Fear of Know-Fear

I have a friend who suffers from deprimophobia. For those who don’t know*, that translates to “fear of ironing.” The interesting thing is that, unlike my completely rational arachnophobia, her fear is not of the mechanisms of ironing itself. She handles laundry like a pro, hangers are no problem, and she can sleep soundly even knowing that the iron and board are nearby in a closet.

No, instead the fear and aversion comes from the simple fact that she was never taught how to do it. Therefore, if she tries it, she will (and these are her words, not mine) “look stupid.”

This is not her fault. Somewhere, I suspect, there is a past teacher of household skills that imprinted on a very young version of my friend some guilt, ridicule, or maybe even just well-meaning-but-destructive criticism about ironing. As a result, the very action of laying iron to cloth causes an anxiety attack that basically makes her avoid ironing like I avoid spiders.

Nor is she alone.

Perfect, the Enemy of the Good

I have another friend** who is a genius. Seriously over-achieving, National Merit Scholar straight-A advanced-math type guy. Back in the day (because it’s been a while) he also didn’t like trying anything new, not for fear of looking stupid (because he was quite secure in his intellect, thank you very much) but because there was a chance, with any new skill or subject, that he might make a mistake. He was so used to doing things perfectly that he didn’t see any reason to break his record.

There’s nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but I always wondered what things that might have kept him from doing. I know for a fact that it kept him doing some things that he didn’t necessarily enjoy, simply because he was good at them. That’s an easy trap to fall into, the “safe” zone where you don’t have to push yourself because what you’re doing is not only enough, but it is actually good. My meditation practice right now is at that point; I can do 15 minutes every day, no problem. There’s no shame in that, it’s better than I’ve done for most of my life, so why shouldn’t I just stay there?

Bad Buddhist

The answer, I suspect many of my teachers would say, is that I should stay there, if that’s where I wanted to stay. Then they would gently nudge me and say “But if you feel like you want to sit longer, maybe you should try that out, see what it’s like?

I resist that idea, and there’s a lot of good reasons. I’m trying to normalize my sleep schedule, to get more than eight hours a night. I’ve got lots of work to do for clients, and writing to do for Love Life Practice, and a whole novel that’s been sitting gathering dust in the corner of my mind, and I should be exercising more, and…and…

But underneath that pile of rationalizations lies the real reason: sitting more often, or longer, will be harder. And if I can’t do it, or can only do it for a while, there will come a sense of failure, of not being up to the challenge, and that fear of knowing that I couldn’t do it is just as real as the fear of feeling stupid or the fear of not being your best.

“It is a sign of great inner insecurity to be hostile to the unfamiliar”-Anäis Nin

The Leaden Rule

As long as I’m making things up, let’s make up the opposite of the Golden Rule – call it the “Leaden” (as in the metal) Rule:

Do Unto Yourself As You Would Do Unto Others

See, that’s the thing. I’ve seen my Deprimophobic friend teach people new skills – in fact, she’s a trainer at her job. She has a great combination of patience and clear communication skills that helps people really feel comfortable as they move into a new skillset. I’m absolutely positive that when they mess up or don’t perform a task quite up to par she does not say “Why are you so stupid?” Like most of the best teachers, she focuses on reinforcing the positive behavior and helping the person figure out for themselves alternate ways of handling the mistakes.

I, on the other hand, regularly challenge people on this blog, in classes, and through various communications media to take on new journeys, to push their abilities, to set goals and strive for them. One friend who is right now reading this blog instead of writing for NanoWrimo*** has suffered some really boot-campish abuse from me, telling her to WRITE WRITE WRITE in order to meet her goal.

If she doesn’t meet her goal, am I going to tell her she won’t ever be a novelist? Will I tell her not to bother pretending to be a writer? Will make her feel in any way, shape, or form the way I make myself feel when I don’t write?


Why do we do that to ourselves? It’s the opposite of being self-centered. It’s being self-displaced, making everyone else but yourself worthy of your compassion.

Silly humans.

This was her first lesson! Not.

The Joy of the N00b

While I may be hesitant to up my meditation game, I am very unlike my friends in that I love taking on some new skill. There are a few things that I’m good at, and even a couple that I am considered “expert” in, but I love it when I can start something fresh and know that I know nothing – or at least, very little – about it.

That’s because it’s immensely freeing! When I’m teaching a stage combat class, for example, people look to me for the right way to move with their partner, for the right ways to be safe, for approval or disapproval. I have to find ways to positively reinforce the things they do right and help them find alternative etc. It’s a lot of work, and it being a labor of love makes it no less a labor.

But when I can try something I’ve never done before, I’m free to make mistakes! Not only is no one expecting me to show any skill, I get the joy of going from I can’t do this to I can do this, a little. Even if it’s something I don’t end up enjoying, that simple act of acquiring a smidgeon of skill is a joy in and of itself. If I’m lucky, I have a teacher who will positively reinforce the things I do right and help me find alterna- eh, you get the idea.

And if not, if they look at me and say “Geez, why can’t you do it right? What are you, stupid?” then I can simply smile to myself, knowing that I could, in another setting, teach them a thing or two about teaching.

The Call to Action:

So I’m not going to tell you to give yourself permission to make mistakes. I’m not going to tell you to give yourself a break when you can’t quite do something perfectly, or as well as you think you should.

That’s not good enough.

I’m going to suggest to you that you revel in that space of not-knowing. I’m going to imply that you can be as proud of yourself with every slight improvement, every lesson learned, every page studied and wrinkle pressed and word written as you would if you saw your best friend doing it.

Basically, I’m going to suggest that you treat yourself as well as you treat others.

Does that sound so hard?


*Because I just invented the word.
**You may have noticed: if you’re my friend, you may end up on this blog.
***You know who you are. This blog will still be here Dec. 1. PRIORITIZE WORDCOUNT. 

2 thoughts on “Fear of Know-Fear”

  1. I’m taking a woodworking class tomorrow at Woodcraft and I know absolutely nothing about it. Can’t wait! Crappy shop class xmas presents for all my friends!

    Try new stuff, everyone! It’s fun. That fear of imperfection is so paralyzing, and so nice to let go. Don’t get me wrong, some things I beat myself up about not being perfect, but it’s things that should be perfect, like work. But new things? New skills? Say it with me now, “oh, I didn’t know that was how it was supposed to look, I’m new, I’ve never done this before.” Ahhh.

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