What is Fear?
The American Heritage Dictionary defines fear as a feeling of agitation and anxiety caused by the presence or imminence of danger. You and I know fear as a cold chill, nausea, racing heartbeat, cold sweat, and a tension or tightness throughout the body. These symptoms result from the body’s natural reaction to threat, with preparations for fight or flight.
Perhaps what we don’t realize is that fear is always about a future event. Even the fear one feels from an immediate threat is a projection that the threat will become reality. While it is useful to be aware of potential threats to physical well being, we must recognize that fear mobilizes the body for immediate action–flight or fight–which effectively focuses all our physical and mental resources on the perceived threat.
This is all well and good for a real threat. But we seldom face real threats. Most of the threats we perceive are ill-defined future situations with low probability of occurrence. Yet we frequently feel fear and fear drives many of our actions. Why are we so fearful and is it healthy for us?
Fear is a powerful emotion. Fear keeps us from crossing a busy street without looking. But fear also keeps us from realizing our full potential. We grow up with fear because those who influence us know that fear is an excellent way to control a person. This seems to work well when our parents tell us the terrible things that could happen if we:
- Run with a sucker in our mouth
- Talk to strangers
- Take alcohol, tobacco, or drugs
- Fail to eat our vegetables
- Do poorly in school
- Break the laws of government and religion
- and on, and on
Parental responsibility is to educate young people to the dangers of life. But education informs while fear controls. All too often those in power select fear rather than education. It’s so much easier to control behavior through fear than to inform and debate; it’s no wonder parents, teachers, coaches, political leaders, employers, and the media routinely use fear instilling techniques to accomplish their objectives.
The Roots of Fear
Our ultimate fear is that of survival. A parallel fundamental fear is that we will not be loved. The two are intertwined when God or religion comes into the equation. Some religions teach that to fall out of favor with God (to be unloved) is to burn in hell forever (failure to survive).
Even without the effect of fundamental religion, most of our fears stem from the fear of loss of life or loss of love. Pick any fear you currently feel and trace it back to it’s root; I’m certain you’ll find that you’re afraid of personal harm–death at it’s extreme–or emotional harm–the withdrawal of love from someone important to you.
The Impact of Fear
Fear is merely an emotion, a very strong emotion to be sure, but simply an emotion. Fear helps us avoid dangerous situations in childhood. Now that we’ve reached adulthood, healthy personal development suggests we examine our fears. Do our fears serve us or hinder us? So many of us live each day moving from one fear to another, without realizing its impact.
Fear robs us of our creativity. While in a fearful state, our body’s resources are mobilized to deal with the feared event, making it difficult to focus on anything else. You’ve experienced this if you’ve ever been fearful for the health and survival of a loved one, or if you’ve feared an event which would radically alter your life. It’s very difficult to be positive, creative, and energetic while at the bedside of an ill loved one or while watching the approach of a severe weather event.
Temporary loss of creativity isn’t the worst of it. Excessive focus on a feared event can actually attract to us exactly the event that we fear. This is the Law of Attraction; we create what we focus upon. The frequency of vibration of the energy we generate tends to attract events of similar frequency.
While focused on a feared event, we lose a wonderful gift–the present. Since feared events are always future events, when we’re focused upon these we fail to appreciate the present moment. Unfortunately, we’re missing out on life one second at a time. Life is the present moment. All we ever have is the present. That is the gift of life. The past is over; it’s value is in what we’ve learned. The future is uncertain; no one can foretell the future with certainty.
Fear is like being in a rocking chair; you use a lot of energy but you don’t get anywhere. Yoda, of Star Wars fame, summarized fear this way: “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”
Overcoming Your Fears
Several years ago I decided enough was enough; I decided that I was tired of living my life based on fear. Instead, I determined to lead a life focused on love and joy. If you feel that pull to free yourself of fears here are some tips that will help you.
Remember that your soul is immortal. Most religions teach us that the soul lives forever and that your physical body is just a temporary existence. Death is certain. We all face it. Accept that your body will eventually die, but your soul–which is the real you–will live on.
Read The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle. This is a wonderful book that will show you the beauty of now and help you to give up fear as a daily partner. Focusing on the moment of now brings new meaning to life.
Make a list of every serious fear you can recall, filling in as much detail of it as you can remember. Note what happened. Did the feared event occur? If it did, were the results as negative as those you feared? Many life changes turn out to have positive results. Losing the job you hated may have caused you to find a new job you love. How often did your fears materialize? If you’re like most people, they seldom occurred.
Start a fear log. Each time you feel afraid write down the date, the event you fear, and what you feel will result if the event occurs.
Over time, reflect back on your fear log. Notice how seldom the feared event materializes, or if it occurs how often the results aren’t as bad as you feared.
When a new fear starts to take over your life and you’ve logged it, fully acknowledge it. Read your statement of fear. Acknowledge out loud that you fear this event and why. Accept that it is part of you for now. Then rid yourself of it with ceremony. Declare out loud that you are giving up this fear. Write the fear on a piece of paper and tear it up with a flourish. Or write a letter to your fear telling it that you are giving it up and why.
Just as we cannot throw a ball unless we first hold it in hand, we cannot effectively throw away a fear unless we first grasp it firmly.
Reach Your Potential
Succumbing to fear will prevent you from reaching your full potential. Once you face your fear, the source of your fear, and the likelihood of it occurring, you will be able to move forward toward your life goals without the obstruction of unnecessary fear.