Of whom should I be afraid? At the heart of fear

Originally published in The Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch, 2016

To talk about goals, we must talk about the essential step of identifying obstacles. Obstacles may be concrete (not enough money), personal (procrastination) or harder to trace (fear of failure).

Fear is an emotion. We don’t make it happen. It happens to us. It can occur because of a personal belief, a necessary decision, or before we’ve even had a chance to think. Once it happens, we can use our thinking to increase or decrease the emotion. Cognitive therapy uses this technique to help lessen fear.

Fear has to do with the future, a fear of something that is difficult or impossible to overcome. With fear, there is also a feeling of hope of escape. If we didn’t hope that there is some way out, we’d feel depressed or despair.

Because of this difference, fear itself is not a bad thing. It can push us towards caution or towards action, depending on the difficulty.

In psychology, fear is considered from a biological and cognitive perspective (our bodies and our thinking). The fight or flight mechanism moves our bodies to action by raising heart rate, tightening muscles, and shortening breathing when the mind perceives some threat. As pure instinct, this happens without any thought. If while camping, Joe encounters a bear, his body is ready to save him, perhaps even before he’s fully aware of how dangerous the situation is. We still may experience fear without a physical threat. The same mechanism occurs. If you can’t always run or fight, the physical reaction may turn to anxiety.

If you feel fear or anxiety, ask yourself, what am I afraid to lose? It could be an opportunity, a loved one, reputation, security or many other possibilities. The answer tells us something about our values. Times of crisis reveal what matters most. Day-to-day anxiety can tell us the same.

Fear can transfer from the thing we fear to lose to the person or thing that makes us afraid. This is called transference. If I fear loss of safety, I become afraid of the aggressor. If I fear loss of love (rejection), I may fear confronting my partner. Naming the fear on the deepest level and acknowledging any transference that has occurred with help develop the thought process needed to work through, plan and possibly face the fear.

Sometimes we’re afraid because the thing we fear just seems so much bigger than us. Its magnitude implies its power. It implies we have less control. Ask yourself, how much control do I have in this situation?

There may resources or training available to empower you. Knowledge may help you face it. Reassessing values, contemplating such concepts as the meaning of life and death may help. Something as simple as the support of a friend, or knowing another has faced what you face now, can give you the strength and courage to know that the thing you are afraid is not as powerful as it feels.

Fear is natural and part of the human experience. Nevertheless, one may lose his ability to judge the appropriate amount of fear for a situation. Small things may seem bigger than they are, more dangerous even though the place is safe. It might become frightful to meet new people or go to a new place. In this case, the fear is disordered. If severe enough, the person may suffer from an anxiety disorder.

To maintain balance, when you fear afraid or anxious, ask yourself, “what am I afraid of losing?” Consider if the fear is realistic or not, and what would happen if you really lost it. It might not be as bad as you fear.

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