Being 6'4″, I've been able to get through life relatively unafraid of my surroundings. People treat me with a little more reverence than someone shorter. Very rarely have people ever picked on me or started shit. All of this to say that being a big tall guy, I'm fairly privileged for no other reason than being tall and possibly speaking slowly. That's a good thing (at least for me it is).
However, I live in fear. A lot of fear, actually. I fear the unknown. Well, maybe that's not entirely true. I fear insecurity; I fear being poor again, like when I was a child when my mother and I were just. I fear getting into shouting matches, and I fear losing my temper. I fear conflict.
The fear of conflict
I was raised in a traumatic environment. I was physically and verbally abused by the person who was supposed to protect me. I held a lot of anger over that for a long time and only recently, as a forty-something-year-old man, have I been able to forgive and let those feelings go. Think about that for a moment. Can you imagine living with three decades of anger? It's sad when I think about it. It's sad because anger affects how we take on the world; it shapes our point of view and our coping mechanisms.
I have a lot of anxiety, and I worry a lot. I worry about letting people down, I worry about arguing with people, I worry about making people angry. I worry about these things because I had to contend with them as a small child with my mother. I did everything I could to make sure I didn't anger her—those worries affected my life then; I coped by keeping quiet, not speaking up, not accepting gifts from people because my mother punished me over these very things. I was often punished, yelled at, grounded, or hit when my mother would buy me a gift. She would take me to the store, tell me to pick something out, and then scream at me when we got home. It got to a point where I began refusing gifts from her. I've had a hard time accepting joy as a result, in my adult life. When I think about that it makes me emotional. No child should feel unsafe, nor should they be abused in such ways.
The fear of conflict has affected my adult relationships. I actively avoid conflict in my relationships. I have a few ways I deal with the threat of conflict, though. If I detect that there might be conflict, I go silent and shrink away from my partner, or a situation I feel is explosive rather than stay and talk. Sometimes, I slip into the peacemaker role—I try to make peace before there's an issue (or if an argument has already begun). I do that by compromising where maybe I don't truly want to or I don't enforce my boundaries, or maybe I don't speak up when something is said or done that is hurtful to me. I let it go. None of that is healthy. What is healthy is enforcing healthy boundaries and advocating for ourselves when it's necessary.
Another way that I cope is that I get into my head and create scenarios of fear or conflict and give them life. Scenarios like this: my partner will hate me because I disagreed with her on this subject. Or my partner is going to think I'm immature and stupid because I acted in this way. Or my partner is just a real bitch, and she doesn't even really like me anyway, so what's the point of arguing. I've thought all of these things, built them up in my mind and used them as the tinder I needed to burn a relationship and end it.
I've even sabotaged relationships by instigating the very thing I fear: conflict. I do that because it makes it easier for me to walk away; I have a justification. Sabotaging a relationship produces an outcome that I knew was coming anyway. I've sabotaged relationships by fading out of them! By going no contact for no reason, which is abusive and painful. I pull the rug right out from under people. That's not okay; it's not healthy; it's emotionally abusive.
I do all of this, I believe, to preserve my autonomy and my perceived sense of security; make no mistake; in reality, I'm perpetuating a false sense of security. That's super toxic.
The fear of being poor
Did you know there's a phobia for being poor? I didn't know that until I started researching for this article. It's a thing.
As a child, I was relatively poor. It was just my mother and me. We relied on food stamps, Government subsidies, and the generosity of my grandparents. While we had a roof over our heads, we were typically without heat, electricity, and phone service. During an Oregon winter, it wasn't uncommon to see our breath while walking around the house, which sometimes seemed colder than the weather outside sometimes. Still, there was food to eat and shelter; things could have been much worse. My mother did what she could back then.
I remained a poor, low-wage worker after moving out of the house as a teenager. I wasn't good with money; when money came in, it would go right out, with no savings or investments. I would overpay credit cards when I had the extra money to apply towards my bills due to this guilt/shame that I had of being poor. It was a mess.
When I started to improve my financial situation, I still retained my bad money habits; it wasn't until my late thirties that I realized I needed to change my relationship with money. And so I did.
Here's the thing, though. That fear of being poor is more prevalent with people who come into money. I'm not talking necessarily about a cash windfall; I'm talking about people who noticeably increase their income; it might be 10% or a 30% increase, but something noticeable. They fear losing it! So, again, they overpay their bills, repay debts to friends/family (and don't safeguard their own security first), and don't invest or save that extra money because they fear being without it and harbor shame over not meeting their financial obligations, or not appearing to be successful, or a functioning adult!
When you’re constantly poor and struggling to make ends meet, the scarcity effect permeates all decisions.Source
People who have been poor for a long time tend to have much lower self-esteem and often don't believe in their ability to succeed at anything.
