How Fear of Ourselves Entraps Us
© 2000 Michele Toomey, PhD

Women are especially vulnerable to "fearing ourselves", because the societal message, whether spoken or unspoken, is that we need to be protected by another. We are taught, however subliminally, that we are not capable of protecting ourselves. In fact, we are thought to even need protection from ourselves. Masochism is attributed to women and the question of whether women as a gender are masochistic is still being debated by the mental health profession. So, fear of ourselves is, truly, an easy trap to get caught in, and at times a very difficult one to avoid. Once caught in it, however, it is a vicious one to get free of, and the self-doubt it creates can be devastating.

One of the most debilitating effects of fearing ourselves, is dependence on others. Rather than forming relationships that have mutual exchange as the quality that marks an egalitarian relationship, a woman who fears herself is in a one-down position of needing to be protected. This is appropriately the position of a child, not of an adult. Fearful women, sadly, find themselves acting and being treated, or mistreated, like children. The status of a woman-child is never one of stature. If she is a "beloved" woman-child, she may be treated lovingly as she is being cared for and protected, but the emphasis is on "child", not on "woman". She is at the mercy of her protectors, and fortunately, if they are loving, she is not at risk of being abused by them, but she is still at risk. If, on the other hand, the woman-child is abused and treated with violating disdain by those she is dependent on, she is in danger.

Dependence on others when it is the outgrowth of fear of ourselves, becomes a dysfunctional dependence that stunts our growth, strips us of our power, and puts us at the mercy of others. It feeds the cycle of dysfunction that is the necessary ingredient for living in a pattern of violence and abuse. Whatever the appeal of women as naive, innocent, helpless children as an expression of female vulnerability, the price is costly, even at times to the point of being life-threatening. Interdependence and the healthy give-and-take of taking turns leaning on one another and even at times being protected by each other, is a wonderful ingredient of intimate relationships. It brings the stature of intimacy and integrity. Dependence based on fear of ourselves brings violation and oppression. It never yields intimacy, and it needs to be feared.

The offshoot of oppressive dependence is denial of one's own integrity and the power to choose. There is nothing more oppressive than the belief that we have no choice and that we are powerless to choose. Unless we are physically overpowered and imprisoned, choice is the one thing that is always ours. To lose the ability to choose is to be psychologically imprisoned by ourselves. Dysfunctional dependence on others, stemming from distrust and fear of ourselves, leads to a loss of connection with our own integrity and our potential to choose. Without choice, we are as trapped as any animal caught in a trap and in as much jeopardy. To be freed, we must first free our mind that at this point has been brainwashed by fear and lies.

No small task, because we are under the spell of distrust and fear of ourselves, often camouflaged by fear of others or fear of losing others. Fortunately, however, integrity is our birthright, and if we can search around inside ourselves and unless we have "lost our mind", we should still be able to find a glimmer of it. From connecting with this glimmer can come the beginnings of an awakening, and from this awakening can come the beginning of reclaiming the integrity of our thoughts and thought process. At this moment, a decision can be made. We are capable of choosing whether to confront our brainwashed self or not. This is a critical juncture, a crossroads in our life.

Sadly, not every woman chooses to liberate herself. Many are too entrenched, too secure in their familiar dysfunctional oppression, too caught to even try. This is a tragic outcome of fear of ourselves and we should lament this tragedy and work to change the systems that promote it. However, for those women who have "had it" and for whom the glimmer of integrity flickers into their consciousness, I urge, invite, even beg you to cultivate its existence so that you can begin the long, hard journey out of violating oppression. It will take great courage, deep commitment, and serious thoughtful confrontation and reflection, so it is a hard choice, but a liberating one. Accountability is the key to unlocking the prison within yourself. The truth that this accountability yields will increase the integrity available to you within your system. The light, heat, and energy created by this integrity will generate hope: hope in yourself, hope in the possibility of getting free, hope for a future of integrity and liberation.

The wonderful thing about regaining our potential to choose, is that it puts us on the liberation path. The journey on this path will have many twists and turns, set-backs and relapses, but it will not tolerate violence or abuse. How we choose to deal with what we do or fail to do will determine whether we stay on the liberation path. The integrity of the process maintains the integrity of the path, and provides us with the protection needed to proceed without violation or abuse.

As always, I strongly suggest therapy as the educational tool for being able to confront our fear of ourselves and move through and out of it. The denial, self-deception, self-doubt and self-blame that keeps fear of ourselves in place, must all be explored, confronted and put in their legitimate place as the components of our fear. This is a complex process that would be much better served if a skilled therapist were working with you. However, the most important ingredient is your own self-reflection and accountability for how you learned to fear yourself and how unfair it is to you. You must be committed to confronting your fears and the lies that keep them in place. Your integrity with its honesty is your ultimate protection.

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