How to Live a Life Of Courage In Spite of Feeling Afraid

I am fascinated by courage- I always have been- I’m not talking about the firefighter/soldier/007 type of courage it takes to go into battle- although those people fascinate me as well- I’m talking about the everyday type of courage that it takes to live a rich and meaningful, purpose -driven life.courage

I’m fascinated by people who go after their dreams against all odds- who risk everything and go for it- who take their big idea and make it a reality- those people who adopt children from Africa, who fight for their causes, who stand up to injustice in their workplace, who volunteer their time for others’ less fortunate.  I also live in everyday admiration for the clients and people in my world who do the day to day of living whole-hearted and courageous lives supported by their values and beliefs.  Those who go ahead and confront a friend when they violate a trust- those who say they are sorry first to a spouse – those who stick by their rules and discipline their teenagers when it’s difficult and important to do so- those leaders who admit they’ve made a mistake.

What do these people have in common? Do they ever experience fear? Are they made of tougher stuff than me? How can we learn to live with that kind of courage?

I believe my fascination with courage comes from having lived much of my life feeling afraid. My mother was an anxious worrier- so I come by it honestly.  She tells the story that once when I was 3 I looked up at her and said “Don’t be Afraid Mommy-“ I think my reasoning was if she wasn’t afraid- I wouldn’t have to be.

As I look back I realize many of my early decisions were an attempt in one form or another to find an answer to that pit in my stomach kind of anxiety. In my late teens and early 20’s I left home trying to escape it- I forged a new life on my own where I took risks- pushed myself in ways to fight it down- I went to a college where I didn’t know a soul-  learned to downhill ski and raced from the top of the mountain- led backcountry ski tours. It was exhilarating and exciting-it took courage to face down a steep slope-  but it didn’t take away that gnawing feeling of anxiety.

Then I tried to look for it in relationships- – finding the right person to make me feel safe- to keep the demons at bay-  and what I realized is that when you decide to love someone you open yourself up to the possibility of all kinds of vulnerability and loss, heartbreak and disappointment – until you find the one who is going to love you in the midst of it. What I discovered is that to be in relationship takes courage – to be open and honest and vulnerable and to trust someone else with your heart is one of the scariest things we can do- as well as being the most rewarding.

But the real vulnerability came when I decided to have children- talk about leaving yourself open to worry and pain- It’s like your heart goes out in the world and you have no control over what happens to it…….along with the crazy feeling of joy every time you see their face.

So I became a therapist.

We teach what we need to learn, right? I thought if I could understand why I was so anxious-why I was so afraid of loss, why I had so much self-doubt- why I cared so much about what others thought- why I was so afraid to take a risk- that I could make it go away.

I’ve spent the last two decades studying and working and helping others face their fears- and in the process I’ve learned to face my own. I’ve walked with clients through their griefs and losses, disappointments and failures and what I have come to understand is that the most courageous people are often also the most broken-hearted. They are the ones willing to show up and be seen and live a life they imagined. And when you decide to step into the arena and live your most authentic life- to “dare greatly”, there are bound to be failures and disappointments along the way.  And the most brave and courageous among them looked for resources to try to understand why. They came for help to figure out what went wrong and more importantly- what their part was in the failure or the mistake or the loss. They had the courage to look with honesty and integrity at the situation- to learn from it and move forward.

I’m an emotion-focused therapist and what that means is that I have come to understand that leaning into our emotions is the way to move through them- as opposed to trying to numb them or ignore them or offload them through judgment or blame. When we can lean into our feelings with curiosity we can learn the gifts they have to teach us- they are the guides to all our longings and desires and to living the bold and daring life we have imagined.

Fear for example can often keep us safe- it’s a survival mechanism that tells us when we are in danger. The problem is that it’s not always accurate- when we are afraid to say what we really feel, or take a risk to move to a new city or find a better job- or leave an unhealthy relationship- we let fear limit our choices, our growth and our opportunities.

When we wait until we aren’t afraid to try something new- we may never have that chance.

What I have learned after a lifetime of trying to stay safe is this:

“Safety” is a myth. And more importantly – Courage is not lack of fear, but rather moving forward in spite of it.

So how do we know when to stay safe and when to move forward in spite of that racing heart and metal taste in our mouth?

The word courage comes from the latin root couer- which literally means to tell who you are with your whole heart- I love that definition! I believe if we look with our heart- our truth comes forward-

Click here to learn more! Here’s to Living Brave Together!

Meet Cynthia Benge

A therapist for over 20 years, I guide people from their own “stuck” places to a life full of adventure, meaning and satisfying relationships.

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