Note: the information in this article was gathered from personal experience, reflection, and work with my own feelings. Take it as you will.
Definition of Fear
The feeling of resistance that comes when a certain direction in life looks dangerous.
What seems to cause fear
While this might not cover all cases of fear, one of the primary causes of fear seems to be when we perceive an idea as dangerous. The fear is basically a “possible truth”, or a way the world could be, but is not necessarily. These possible truths could range from “I’m in danger of falling and dying” or “I’m about to get bitten by that spider” to “He’s late because he got in a car crash”. Often these ideas have serious implications for your life if they were true, but because you have no proof, they can hang within your mind as a possibility unresolved for a long time.
It is important to note that these “possible truths” conflict with other ideas that you would be more comfortable with, things like “I’m completely safe” or “I’m sure he’s late because of traffic”. It is all too easy to lose sight of the idea one might be comfortable with because the presence of the dangerous idea can attract all the attention.
It is primarily the unresolved conflict between the comfortable idea and the dangerous one that keeps fear alive inside you.
To resolve fear, you need to find a way to resolve the conflict between the comfortable and dangerous ideas.
Now, when we first feel fear, it may be in response to something in particular, rather than an idea. In this case, it’s important to find the idea that’s fueling the fear. To do this, just ask yourself: “Under what conditions would what I’m afraid of be scary?” The ideas about reality that you come up with after asking that question can be responded to with the process outlined below.
Once you have the idea about reality that’s creating the fear, come up with a counter-theory that feels comfortable rather than dangerous. From there, you need to get to the truth of both ideas. Ask yourself: What’s actually causing you to come up with the idea that you fear in the first place? And with the comfortable idea, what’s the truth there? Be honest and frank about the things you don’t know or can’t prove about your comfortable idea, and show yourself where the holes in it are.
Once the truth of both ideas is exposed to you, you can look for possible solutions. Maybe you’ll decide to learn more about a particular area of life, or to make a phone call. A lot of times, just finding out more information can help resolve the fear, because you’ve put your unknowns in front of you, and instead of coming up with theories for what might be true, you can concentrate on finding out more about what IS true.
Working with both the fear and the comforting idea allows for some of your focus to be on the “safe haven” that is often forgotten when focusing solely on the fear. Whatever your safe haven is, there may be some truth to it, too.
An Exercise for Fear
Here is a step-by-step process you can use to guide yourself through working through any fear. This can easily be done on a piece of paper or in a text editor:
- First, write down what you’re afraid of. If it’s an idea about reality, just skip to step four.
- For your fear, ask yourself, “Under what conditions would what I fear actually BE scary?”. Write down these conditions under your fear.
- Pick one of the conditions to be your “feared idea”.
- Now that you have your feared idea, write down your comfortable idea – this is the possible truth that you’d rather be true.
- Then write down all the facts regarding your feared idea. What caused you to come up with that idea in the first place? Try to stick with the facts. For instance, if you “know” something just because someone told you, write down only that someone told you it was true.
- Next, write down the truth about your comfortable idea. Regardless of what you’d like to be true, where are the holes in your comfortable idea? How do you define the situation in which the idea is true, and what parts about the present situation don’t meet the ideal? For instance, if your comfortable idea is “everything is going to be ok”, the truth might be “I don’t ACTUALLY know everything’s going to be ok, but at the same time, I have no proof that it isn’t.”
- Finally, with the real truth of the situation in front of you, try to come up with solutions. What decisions can you make, such as gathering information, making phone calls, etc., to resolve the matter. It might be something more passive like accepting the unknowns in life, as well.
- Repeat the steps above for any additional fears or feared ideas that come up during the process.
Fear and Perfectionism
Fear is always going to try to get you to stay afraid. To do that, it has to keep a foothold, and provide value to you as a means of getting something you want: for instance, greater safety, or less lack.
When it comes to Perfectionism, it can feel somewhat benign – a way to strive towards a better life, that could at worst cause some unnecessary stress. And yet, there is a hidden way that perfectionism lets fear in, and helps sustain it.
Perfectionism is constantly looking towards what is imperfect and could be improved. And fear is always looking for a reason to stick around. If nothing is ever truly perfect, and yet perfection is truly desired, then fear becomes always justified. We can’t feel safe because what if our safety isn’t perfect? We can’t feel secure in our sense of reality because what if our knowledge is not perfect, and there is something more to consider? How do we know who we are, fully, when we have not seen ourselves in every circumstance, experienced everything? Are we sure we’re moral, when we don’t have perfect knowledge of our future actions?
We can never have perfection. Every time we might feel we’ve obtained it, again it can feel absent by comparison to the unknown. There’s always something more, something new that could interrupt it. And in this way, we can keep ourselves always afraid as well.
Find the imperfect beauty of life. Return to the experience of the present, where things are random, strange, yet wholly alive and real. Attachment to perfection will keep us hostage, so free yourself by letting it go. You’ll never know everything. That’s okay. You can still exist, wonder, love, connect, be yourself, speak, and learn more out of your inherent curiosity. There’s always more to know. That’s part of the journey and the adventure of living.
Be careful about what fear pressures you to accept. Fear’s main danger lies in its ability to warp your entire life if you let it, into something that ultimately is not true to who you are at your fearless core. Do not be fooled! Fear has its ideas in order to make sense of life and find relief, but there are greater truths to find that will help you feel free and empowered, not crushed and merely getting by.
However, sometimes fear argues for the right thing but in the wrong way.
Fear of Ideas
One particularly nasty situation you can get into is when what you fear is an idea, and your conditioning starts to try and convince you that you’re too “cowardly” to accept the “truth” of that idea. This is a mishandling of an idea on both sides. Truly, one can fear an idea that’s even obviously false. In these cases, a recognition of that falsehood is what can be liberating and empowering.
Ultimately, our conditioning is afraid as well – fearful that we might fool ourselves by siding with fear’s opinion. The pressure to simply resolve our perspective can become immense, and fuel the intensity around an issue where there may be ambiguity, confusion, or an imperfect sense of reality.
It is always important to honor both the ambiguity and the certainty when it comes to evaluating ideas. Some ideas, especially ones that spur great alarm, need to be treaded with careful sensitivity. And some ideas cannot just be handled with thinking alone. Some, you must add in experiences of connection to yourself, grounding into the reality of feelings and life in the experiential moment.
The goal is always to find the truth, but the truth is not only understood, but experienced.
If You Feel Like There’s No Escape
One thing to remember if you feel like there’s no escape:
No matter how inescapable a situation seems, it can only ever SEEM inescapable. The fact that it seems inescapable means that the option is available for you to keep searching for another way out. Even when you’ve exhausted all your known options, that doesn’t mean you’ve exhausted all your unknown options. After all, how could you know the unknown? First you have to discover it, and searching for answers can be a good way of uncovering more options than the ones you already know. I mention this because it seems to me that just knowing that there’s a way forward, even when it seems to be a FACT that there’s no escape and that things are hopeless, provides a consolation and a place of safety from fear. After all, even when confronted with your worst fear – maybe there is a way out, or maybe, even if all seems lost, you can rest in knowing that you don’t know, REALLY what will happen when you face your fear.
Benefits of working through fear
- Less anxiety
- Less fear (!)
- More ease in the living of life
- More confidence in your way of perceiving the world
- Inner strength
- Less of a need to self-decieve or ignore fears as a coping mechanism
Articles about Fear
Self-Deceit: Falling for an Illusion (a fear coping mechanism)
Calming the Desire for Immortality (about the fear of death)