Courage, Not the Absence of Fear
By Steven Ross LCSW RSW
"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it," wrote Nelson Mandela in his 1994 memoir "Long Walk to Freedom." He was a wise man that discovered through trauma that courage and fear aren't opposites, but are qualities intertwined, with true courage being an act made inside a tumultuous space drenched in fear. "The brave man," he wrote most powerfully, "is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."
I think of that idea often inside of sessions I am having with clients who have no idea how brave they were and are, especially when we explore the act and process of 'coming out.' Trembling in the fear of the lost and alone is probably one of the most problematic and terrifying moments in a person's life, regardless of what the ‘coming out’ is all about. When we feel in our gut that we have to; must, display forward our authentic self, it is a moment of true reckoning with the self, even when so much of us want to; is desperate to keep our shameful little secret safely tucked away inside of our proverbial closet. It's a wonder any of us do it at all, ever, with what feels like is at stake, even when we are blessed with a family that we firmly believe will be accepting. Or not, which is much more terrifying.
It’s a challenge to our conceptualization of love and familial attachment, especially for anyone who identifies themselves to be part of the LGBTQ+ community. It takes tremendous courage in the face of fear to step forward into the light. The reality and discomfort of trying so hard to 'fit in' sits heavy on our collective heart, probably starting around the age of five or six. We see, even at that young age, that we are not like all those others.
Our brain sees this and tells us to hide; be cautious with the truth, and for some reason; blame it on society, we also know intuitively that this 'difference' is just plain not ok. It must be hidden, at all costs, because if anyone does uncover our true authentic self, love, care, and happiness, we sincerely believe, will vanish. It's a complicated connection, residing somewhere in the formulation that we are not, in essence, worthy or deserving of love, that we are wrong, bad, and somehow unacceptable. That unless we learn how to shove that uncomfortable part of ‘self’ deep down inside, out of the light of the day, and formulate a pathway to present a more acceptable self to the world, we will be doomed, isolated, and alone. And aloneness is an unbearably terrifying idea to take in.
But somehow, miraculously through courage and perseverance, many of us find a way past that fear and find a way to present our somewhat complicated authentic self to all that know us. Sometimes slowly and carefully, or sometimes rashly and brazenly. It's all good, ultimately, because it is most definitively brave. We decide, through the process of self-discovery and self-love, to accept our true emotional authentic self, bruises and all, and ask all those that matter to love us regardless of our 'differences'. Which, is courageous, and brave, I believe, and should be honored.
To discover through bravery that we are deserving of all the love we can take in. We never did have to earn love, or respect, that is for someone else to decide, I guess. We just have to set aside our protective shells, our false fronts, our false selves, and let our true beautiful colorful flag fly high. It’s something to see. And it's only the beginning of the journey of self-actualization and self-love, but it is one filled to the brim with a strong sense of courage in the face of the ultimate fear, and that, I tell you with all certainty, is something to be proud of.
Steven Ross LCSW RSW Private Practice Psychotherapy NYC, NY / NJ / MA, USA / Toronto, Ontario email@example.com
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