I will start this post with the oft heard quote -- was it really Einstein? an alcoholic in a 12 step meeting? -- that defines insanity as:
Doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.
Much has been written and documented about human beings and our tendency to repeat behaviors with "negative" consequences, or, those which diminish health, happiness, well-being and peace.
Many people spend time trying to answer the Why. "WHY on earth did I do THAT...AGAIN?" while others step in to say something along the lines of "Don't ask why! Do you want to stop? If you want to stop NOW, stop analyzing!"
Personally, I've been on both sides. I've done my fair share of repetition (and I'm not talking a Meisner exercise at the moment, at the moment, at the moment) and I've sought equal amounts of techniques and tools to STOP doing the behavior. I've also analyzed the heck out of myself to find the WHY since curiosity will never kill this cat and I figured if WHY can inspire positive behavior (see Simon Sinek's book Start with Why) then why can't it stop behavior contributing to my suffering?
Recently, I did the Landmark Forum, a 3-day seminar, workshop, class of sorts that has a reputation as one of the leading programs in the world for personal transformation. It also has the reputation of being a cult (see its routes in the EST program of the 1970s), impossibly intrusive when it comes to marketing to your friends/family and short on its long-term benefits. Taking the Forum is like doing a 12 step program personal inventory on steroids (Where have you been self seeking, selfish, dishonest? How has your behavior affected others?). It is personal responsibility to the MAX and looking at where you keep integrity or lack it by way of being authentic or inauthentic, keeping your word or breaking your word, living in resentments or letting go, expressing yourself powerfully or diminishing your light. This "work" is done in a space with 100+ people you get up and share in front of a microphone, if you choose. It's bizarre and very challenging. I do think it's effective, though, and I'm currently in a 10 week class of weekly 3-hour seminars to carry the Forum to completion.
What I've discovered is that FEAR is mainly a hypothetical until you become aware of it in your body and that most of us do so much to bury our FEAR, deny we have it, run from it and ultimately, FEAR it. FDR's saying, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself..." might have been a self fulfilling prophesy for our society. Perhaps it's a learned behavior, this FEARING of the FEAR. I recognize how the fear of my fear has lead me to do what feels SAFE, no matter what the consequence.
Simply, the desire to feel safe is a natural reaction to being afraid of being afraid.
The antidote, then, is what? Well, it's presence, for starters. It is living in and allowing the feeling of FEAR instead of REACTING to fear with more FEAR and behaviors that make you feel safe, even if they create more suffering. "Sit with it" or "Be with it" might be the wisest three words someone can say to you.
Have you ever seen a little child become very afraid of something, it could be a large dog barking or a cartoon character at Disneyland, have something of a fit and then at the end, just have this urgent, compelling need to be comforted and then say I LOVE YOU to mom or dad? I don't have kids or a degree in Child Psych but I've seen this phenomenon more than once and it is amazing.
As adults, you reach the point when comforting with security habits* creates so much suffering, you can't help but see the insanity of the whole operation. You can't help but see that the repetition of the behavior, no matter how many times it's done, is not the proper antidote to fear. So, you thank it for its usefulness and you let it go, preferring instead to stand in the feeling you're about to have a tantrum, not unlike a 3 year old, because you are that afraid of your fear.
Security habits look like this --
3. excessive exercise (particularly when sick, injured or exhausted)
4. seeking control in relationships by giving mixed messages to your partner, companion or friend
5. settling for less than fulfilling relationships because some aspect of it is the comforter (not the bedding, I mean the comforting element) whether it's the sex, the friendship, the way you appear to others, etc., or all the above
What helps is finding space, peaceful self acceptance, love and understanding that the FEAR won't harm you, freeze you forever, kill your mojo, or take you over for the rest of your whole life.
"Letting go" of fear seems to be a direct result of acclimating oneself to it and allowing it to be in your body without fighting it over and over again. It is a result more than an action. A result of stopping the security habit and being present to the tiers of fear underneath.