This one word of one syllable, this little four-letter word causes so much trouble and prompts so many people to ask questions of its nature and its hold on us. Most questions about fear have to do with getting rid of it, overcoming it, fighting it, and last but not least, being free of it.
the same time it would seem that we have a love/hate relationship with this demon, for while we plead to be rid of it, we flock to the theatre to watch movies that would awaken the beast and make us its victim. We jump on roller coasters and other mechanical creatures that would seemingly spin, toss, and throw us to our death, only to stop short of a successful execution of the crime. This, we pay for, line up impatiently for, and anticipate with excitement. Clearly we owe ourselves an explanation!
Let’s start at the beginning.
There are some fears that, without them in our experience, we would probably live much shorter lives. The fear of jumping over a cliff, the fear of walking up to a lion and saying hi, or the fear of sticking one’s hand in a fire. These would seem to be fears that make sense, that actually help us by keeping us from doing things that would ultimately kill us. We can in fact be pleased that these fears are there to save us. Even the most trouble-ridden person would not want to rid herself or himself of this useful emotion.
These fears were nature’s way of keeping us alive. Our brain, like the brain of most animals, developed the capacity to ‘look around’ at the world around us and conclude that certain things out there were harmful to us. Our minds also figured out that some of these things could hurt us before we could stop to think of what we should do in the situation. The use of the emotion fear had the advantage of causing you to act, without having to stop and think. This was clearly a “good” thing for us.
Obviously, when most people say that they want to get rid of a fear, they are almost always talking about a fear that exists in them that is irrational. By irrational we mean that the consequences of doing the action that one is afraid of would not result in any physical harm. For example, speaking in public is a fear that is so strong in so many people that most rate it above death as something to fear. Yet standing up in class to give a book report, or reporting on your progress in a business meeting has, to my knowledge, never caused someone to die. To those who fear public speaking, however, it would seem that this bit of information hasn’t reached their ears.
So far then we have mentioned the fears that are ‘natural’ and healthy for us to have, those fears that we actively seek and would best be called “thrills”, and those fears that make no sense to us in a physical way, but seem to have considerable control on our behaviour.
Let’s continue with the thrill, or exciting fear for a moment, because it is important to understand what is happening here and how it relates to irrational fear. What happens when you go on a roller coaster, or you go to the movies and watch the latest horror movie? Well even before you go, you know that the fear you will experience is a fear that is safe. You know you won’t die, you won’t break anything, and that you will come out of it safely. That is important knowledge. It means that you can experience a fear and come out of it laughing. You know that you will win, you will be victorious. No one else needs to be aware of your relationship with the fear, and so this fear, we could say, is a personal fear. Now of course if you were to get on the roller coaster because of a dare, that would be different.
When Fears involve “others”
Now let’s get to the fears that most people are talking about. Those fears that we have that always seem to involve what other people might think, what they might do, what they might say, and what they might ‘discover’ about us. Those are fears that slow and shut people down. (note that I am not talking about phobias in this article, because phobias are a different thing altogether.)
So what kind of things are people most afraid of?
Fear of public speaking
Being laughed at
Being the same
and so on…
The common denominator in these kinds of fears is that in involves the participation of others, whether real or imagined. So looking stupid, being different, being laughed at; these kinds of fears affects us because of the way we believe that others will think of us, or react to us. Most importantly, it isn’t even the fear of what others will think that causes the fear, it is the way we will feel, if someone thinks of us in an unfavourable light. In other words:
You hate the feeling of feeling stupid more than you hate having someone think of you as stupid!
No one has ever asked me to help them to not care if someone thinks they are stupid. No one has ever asked me to help them not care about what others think of them if they were to give a speech. What they have asked for is help in getting rid of the emotion associated with the event. In other words, the objective is to not ‘feel’ afraid.
Once you understand that in all cases of irrational fear, it is the feeling of feeling fear that is our curse. So too, is the feeling of being stupid, useless, unworthy, guilty, and all those nasty feelings that cause us to cringe.
These feelings control us in very powerful ways because they affect so much of our behaviour. Before you think less of yourself for being a ‘victim’ of these feelings, you need to know that these feelings were created in the mind for the exact same reason that we have the fear of jumping off the cliff. Although the cliff meant real danger and the idea that someone would think of us as stupid is not a danger at all, the process that caused both the emotion of fear, and the feelings we don’t like were both created with the goal of protection.
It would take far too much space than that allotted in this article to attempt to explain how the mind treated real peril, and opinions of others in the same way. I wrote the book “Through the Door!” : A Journey to the Self, in order to make sense of this whole process. Suffice it to say that these feelings are related to the creation of Self-images. Self-images occurred much later in our human development as we evolved as a species. Being a ‘new’ development the mind used its old familiar ways to deal with these new self-images, and these uncomfortable feelings were the result of the way our mind processed the new information.
So what does this all mean?
It means that there is a part of your mind that really believes that public speaking is a dangerous thing to do! As such, it also means that the feeling of fear that you get that keeps you from public speaking is not stupid, nor does it mean that there is something wrong with you for feeling the fear. Because of this, one of the first things you should do is to stop thinking of yourself in any negative way because you have these fears and feelings. It is totally natural, and even though there are some people that don’t have the same fears as you, they most assuredly have their own.
The Hard Easy Part
Maybe by now you are starting to realize that if the fear is something that your mind is doing in an attempt to protect you from a perceived danger, than the fear isn’t something that may just go away on its own. You’re right. The fear wants to protect you so it will always try to do its job. Then how do we get over our fears? That’s the hard easy part. What you must do is easy. If your fear is, for example, speaking in public, than the solution is to join a Toastmaster’s group in your area, and start giving speeches! Before you start yelling at me through this article, let me say that I know that you are saying something such as, “What the hell are you talking about Phil, I wanted to find out how to get over the fear of doing it and your telling me to just do it!” Well, yes I am. You see, if you have learned to feel fear about doing something where the fear seems irrational, than the only way you can start to diminish the feeling of fear is by doing the thing you are afraid of so that your mind can learn that it isn’t harmful after all! I know you would like a shortcut that doesn’t involve actually doing the thing you are afraid of before you can get rid of the fear, but it doesn’t work like that.
Here is what you have the capacity to do. You can talk to yourself. You can tell yourself that, in spite of being afraid to, say, speak in public, you know that no harm will come to you. You can tell yourself that the experience won’t kill you, and you will probably learn something from it. You can tell yourself that you know that in spite of all these words, that the fear will still come and you will be nervous as hell. What you can tell yourself is that in spite of the fear, you will do it anyway because it is important to you to do it. So rather than waiting for the fear to go away, which it won’t, you won’t let the fear ruin your life.
Some clever individual came up with a clever acronym for fear:
False Evidence Appearing Real.
There is so much truth in the phrase, for it tells us that the conclusion was reached from evidence, and that evidence was untrue. It also gives us the hint that if it is evidence that is required, than that is something we can provide by going right past our fears and doing the action anyway. In this way we can provide the evidence necessary to modify our minds response to things that we would really love to be able to do, say, and experience.
By: Phil L. Méthot
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