Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve become intensely aware of how much fear of being punished (for doing/saying/choosing the wrong thing or being the wrong person) controls and binds me.
I’m here, sharing this with you today, in the hopes that if you can relate, knowing you aren’t alone will ease some of the confusion and paralysis that can result from this fear.
Let’s look at three examples of how this fear plays out for me.
my husband expressing unhappiness with the state of the house and my first instinct being to jump right up and clean in order to avoid the punishment of his displeasure and potential withdrawal of love.
noticing over and over (especially in social media) the need to comply and say/do/be the ‘right’ thing so that I’m not mocked, shamed, called-out (punished).*
*Note: This one swiftly turns into the reverse as well – feeling compelled to shame or punish others for behavior or beliefs that I find destructive or harmful in some way.
facing overwhelm, confusion, paralysis every time I sit down to feel into and plan out the next few months for my work. Discovering, underneath the overwhelm, terror that if I make the wrong choice, I, my business, or my family will be punished in some yet unknown or unseen way.
Here’s what has become so apparent to me over the past couple of weeks. This fear of being punished stems, in large part, from two, intertwining, sources:
- the fear of going to hell if I’m not godly/good enough (and how can I ever be good enough for heaven when I can’t even keep our house clean?)
- the deeply entrenched belief that there is ONE right way to be or ONE right path to walk.
Let’s explore further.
My family has been part of a fundamentalist evangelical Christian church for generations (my parents were the first to leave, when I was 13, to enter the ‘world’). As a member of that church, if one didn’t conform and follow the church rules for how a proper member behaves/thinks/talk/acts, they faced the very real threat of being kicked out of the community (and therefore, out of heaven upon death as well).
For people who have been in ‘The Church’ for generations, this is terrifying – they know no other way of being, have no other living people to lean into for protection and support, and have been actively taught that anyone who isn’t in the church is a sinner, is going to hell, is unreliable, immoral, and not to be trusted.
Further, if they are cast out of the church, their very soul is in danger of spending eternity burning in the pits of hell.
Therefore, there is good cause to do as they are told, to not think for themselves, and to not question the doctrine (or the deacons).
Even if they understand rationally that leaving or being cast out of the community is unlikely to result in them being bound for hell, there is often an echo of this fear remaining in their nervous systems. When one has been a part of a family or community that has held this belief for generations, this fear doesn’t tend to resolve easily.
So, that’s one layer… the fear of burning in hell.
There’s another layer here as well:
There is an intensity of overwhelm, paralysis, and confusion that stems from the belief that there is ONE right … well, everything… way to act, to think, to be, one choice that is right while all others are wrong. All compounded by the deeply entrenched knowing that if we don’t get it right, we will be punished.
This is a tangled issue because, as sensitive healer-type people, we have all likely been mocked or punished at some point for expressing ourselves in some way that others didn’t appreciate; we have this personal experience of pain living in our nervous systems.
Tangling the issue further is the body-level knowing that there are those in our lineages who have been punished in small and large ways for not conforming, for not doing the ‘right’ thing or for not acting in the way others thought they should… who have perhaps even given their lives for their ‘subversive’ beliefs or for being their authentic selves and living their witchy earth-honoring gifts.
Which brings me back to my personal revelation around how deeply this fear is still entrenched within my own body and nervous system.
The internal forces shaping the landscape remain unchanged.
What has become so apparent to me is that even though there has been much healing around this pattern of fear of punishment and, in large part, I’m no longer making decisions about what to do or how to live based on the expectations of others, there’s a deeper level where I am very much still operating out of this fear.
When it comes to my work, my life path, my destiny (if you will), I’ve still been operating from this place where there is ‘one right’ way of being or one right thing to do that is most aligned with my path/destiny. And, if I don’t choose the ‘right’ thing, my work, my clients, my family, will suffer in some way for my choice. Thus, the paralysis, confusion, overwhelm mentioned above.
How healing progresses:
In my experience, as healing progresses, we reach a point where we are no longer quite so fearful of making the ‘wrong’ choice in the eyes of others and then being punished…
Now the fear is of making the wrong choice for our path… and then being punished for choosing something that isn’t aligned with our destiny or for being off our path in some way.
In short, the external landscape has changed but the internal forces shaping the landscape remain the same.
It’s still the same pattern… we are still operating from the belief that there is ONE right choice and if we don’t do that ONE right thing, we will be punished and/or end up in hell.
The good news. Yes! There’s good news. 🙂
The good news is… as the various layers of this fear have become more conscious for me, I’ve been able to sink deeply into the love and support of my guides and well ancestors.
They have held me as waves of terror (of being/doing wrong, of being punished, of going to hell) have repeatedly crashed and receded.
As I sit with and meet these waves of terror, I’m beginning to experience a deeper sense of spaciousness and of resting into the fullness of who I am… this isn’t just cliché, it’s an actual experience of softening and of allowing and of trusting … trusting that I am safe being me, trusting that I am supported and loved, trusting that it is ok to make mistakes, that the fullness of life is here for me and that there are no ‘wrong’ choices.
I can honestly say that I’m not even close to trusting 100% that whatever I choose is ok.
There are parts of me still clinging to the belief that there is ONE thing that is better than all the rest (for me, for my path, for my family, for those I serve). And yet, there is a softening there as well… more of a willingness to play, to experiment, and a knowing that I can course-correct if needed.
All of this to say :), if these words spark a recognition in you of a similar pattern of operating from a fear of punishment, you are not alone. And, healing is possible even for patterns this deeply entrenched.
all my love,
ps. I’d love to hear from you… what is evoked in you as you read this share? Fear of punishment is one that is often very deeply embedded and even just talking about it can bring up strong feelings or sensations. Feel free to reach out if this is the case for you. I will read, witness, and respond.
pps. Want to explore further? An Ambling Session could be a wonderful way for that to happen.