The woman gently rocked back and forth in the chair, her arms crossed as if to cuddle herself. With her head tucked down, she didn’t seem to mind the tears rolling down her cheeks and on to her denim skirt.
“I still can’t believe he’s gone,” Avery whispered.
Avery had lost her father to cancer a few months before and had been grieving deeply ever since. But grief wasn’t the only issue she was wrestling with. She and her husband had been fighting nonstop over the past several weeks. Avery explained that for a short while after her father’s death her husband had been very loving and supportive, and they seemed to grow closer. But, lately, Avery found herself becoming increasingly frustrated with him.
“He said I don’t think he does anything right. That I’m pushing him away. I guess he’s right.”
Avery recounted their most recent argument, the one she started over him leaving his shoes in the middle of the living room floor. Her husband wanted a break from the fighting; he said he was going out for a walk and some fresh air and would be back shortly. But that didn’t set well with her.
“Go ahead!” she’d yelled at him. “Leave me—just like my father did.”
With that, Avery once again broke down in sobs, as she felt the waves of sorrow and fear wash over her all over again.
Fear was overwhelming Avery and crippling her ability to be connected and close to her husband. At the heart of her pushing him away was the fear that not only had she lost her father, she would lose her husband too.
Many women, like Avery, struggle with the fear of abandonment. Many women also struggle with the fear of inadequacy and the fear of rejection. Sometimes these three build on one another, with the fear of not being enough leading to the fear that a loved one will push you away, ultimately ending in a full- blown panic that the person is going to leave you altogether. Other times, circumstances like Avery’s lead us directly to fear the worst.
We’ll look at these three common fears, how they impact us and our relationships, and what we can do to face and ultimately forget fear.
The Fear of Inadequacy
I’m not attractive enough for him.
She likes my brother better.
I’ll never be smart enough to compete with that colleague.
Thoughts like these stem from the fear that we are inadequate. We feel less than, not good enough. I recall a time when I felt exactly that way.
I sat in the bathroom crying, convinced my husband didn’t love me. Nick and I hadn’t even been arguing, but something triggered the thought in my mind that I wasn’t enough for him (infertility will do that to you), and late into the night I allowed it to spin and spin until it became like a tornado, ready to destroy everything in its path. After finally calming down, I crawled into bed as quietly as possible so as not to wake Nick and reveal to him my swollen eyelids, a result of my many tears. The next day, still bothered by this nagging thought, I just had to know.
“I want to ask you a question, and I want an honest answer. Do you really love me?”
My sweet husband’s eyes flew open in surprise. “Of course I do, sweetheart!” he exclaimed. “What in the world makes you ask that question?”
I was ashamed to admit it, but I had let fear of inadequacy get the better of me.
When we think we are not enough for another person, when we feel we are lacking something the other person needs or wants, we often try to prove ourselves—to prove we’re worthy of being that person’s spouse or friend. Ironically, even constant reassurance from the other party rarely satisfies the deep-seated fear that you will never measure up. It can be exhausting and frustrating for the other person to repeat what he or she has said to you a million times, like a song on repeat. Not to mention the pressure it places on the people in your life to constantly make sure you’re okay. Don’t get me wrong: relationships should be cultivated so that we see and hear one another. We should feel free to express our fears. But this doesn’t mean that the other person is responsible for how we think or feel.
The only person responsible for your thoughts and feelings is you—and recognizing this is the first step in fighting this fear. Here’s the thing: while others can trigger your defenses—like your self-defeating thoughts and upsetting feelings—no one else chooses what you think or how you feel. That’s on you. And since you can’t control anyone else, it makes sense that the way to reduce your fear is to learn to control your thoughts. Yes, we’re back to self-talk. Remind yourself of what is true. Ask yourself: What is the evidence?
The Fear of Rejection
Fear of rejection often means we don’t take chances in our relationships.
Why attempt cooking my husband’s favorite meal? He’s not going to like it as much as his mama’s anyway.
Why bring up my idea in the staff meeting? No one is going to like it anyway, and people will think I’m stupid.
Why go back to the Bible study at church? There’s no way the women will like me after I unloaded my horrible past on them.
In other words, why bother if I’m going to be rejected anyway? Instead of fearing rejection, we should fear not having as healthy of a bond with our loved ones as possible. Building that bond can be risky. It means we have to be willing to take a chance. I like this description of how we can fight the fear of rejection:
If we risk opening our heart to someone who rejects us, it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. We can allow ourselves to feel sorrow, loss, fear, loneliness, anger, or whatever feelings arise that are part of our grieving. Just as we grieve and gradually heal when someone close to us dies (often with the support of friends), we can heal when faced with rejection. We can also learn from our experience, which allows us to move forward in a more empowered way.
This outlines a three-prong plan for fighting this fear:
1. Take the risk to open your heart.
2. If you get rejected, feel the emotions that ensue.
3. Ask yourself what you can learn from this experience.
At best, your fear will not be realized, at worst, you can learn from the experience.
The Fear of Abandonment
During my husband’s and my long journey toward adoption, I have learned that many children who have been adopted struggle with the fear of abandonment, even if they were adopted as infants. In The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child, Nancy Newton Verrier writes about the impact separation from the birth mother has on the adoptee. While she writes specifically to help those connected with adoption, she notes that the book will “bring understanding and encouragement to anyone who has ever felt abandoned.”
You may not have experience with adoption, but you may fear abandonment for other reasons. In their book Cry of the Soul, Dan Allender and Tremper Longman III write that “every human relationship is haunted by potential abandonment.” Sadly, this fear can sometimes lead to behavior that pushes people away, which is the opposite of what we desire. Remember the issue with communicating “I’m needy”? The fear of abandonment can cause us to send this exact message. Let’s take a closer look at where this fear comes from.
The fear of abandonment is often rooted in childhood, when attachment style develops. It’s been said that “the answer to why people feel and act the way they do lies in the profound effect of a child’s bonding with his or her parents.” This theory is related to how an individual physically and emotionally connects with others. It’s believed that the way we connect with others begins in childhood, and then carries on into adulthood, impacting all of our relationships. There are four general styles of attachment. Three are insecure (anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful-avoidant) and only one is secure.
While secure attachment typically begins in childhood, it’s not too late to work toward becoming more secure in your relationships as an adult. It is possible! However, it may take working with a licensed mental health professional specializing in this area to truly accomplish this task. If you are not sure where to look, I’d like to suggest the American Association of Christian Counselors.
But you don’t have to wait to see a counselor to begin fighting this fear: you can fight your fears with the truth of God’s Word.
Adapted from Relational Reset by Dr. Laurel Shaler (©2019). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by