as us. All she needed to do was hang on to her floater and go with it. What could go wrong, hey?
This massive wave came crashing down towards us, and what my mum did was put her feet down on the ground, drop her floater, raise her arms to the sky, and scream. So when the wave hit her, instead of being lifted up she got a mouthful of water and got knocked over backwards. I’m honestly not sure if she’d have made it if I’d not picked her out of the water by her hair. All she needed to do was stand up, given that the water she was in was less than a meter deep, but I don’t know if at that point she had it in her.
It was a silly, fun, relatively safe game to play… provided you didn’t chicken out halfway through. You had to play or not play. Fear only got in the way. Fear made you do stupid things, which made the bad things you were afraid of come true.
I find it all to easy to forget about the significance of fear. Fear has never served me, so I’ve learnt all to well to turn it into something that could: anger, energy, action, anything but fear feeding fear. It is a form of bluffing, I guess, but it’s mostly worked for me. You do it often enough and it becomes your go-to mechanism. The people I hang around with don’t tend to be fearful, either. I like to think that it’s because they’re resourceful so nothing much fazes them, but maybe they’ve learnt to convert their fears, too. Maybe we’re all bluffing together, but we do it so well that it works. It seriously makes a lot of problems not come up.
Hanging out with new people who are starting on their journey towards self-defence, it became frustratingly obvious how much their fear is reinforcing or even creating problems for them. They’re too scared that their “nos” may upset or anger someone, so they keep them inside, hoping people will guess at them, or they stutter them as if they were begging for them to be respected. They’re too frightened to set firm and clear boundaries, so their boundaries get trampled. They are so afraid of things not working that they can’t make anything work for them. Their fear is so plain and so easily accessed that it’s got to be blood in the water for predators out there, which actually makes their world scarier than mine.
I don’t have an answer to this. I don’t know how to fix it. Telling someone who is scared that all they need to do is stop being scared seems not unlike telling someone who is poor that all they need to do is get some money. The solution to the problem is not to have the problem? Cheers! That’s oh-so-very helpful!
You can try and reason them towards that direction, but it seems to me that ultimately what it takes is an act of faith: to give up the fear before they actually have proof that there’s nothing to be afraid of unless they’re scared. And demanding acts of faiths is a bit above my pay grade… The other options would be modelling: a metric fuckton of demonstrating to them that there’s another way of going through life. And even if the opportunity to do that was there, which isn’t the case when you’re interacting with people for a handful of hours, I’m not entirely sure that it wouldn’t all end up looking like a magic trick; something that “we” can do because of some mysterious quality we possess, rather than as a result of constant, conscious practice.