FEAR: A Necessary Emotion
Let’s discuss a series of basic emotions. I will define them and share with you how they apply to us expats and especially how ALL of these basic emotions are adaptive. It is fundamental that we recognize them and live with them.
“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 because I’m afraid of having an accident. When I am in a high building I don’t look down because I’m afraid of falling. I don’t complain to the noisy neighbours because I’m afraid they will get angry and turn the music up even louder. Sometimes this fear is adaptive and prudent and sometimes it is exaggerated.
A couple of days ago I joined a group of people who enjoy food a lot, just like me. I was very excited because they seemed like nice people, besides, the meeting was in a Mexican restaurant and I love Mexican food. But as the time of the meeting approached, my anxiety about all that could go wrong began to suddenly sprout and grow. My fear is divided into two parts:
- Irrational thoughts formed such as “Will they 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.
- 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 for all of us to understand one another is often English. My English 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?
Well, the afternoon finally arrived and it was wonderful. The food was exquisite. I met people from many countries who were expats like me. I laughed, I learned, I enjoyed every aspect. I was able to speak English and even received good feedback about it. But what if parts one and two had taken over? 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.
Fears. Who hasn’t had them? As expats, they accompany us in everything new that we undertake in our new home. We combine them with the fears of the past. It’s a new country, perhaps a new language, and with those new people and new challenges. Fear is one of the most basic emotions, along with joy, anger, sadness and disgust, and in some cases surprse. And how is fear truly defined? There are, as you can imagine, many studies and definitions of fear, 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.
Fear 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? When it takes overall cognitive and emotional resources when 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.
So what do we do if we are scared? First and foremost, we must 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 the fear.
And that’s what I’m here for! Let’s talk.