The Fear Within: Transforming Debilitative Fear From Ruling Your Life and Your Relationships

By Tiffany Meyer

Just the other day a wise friend described fear — of intimacy, of abandonment, of being vulnerable -— as a form of emotional control, especially when it creeps its way into an intimate or personal relationship. Control? But, wait a minute, how can my fears control my partner?

My friend’s statement really caught me off guard. I found myself reacting to it by saying, “wait a minute, but my fear is legitimate, I put a lot of work into discovering where the fear comes from, and your behavior is triggering them, so you need to respect that.” And he just smiled knowingly and said, “you’ve just demonstrated my point.”

Let me explain. Up until recently, I would feel that familiar fear coming up for me in an intimate relationship, usually at that tipping point of vulnerability when you start to really feel something good. And I would immediately retreat emotionally, convinced that he would surely recognize my tragic flaw sooner or later and leave me, just like all of the others. The protective walls would go up and I’d wait for him to make the next move. A real sob story, right? A perfect example of manifesting loss by the internal story I was telling myself.

But not long ago I started to wonder why the same patterns continued to show up in my relationships? Was it possible that these fears were only triggered by the men I dated, but weren’t really about them at all? Or, even that my fears drew me to relationships that were doomed from the start because ultimately loss was safer than the alternative?

I discovered, as many do, that my fears were indeed from an initial imprint from my parent relationships — a series of tragic experiences that imprinted a deep fear of abandonment. I spent a great deal of energy processing, mourning, and moving through these fears, ultimately forgiving my parents, and forgiving myself for letting that fear influence my choices for so long. I thought I had reached freedom from them. In fact, I fully expected that if these fears returned again, I’d know just what to do.

In fact, since uncovering the root of my fear, I do typically recognize it when it surfaces. And when it does, I let it wash over me, I give myself some empathy, I name the fear, link it to my needs, and make a request to my partner that I somehow think will alleviate it. That’s “NVC”, right? Observation, feelings, needs, request … I got the model right, so how could my request be a form of control?

And that’s when the lightbulb went on for me. I asked myself what space, or what intention did that request come from? I started to think about all of the times in my life when my actions in an intimate relationship came from a place of fear. I started to list them out, one by one, and I quickly had to turn the paper over. And I thought, “well, that’s something to take a closer look at.”

At the beginning of potential love and intimacy, we of course feel our most cautious, vulnerable, and yes … afraid. After all, there’s so much we could lose, right?

This fear turns into control when we let it rule our actions … when it dictates the strategies we use to meet our needs for safety, security, acceptance in those moments, even if we use our “best NVC” to request one of these strategies from our partner. It becomes a game of “I can’t feel safe unless you do X.”

We put rules and regulations on our partner (or potential partner) out of this fear. We create strict definitions and diagrams of what love looks like. What a husband or wife does or doesn’t do. We build timelines in our mind of where things should be if this thing I’m feeling is really “love,” or if this thing I’m feeling is reciprocated.

All the while these thoughts and actions are actually sabotaging the fulfillment of what we really, ultimately want. To be free to show up 100% as I am, with my heart in my hands, with zero demands or judgment or control. And to love you for who you are, irregardless of where the future takes us, because my love should never be conditional.

One of my favorite songs in the world is by a man named David Wilcox, called “Start With the Ending.” He playfully explores what would happen if the minute we began a relationship we ended it just to get all of that B.S. out of the way.

Because at the beginning of potential love and intimacy, while we have excitement and joy, we also might walk in guarded, protective, hoping it’s not us who loses in the end. And chances are, we don’t show up 100% the true “me” because what if he thinks that’s “too much,” or “too soon”? We all start to put on a show; we act based on what we think the other person wants or expects; and we get so preoccupied with what this is leading to (or not) that we can’t experience the “right now,” letting things develop naturally and organically.

If we started with the ending, as Wilcox says, “there’s no pretending and the truth is safe to say … there’s no defending because no one has to win.” A beautiful thought, I think. And one that I truly believe speaks to the heart and soul of this thing we call “Nonviolent Communication.”

Tiffany Meyer is the past editor and a contributing writer to the NVC Quick Connect e-Newsletter, the founder of the Help Share NVC Project, past marketing director for PuddleDancer Press, founder/president of Numa Marketing, author of Writing a Results-Driven Marketing Plan: The Nonprofit’s Guide to Making Every Dollar Count, and creator of the companion online training program, Results-Driven Marketing Mastery. She has been learning and practicing NVC for more than a decade and remains committed to integrating it into her personal and professional life.