Fear Hack

By Hilary Gallo

How what scares us, makes us.

Now as I sat on the train, heading though the flat misty fen land, I noticed that I was substantially more nervous than I would expect. I didn’t understand this, as I wasn’t facing hundreds of people or speaking without notes. For once, I had a structure to speak to. Fortunately, the early arrival and the slow train had an unexpected benefit as I had the time to ask myself why I was feeling so nervous. I’d noticed the sense of unease creeping up on me for the last few days and had filed it away for the future rather than choosing to meet it head on. As I sat there, with the train taking care of the journey, I relaxed and faced in on the feeling, asking myself “Why this and why now?”

Sitting at a table on the train, I got out my notebook and wrote at the top of the page “Why am I uncomfortable?” I then sat with that feeling and accepted it. As I accepted it, it ceased to be just a surface feeling and instead opened up and spoke to me. I could distinctly feel that parts of me that anchored themselves firmly in the world of safety and certainty were feeling under threat. Down the left-hand side of the page I captured these individual feelings.

Then, down what I still had of the right-hand side of the page I squeezed into the remaining margin the challenge and my ideas about the new possibility that I knew I was happy to grow into. Both parts of this all poured out in a matter of a few minutes. When I’d done it, I sat back and looked at it. In the short time that had passed my entire mood changed. All my nerves had gone and the weight that had been building up on me all week had suddenly lifted.


Why am I uncomfortable?


My expert smarty pants                                           Good. He’s ready. Curtail him

is going to be tested                                                  though – it’s about them, not



My control hates the newness,                                Yes, but the fun lies in the new

the uncertainty                                                           and the unknown and you know that!


My need to be right                                                    Yes! It damn well needs to be.

is bound to be challenged                                         How about allowing others to be right occasionally?


What most surprised me was that by giving up control in one sense I was more in control in another. Ironically, by facing up to a character that was always about getting more control, I now had more control over who I was. This false god of control was stopping me from moving into the new space where I wanted to be. My way through was to see the character and to start to deal with the grip that character had over my behaviour. In doing this I was making a breakthrough. I had previously been blind to the way the character affected my behaviour. Now I could not only see it, I could also choose to stop it from taking control away from me in a live situation.

I could also see how the characters showed up in a group. If they were on the train they would be sitting around a table arguing and raising merry hell. Although they were slightly different in their tastes something would bring them together so that they’d end up dragging round sets of supermarket beer cans in six-pack rings. They’d be stoked up by each other like a noisy group on the way to a football match, all challenging one another, upping the ante. The power of the group helped each of its members to hold and then express a more extreme view. Together, they were even more dangerous.

At one point, I drew each character out and identified a human form for each. I did this by thinking of someone who I thought represented the behaviour. This gave me a shock when I realised that all the real people I choose for my characters were people I disliked more than I had reason to. This was its own breakthrough as I then realised that I disliked these characters for no reason other than I saw my own behaviour in them. I was escaping from my own challenge by transferring it to someone else. I could see that this strategy stopped me from seeing who these people and others like them really were. This was something beautifully brought home to me when I met one of my characters unexpectedly in the flesh. For the record, I had a partly Formula 1 theme in that David Coulthard was my expert, Bernie Ecclestone was my control and 1970s TV cook Fanny Cradock, for some curious but mostly unknown reason, was my need to be right.

In playing with these characters I also realised that they could come together in one character. I got to this by dwelling on a series of possible candidates and checking out how well they worked for me. After a few false starts I settled on a continuance of the racing theme as I tested a retired racing driver who lived in the middle of an old abandoned circuit. He was perfect. In the racing driver, I saw the dragging force of this character on me as he struggled to get out in the world and do anything. Why should he when he had the option of resting securely on what seemed like his laurels? Night by night he ran circuits in the safety of his own world, convinced he could beat anyone whilst the world moved on oblivious to him. That picture, more than anything helped me to break the grip this character and his behaviours had over me. There was no way I wanted to let this stuck old has-been run things.

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