A little over three years ago I wrote an EMPulse on “Fear of Being Known.” [February 8, 2010, read it at www.needinc.org]. The original article delineated how confession is good for the soul, how placing confidence in God is a great substitute for self-confidence, and how hiding your true self from God is an absurdity. For you are known already, completely. Still, our fear of being known is nonetheless a daily reality for many of us. It roils just below the surface from deeper life experiences that cause us to cocoon, to hide within.
There are reasons, good reasons, we conceal ourselves.
- Catastrophe– Going through one or two cataclysmic events in our life that were so devastating that we build a wall around us for the rest of our lives. We no longer even consider the possibility of trusting certain types of people, maybe all people.
- Betrayal– Probably by more than one person. Betrayal is a disregard for another person’s trust and personhood. It denies me the safety I once enjoyed with you. It forges in me an a priori positioning of suspicion of any who tries to get too close. It is the loss of safety. It takes my vulnerability and uses it against me.
- For women, a Rejection of any Paternalistic Figure– Because of singular or repeated experiences with their father, some women fear the interest of any older man. This has been recently been reinforced in Western Culture through numerous reports of fathers using or abusing their daughters. The result in girls as they grow to womanhood is a wariness of all older men, some of whom who could have imparted healthier experiences to those who have been so deeply wounded by their fathers. [n.b.- some women even have great difficulty thinking of GOD as “Father.” They carry too many memories of their own fathers.]
- For men, a constant Drive to Prove Myself– Whether because of a need-to-control father, or a absentee father, so many young boys grow to adulthood with little understanding of what true manhood is. We come to believe it is all about bravado, or sports, physical-prowess, or being strong. Within our spirits, we strive to be good enough, better than our fathers. So we repress any emotion that smacks of insecurity, uncertainty, or weakness. In essence, we live bifurcated lives— one which others see; the other, hidden deep within. The result is that, after a time, both sides of our life are diminished; we become less of a person.
In the long run, the results of these causes (there are more) are the same; a life of caution and tension that precludes professional potential and a personal sense of safety anywhere (even in marriage). Unless… unless, we face them with determined, transparent honesty. Given that these fears do not go away overnight, what can we do to lessen their effects on our growth?
- Living through a Catastrophe produces a kind of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in us. For some of us, there is no recovery. We live with the devastation our entire lives. But you could choose to attack the destruction head on: through professional counseling, talking with a deep friend (who will quickly become a deeper friend), or simply, or not so simply, by deciding to take a RISK and trust again. This is, by any understanding, no easy task. However you address the fear produced within, any external course of action will have to be pro-active. PTSD will simply not vanish on its own.
- Betrayal can only be overcome through, once again, a willingness to take a RISK: to put yourself out there, open up your vulnerability, and see what happens. As Charlie Brown (Peanuts comic strip) is oft quoted, “You will miss 100% of the shots you never take.” He has a point. Within your soul, you may also need to work on a deep level of personal forgiveness of those who betrayed you. They need never know of the turmoil they have caused you, but you must resolve their actions within your own heart and mind.
- The one characteristic women value most in the fathers is safety. Overcoming a fear of trusting older, paternalistic men can only be achieved through caution, trial & error, and facing the fears that binds you. Not all father-figures are threats; some are truly genuine and seek your best. Again, it comes down to trust and risk. You might gain more than you risk.
- Men, moving past a need to prove themselves is, likewise, no simple matter. You need to shift your core values. Your significance will need to come—
- From the character qualities you nurture.
- From the skills & interests you develop throughout your life.
Set expectations for yourself and meet them. (…and those of your employer.) Construct a measuring scale that fits your skills, gifting, and personal aspirations. Remember Charlie Brown (see above). Failure is merely an admission that you haven’t yet discovered your niche, your match of gifts & abilities with the professional and personal circumstances that surround you.
Fear of being known is just the beginning; that fear often spins off other fears within; truly, irrational fears. I am counseling a physicist in a another part of the world whose fears just keep snow-balling, one rolling off into another, and another. You need to address this fear of being known ASAP or it will eventually take over your entire being. If you have a choice between ongoing fear and fostering some degree of boldness, however small, go for the boldness.
Have a nice week,