Do any of these experiences sound familiar, whether past or present: You took on jobs that you hated and held onto every dollar you had out of fear of not having enough money. You punished your body at the gym for fear of gaining weight. You watched what you ate because you hated your body. You surrounded yourself with unhealthy “friends,” and endured unhealthy relationships because you feared being rejected. You became a people-pleaser because you feared disappointing others. You partied and trashed your body to numb the deep loneliness you felt.
Margarita Tartakovsky is an associate editor at PsychCentral.com, an award-winning mental health website, and the voice behind Weightless, a blog that helps women deal with body image issues and disordered eating. She also writes a monthly feature for Beliefnet.com, covering topics such as patience and procrastination.
Editor: Nadeem Noor
These are examples Melissa Ambrosini shares in her book Mastering Your Mean Girl. And they’re all the ways she chose fear in her life (over love). I’m sure you can relate. We all do this. Maybe your choices look a little different. Maybe they wear a different face. But the foundation, the core, is the same.
Ambrosini shares other examples of making decisions out of fear versus love. For instance, love is “I exercise because I love the way it makes me feel.” Fear is “I exercise because I hate the size of my bum and thighs and because I’m desperate to fit into my jeans again.” Love is “The people who surround me are loving, supportive and aligned with my beliefs.” Fear is “I am holding on to toxic relationships because I am scared I will have no friends.” Love is “I regularly take time for myself to sit in stillness, turn inward and reflect.” Fear is “I don’t have the time and I can’t bear the thought of stopping and sitting with myself and my feelings.”
Love may feel like deep connection and deep peace—within yourself, with others. Love may feel like being fully engaged in what you’re doing. Fully immersed. It may feel light and airy. It may feel like compassion. I think of choosing love as choosing what is in our best interest. What supports and enlivens us. What inspires and ignites us.
The idea of love versus fear is such a powerful distinction. Because it’s important for us to understand why we’re making the choices we’re making. It’s important for us to lead with love. This is the birthplace of self-care, self-respect and a fulfilling life.
Of course, it’s not always easy to act from love. But we can start by doing this in small ways. Maybe you start by only doing physical activities that you genuinely enjoy. Maybe you start by declining invitations to parties where you feel lonely anyway. There were many times in the past where I’d hang out with people who didn’t care about me. But it was, in my mind, a better option than being home alone. Yet that’s not true. Because when you’re by yourself, the options are endless. You can do whatever activities you like. Whatever sparks your joy. You can read. You can write. You can go on different adventures. You can visit your favorite places. You can cook a delicious meal. You can work on a creative project. You can listen to music and simply relax.
You also can start by listing a few ways you’re currently choosing fear in different situations, and breaking each one down into slices. You can think of areas in those situations where you can choose love instead. Again, small steps. And for other new decisions, you can ask yourself, as Ambrosini suggests: “What would love do right now?” And go from there.
Again, I know this can be complicated. Very complicated. So go slow. Pay attention to how you’re making decisions. Notice the intentions behind your actions. And if you’re finding it really tough to act from a place of love, seek support. It’s too important not to.