Seth Godin wrote a provocative book called Linchpin. In his book, he makes an interesting commentary on the role of fear in our lives. He writes specifically regarding the role of fear in our careers and in our work, but I find his statements applicable to relationships, as well. Godin writes the following:
“If there is no sale, look for the fear. If a marketing meeting ends in a stalemate, look for the fear. If someone has a tantrum, breaks a promise, or won’t cooperate, there’s fear involved. Fear is the most important emotion we have. It kept our ancestors alive, after all. Fear dominates the other emotions, because without our ability to avoid death, the other ones don’t matter very much.
Our sanitized, corporatized society hasn’t figured out how to get rid of the fear, so instead we channel it into bizarre corners of our life. We check Twitter because of our fear of being left out. We buy expensive handbags for the same reason. We take a mundane follow-the-manual job because of our fear of failing as a map maker, and we make bad financial decisions because of our fear of taking responsibility for our money.”
How many times do we act out of fear? How many times do we love in fear? Or parent in fear? And by fear, I also mean anxiety. Chances are, a lot. Fear manifests in sneaky ways. It masquerades as legitimate emotions. We can make perfectly rational and compelling arguments that are really all about fear. Fear motivates certain emotions, like a puppeteer. So often partners blame one another for something that was said during an argument. A hurtful comment about our character. We remind them of the hurtful comment over and over again. We only remind them of the comment because it was so hurtful. And it was hurtful because it may have been true. And it was also hurtful because we think it means our partners love us a little less because of our character flaw. We fear losing our partners, so we blame them for making hurtful comments.
Fear prompts us to attempt to protect ourselves. It closes us off from others. Brene Brown might say that fear inhibits our ability to be vulnerable. I believe that fear impedes our capacity for human connection, which Brene Brown says is a building block for a happy and productive life.
So how do we act out of fear? A telltale sign that we are acting out of fear is when we blame others. Brene Brown also reminds us that psychological literature defines blame in the following way: it is a means of discharging pain and discomfort. Think of this the next time you blame someone for something happening in your life. Distill your emotions about a situation into precisely how you are feeling, as if you are operating in a vacuum, without regard to another person’s actions.
The key is that when we blame someone for the way we are feeling, we are merely attempting to avoid feeling pain and discomfort. The challenge is to recognize that when we are blaming someone, we are hurting. We are in pain and are experiencing discomfort. Instead of blaming others, recognize how you are hurting and try to express that emotion.
One good way of trying to reduce our level of blame is to write our goals on paper or on the computer and read them aloud every morning. The goal could be to lean into the fear, to lean into the pain and discomfort, to fight through the emotions in order to communicate in a way without blame. Because blame, like fear and anxiety, kills all that is good and loving and happy. Sheryl Sandberg, the author of Lean In, implores us: “what would you do if you weren’t afraid?” I ask you that question, and I challenge you to make your answer the goal you read aloud every morning.