Feedback, Fear, and Your Body

“I am afraid for you,” she said.

But I’m not afraid for me, I thought. At least, not afraid the way you are.

“If you publish this, you know the outcome . . . Are you sure?” he asked.

Yes. I have to do it anyway. I’ll be as kind as I can, but I’m also going to tell the truth.

“People can be assholes,” she said.

Yeah, they can. I can take it. I think.

When I wrote Love Letters to My Body, the personal essay collection that dug into the grittier parts of learning to love my body, I solicited a lot of feedback. I asked those closest to chime in as well as those with whom I have an amiable but more distant relationship. And I heard multiple times, from multiple people, that they were afraid for me.

That was hard to hear.

But also it was illuminating because what I realized was that all the effort, time, and love I’d invested in myself had paid off. Because I wasn’t afraid to publish those love letters. Or to be more honest, I was afraid, but not in the same ways those well-meaning folks were. I’d already thought about every scenario they brought up, every worst-case moment, and I’d decided sharing my powerful stories was more important than staying silent.

I have learned that when we show up as our most vulnerable selves, it will make someone else afraid. They will say that they are afraid for us, and this is especially true if they love us.

But they are also afraid for themselves. Because we have given them a glimpse of a nugget inside their own bodies, a seed of a plan, that if they allow to bloom, they know will bring pain, even as it brings a rising.

How many times have I done this to someone else? Have I suggested they take a different approach because I wanted to spare them pain? How many times have I done this to myself? Have I let my fear hold me back?

Something that is now crystal clear to me that wasn’t when I began that journey was the need to be transparent with myself before I ask for feedback. I need to know where I stand before I ask anyone else to chime in. It would have been so easy to hear the quiver in their voices, to see the doubt in their faces about exposing such candid stories, and to have made the decision to not publish the book, or even worse (in my mind) to have published a watered-down version.

Thankfully, I was steady in my body, without even realizing just how important that would be, before I had people reflect their own fears back to me. I could mine their feedback for what was valuable and objectively witness their own projections of fear.

How can your body help you suss out what is your fear and what is someone else’s?

First, get curious about what fear feels like in your body. Common ways our bodies show us we’re afraid:

  • A tightening in the chest
  • Tense muscles (think shoulders, jaw)
  • Unsettled tummy that can range from butterflies to full-on pain
  • Diarrhea or vomiting
  • Heaviness in your limbs
  • Cold surge through your veins when adrenaline and cortisol release
  • Teeth chattering and shaking muscles
  • Blank mind
  • Shallow breathing

My body responds to the situation dependent on how big it determines the threat.

Next, get curious about how your body feels when it’s steady and grounded. Note that I didn’t say when you’re not afraid. Because you can be afraid and also be steady. Common ways our bodies show us we’re grounded:

  • A feeling of solidity (not heaviness)
  • Increased awareness of sensory sensations
  • Natural breathing
  • Sense of ease
  • Relaxed or loose muscles

Building this personal awareness will evolve over time, the more you focus on understanding your body’s unique language.

With intention, determine how you feel. Then when you source feedback, or it’s shoveled onto you without solicitation, check in with yourself. How does your body feel after the feedback is received?

Give yourself time for an initial reaction. Process whatever emotions arise. Then check in with yourself again. Notice if you’re responding to the other person’s feelings, or even taking them on as your own.

Once you’re steady, sort through the feedback. Put it in one of three categories:

  • This resonates. I need to take another look and decide if/how I want to utilize this guidance.
  • This does not resonate. I’m going to let this go.
  • I’m not sure where I stand on this. I’m going to let it marinate and check back in later.

You’ll be able to make your decision from a place of empowerment when you have clarity about what is best for you.

Fear can be a beautiful tool to keep us safe, but it doesn’t have to be a limiting one.