FEAR: A Necessary Emotion
“The thing in the world I am most afraid of is fear.” Michel de Montaigne
I would consider myself a ‘fearful’ person. I don’t ride fast on my bike due to my fear of having an accident. When I am in a high building I avoid looking down since I’m scared of falling. I wont complain to the noisy neighbours because I’m concerned they will get angry and turn the music up even louder. Sometimes this fear is adaptive and prudent and sometimes it is exaggerated.
Allow me to ilustrate it with an example from my life: a couple of days ago I joined a group of people who enjoy food a lot, just like me. I was very excited! They seemed like nice people, besides, the meeting was in a Mexican restaurant and I love Mexican food. However, as the time of the meeting approached, my anxiety about all that could go wrong began to suddenly sprout and grow.
My concerns were focused on two aspects:
1.- Irrational thoughts formed such as “Are they going to like me?” “Will I fit into the group?” “If everyone knows each other and I’m “the new one”, will it be difficult for me to start a conversation?” This fear always accompanies me; it has since I was a child. It has to do with our own image, how much we care about the opinions of others and what level of influence it has on the way we behave socially.
2. Language. This group is made up of a majority of expats, from Africa, Asia, the rest of Europe, the United States, Latin America; so the language of consensus was English. My level is great, but being in a social environment in which I have to “prove that I can” (internal idea, not from outside) makes my fear barometer soar through the roof. This is another dimension of fear, having to do with what I can and cannot do and is directly related to the first part; irrational thoughts affecting my self-esteem. Will I please the rest?
Finally the afternoon arrived and it was wonderful. The food was exquisite. I met people from many countries who were expats like me. I laughed, learned and enjoyed every aspect. I was able to speak English and even received good feedback about it. But what if I let my fear take full hold? I would have missed those fantastic hours with people I hoped to see again and with whom I can continue to share great food and laughter.
Fear in our Expat Life
Fear. Who hasn’t had it? As expats, it accompanies us in everything new that we undertake in our host country. We combine it with the fears of the past. It’s a new country, perhaps a different language, and with those new people and challenges. Is one of the basic emotions, along with joy, anger, sadness and disgust. And how is it defined? There are many studies and definitions of it, but in consensus, we can say that fear motivates protective behaviors, both for physical (life, health) and for psychological survival. The latter concentrates on avoiding personal harm that damages our identity or self-esteem. It demands setting limits, both to ourselves and to others.
It is an ‘unpleasant emotion’, but it is very useful when deciding what is good for us and for our physical and mental integrity. When does it become nonadaptive or bad? If it takes overall cognitive and emotional resources, we don’t stop thinking about what scares us and stop doing things we like for “what might happen”; although rational signs indicate that it wouldn’t be anything bad. A classic example of pathological fear is phobias.
What do we do if we are scared? First and foremost, recognize it and accept it; we must identify what makes us afraid. Next, we must have a “dialogue” with it and then develop strategies to deal with this challenge. Remember, all emotions are useful, they are all providers of information.
Are you having troubles coping with our fears living abroad? Contact me, let’s talk.
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