The Fear of Falling Apart

It’s one of the most common fears in recovery – that if we open up and share our pain or our fears that we’ll fall apart and never be okay again. While this never actually happens, we need to consider the benefits of letting go of the baggage we carry.

It’s always surprising to learn that our struggles are shared by others near and dear to us. Part of the cost of holding secrets is the false belief and feeling that no one else is as big of a mess as we are. Instead of supporting one another, we isolate for fear of burdening friends and family. This is all the more tragic because instead of sharing pain through mutual grieving, we tend to suffer alone.

Hiding our fears causes a loss of perspective and leaves us feeling weak. We who pride ourselves in being independent (fearful of relying on others) often reject ourselves, simply for feeling what we feel and for thinking of things that we’d much rather forget.

It’s ok to be afraid. Fear is the most basic of all emotions. In fact, all emotions are naturally occurring and ought not to be judged. Yet many of us hold ourselves in contempt when we realize that our feelings are irrational and/or not proportionate to what is happening in the here and now.

The most important lesson about managing pain, fear, shame, and other “negative” emotions is to not be alone with them. To practice this takes a lot of what counselors call “unlearning.” Those of us who grew up in unhealthy families learned to hide our emotions. We got so good at this that we often manage to hide them from ourselves. We “stuff” them, but the things we bury don’t want to stay buried.

They come up again and again, especially when what we’re experiencing in the present connects us to our past. Quite often, when we feel now as we did then, we act now as we did then.

As children, we learned to avoid being vulnerable. All these years later, we’re trying to undo that conditioning. It feels unsafe, selfish, and scary to be vulnerable, and yet it remains the key to the healing, love, and intimacy we most want.

As a coach and a counselor, I’m always focused on the bottom line: For most of us, our greatest fear is that if we open up, we will fall apart, and we will not be able to put ourselves together again.

We’re the emotional equivalents of Humpty Dumpty, or at least so we believe.

I routinely tell folks that the very worst that can happen by sharing pain with others is that it will become “more real” in your mind. You will feel things more, and hopefully express them more. In the worst-case scenario, you will cry yourself to sleep and wake up feeling like you have a hangover (dehydration).

What’s vital is that we allow ourselves to experience and express without medicating or distracting ourselves from it.

If you find that you cannot get past the fear of falling apart, set a timer and promise yourself that when it goes off (please give yourself at least 20-30 minutes) you will dry your eyes and continue with your day. In the absence of this, we become like dams that are simply holding back too much – sooner or later, we either crack or overflow.

Please, listen to your gut, think of the people who want to support you, and always bear in mind:

It helps us to help you.