Over the next month, we are going to tackle that one bit of baggage we all seem to carry with us in some fashion. For some, it may be as small as a toiletry case, for others, it may be a streamer trunk, and for a few, it might be the size of a cargo freighter. You may use words like uncomfortable, afraid, scared, anxiety, paranoia, phobia or fear. Regardless of which term you use (we will learn the differences), FEAR impacts our lives at different times and in different ways. What I have learned is that “fear” is killing us, both figuratively and literally. It’s time to take this taboo topic (almost anything dealing with our mental well-being seems to be taboo) and get intimate with it: facing it, understanding it and overcoming it! Let’s begin here—what do these things have in common?
- Spiders, snakes (non-poisonous), rats, bugs, birds, bats
- Heights, elevators, glass-bottom bridges
- Work, dogs, storms, needles
- Clowns, yellow, belly-buttons
- Cheese, falling asleep, trees
- Rain, beards, Heaven, feet
- Holes, 13, long words, mannequins
- Blood, appliances, puppets
We might laugh at some of these, but they are real things that people fear. Perhaps they are better defined as things that make us uncomfortable or scare us momentarily. FEAR IS RELATIVE!
Other fears may be born from a traumatic experience or event, and/or where there are possibilities of true, dangerous consequences. Examples are:
- Water (perhaps you can’t swim or have almost drowned)
- Standing on the edge of a cliff or other tall building (a fear of the rocks shifting, or perhaps a time when you were pushed to the edge, real or imagined, and you had no control)
- Flying (stories and images of plane crashes, lack of control)
- Dying (watching someone you love die; or maybe it’s the way you could die such as fire, drowning, suffocation, etc.)
- Actual danger (injury or death)
- Loneliness (and therefore spending too much time in your own head thinking dark thoughts)
- Contamination or disease (the accompanying pain or isolation)
- Discrimination (all races, gender, sexual orientation, faith, etc.)
- Confrontation (not knowing how to react or what to say)
- Loud noises (war veteran, PTSD, living in household with a lot of fighting/anger)
- Instant physical judgement (no matter how nice we are, others immediately judging us by our outward appearance)
Once more, FEAR IS RELATIVE! We are lead to believe that some fear is rational and other is irrational—who decided this? Remember, most of what we fear will never happen in our lifetimes so why are we letting it control our minds and the way we live? Fear is just an experience; sometimes more intense than others, but still simply an experience and not a place where we should reside.
So, Is Fear Real?
Depends on who you ask.
”Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that are not present and may never exist. That is near insanity Kitai. Do not misunderstand me, danger is very real, but fear is a choice. We are all telling ourselves a story and that day mine changed.” (Will Smith’s character in “After Earth”)
Yes, it’s a line spoken in a movie, but is there some truth to this? After all, when you break it down, fear is most often (outside of clear and present life or death situations) all in our minds and based on our thoughts and feelings about events that may or may not ever happen.
Let’s go back to that question about the reality of fear. We can’t physically see it. And, we can’t say that any one thing is the cause or source of fear as that varies from one person to another. One person experiences heart palpitations and shortness of breath while standing on a cliff; another person feels alive and excited.
There are different schools of thought of course. The perspective I want to focus on is that common fears are not real. When asked to describe the feeling of fear, most people provide the thoughts they have about fear and not an actual description of the feeling.
The subconscious thinks in pictures, sensations, patterns and other intangible ways. Talking about our fear therefore is actually talking about our thinking. Perhaps, fear does not exist outside of our subconscious and therefore—maybe it’s not real.
In a life-threatening scenario, the fight or flight response happens without any thinking as there is no time to do so. Imagine those who have stopped someone from jumping from a bridge, rescued a person from a burning car, or disarming someone carrying a weapon—I know they are not feeling fear in that moment. Afterwards, I am certain they feel or experience something as the adrenaline continues to rush and their hearts are pounding, but were they feeling fear or thinking it?
If I ask you to tell me something you’re afraid of such as heights, clowns, spiders, or public speaking; do you feel fear or are you thinking fear?
You may have seen this before:
You aren’t afraid of these actual things, but rather of the things that could happen, which are surprisingly unlikely. You have made this all up in your head. If you were truly fearful, you would run away as your fight or flight response kicked in.
This is where we need to get out of our heads; just because we think it, it doesn’t mean it’s true. As we move forward in this month-long series on fear, let’s begin by finding a few quiet moments this week. In this time, make a list of your fears. Next to each one, list why this thing frightens you and in the next column, write how you “feel” the fear that each thing brings. Let’s get to know these fears intimately and see what we have in common with each other. Feel free to share if you wish by email or Facebook. We learn, overcome and grow by owning and sharing our stories.
The Psychology of Fear
Fears, Phobias, & Paranoia
Sharing Your Fears
My Brain is Thinking What?
Fear and Present Danger