Additionally, people who have suffered being poor, lived in poverty, tend to have their views on being secure, their relationships, and much more altered in negative ways. For me, I've realized that my fear of being poor again influenced my choice of partners. If I saw that a partner was financially insecure, it would color my view of them! It would cause me to stall, and I would again build up scenarios in my head oh, my girlfriend is broke, that means I'm going to be paying all of her bills, she's going to be financially reliant on me like a baby, and that fear would cause me to take actions to sabotage my relationships. Again, it's messed up. It's a scarcity mindset. That scarcity mindset begins to rule your point of view of situations, relationships; it begins to affect your decision-making. While I worked to become financially secure, I didn't do the work to understand and overcome this scarcity mindset that was crippling me emotionally—I wasn't doing the labor to heal myself.
In business and finances, I've tried hard to adhere to an abundance mindset; I look for the opportunity in things. That abundance mindset aids me in taking financial risks like investing in stocks and ETFs. For example, the abundance mindset helps me decide if I should invest that 50k in a business partnership with a colleague. If I can focus an abundance mindset in my professional life why can't I do that in my personal life?
How fear affects relationships
A scarcity mindset, developed from past traumas like physical/emotional abuse and financial/food insecurity, can destroy a person's attempts to build a fulfilling life. To this point, that scarcity mindset, those past traumas, have tripped me up time and time again, causing me to sabotage nearly every romantic relationship I've had as an adult. It's thoroughly and completely dispiriting.
We ward away potential partners who would be a good fit for us because our self-preservation gets triggered by these fears when we detect their presence in our partners (whether real or imagined). This is true for me, at least. If I perceive a threat to my independence, my security, a threat of conflict, I get rid of that threat. I have pushed away some amazing people because of the fears I have.
Our fears and insecurities lead us to narrow our vision and think only in the short term; we don't think of the possibility of what if this thing goes RIGHT? What if this is the love that I actually deserve after all? What if I don't need to fear the unknown? What if this thing I fear isn't so bad? What if I have a conversation about what I fear? Then what?
Coping with fear in your relationships
I'll tell you right now; I'm not the person who should talk about this because I've never truly coped with my fears in a healthy manner. But you know what? I know what a future, healthier, version of me might do to better cope with these fears in a romantic setting.
Calling out those fears
Thus far, I've talked about fear as it pertains to the person who struggles with them and not so much the person on the other side of your fears. They fear, too, which is why it's important to call out our fears, to name our fears and put them out in the open!
Only when we have the courage to name our fears and to shine the light of scrutiny upon them can we begin to whittle away at them with the support of a loving partner. If you feel insecure about your partner's finances, bring it up to them. Can you make a plan together to improve the situation? Or, is there simply more that you don't understand about the situation that requires greater context? You won't know any of this or plot a course to work through the issues if you don't first discuss it.
Asking your partner to share their fears with you
Each partner owns fifty percent of a relationship, a wise ex once told me. It's true. When we give voice to our own fears, we similarly must open things up to hear from our partners, too, and understand what fears they may have. Have a healthy and open discussion about it. Together you can work on a solution or even help each other understand that the fear isn't as justified as it may seem.
The goal is not to minimize fear or to discount it. No, we want to understand why the fear exists so that your relationship can answer that fear and understand it.
Understanding that each of you has fears that likely trigger other fears within each of you is also important to understand. For example, if you require space because you feel like you need time alone to decompress, it is a good thing to discuss because your partner might think your retreating is a means of breaking up with them. Discussion, open dialogue is the way through all of this.
Recognize that the fear is likely not real
For me, the fears I have are not rooted in reality. I build these fears and scenarios up in my mind, and they have a minimal basis of truth attached to them; it is just trying to control my need to feel and be secure.
It's important to speak up about our fears with our partners so that they have an opportunity to respond and reflect. Often, you'll find that the fears you have are unjustified.
Having regular check-ins with your partner on these things is helpful; it's good to keep our fingers on the pulse of ourselves and our partners. However, we should be mindful that setting a boundary around these discussions is important. If we talk about what we fear all the time, that will ultimately become an unhelpful discourse and create more problems than it solves.
Understand that you're going to suck at this but working through conflict will bring you closer together
Having these discussions isn't easy by any stretch of the imagination. You're going to be bad at this, at first. Be patient with yourself and your partner. Understand that putting in the effort to have real discussions about these things will bring you closer together.
Conflict is where relationships are made…— Some yutz
My ex and I managed to have a couple of difficult, real, discussions about fear and/or things that were really nagging us. Each time it brought us closer. It was uncomfortable for me, but my ex appreciated the effort and the dialogue and let me know she appreciated it. And afterward, I felt a huge release of pressure and anxiety… I never managed to be consistent with the practice of openly communicating about the difficult things.
It's important to give yourself grace and to have self-compassion. Navigating fear and conflict are never easy; it requires a level of self-awareness and a good deal of security in oneself. The work asks us to show up for ourselves and our loved ones. It asks us so much and only rewards us when we make good on our commitment to that work. However, you don't have to let fear rule your future and ruin your relationships. You have a choice. Choose the possibility of what if it works out, my friends.