FDR was absolutely right when he said, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
Fear is more than being scared of the dark or afraid when we hear noises in the night.
Fear is something that settles deep within us. It convinces us that what we think we know isn’t actually true. It tells us that everything we love will be taken from us. Fear makes us believe that we’ll fail.
When fear grabs onto our souls, we are stuck in quicksand, unable to break free.
One time, a snake tried to eat me.
I have an unhealthy fear of snakes. I’m not exactly sure where it came from, unless it was growing up with a dad who hated them.
I remember one afternoon at my grandparents’ house when I was probably 8 or 9. We were in the yard looking at the garden, and there it was! Wrapped around the corn stalk was the biggest, most monstrous snake that ever existed in the history of forever! (In all probability, it was probably just a small garden snake, but to a terrified-of-all-snakes girl, it was Godzilla snake!)
Rather than reacting logically, telling someone, and walking away, I bolted! I ran through the yard, opened the gate, jumped into the car, locked the doors (because we all know that snakes can open car doors and swallow up little girls), and HID in the floor of the car.
I guess you could say that I didn’t deal with my fear very well, huh?
If we’re being honest, I still don’t.
What brings fear into our hearts? We fear failure, we fear being abandoned and alone, we fear we’ll never be happy. We fear change, and we fear the unknown.
The problem with living in fear is that it steals our hope, our peace, and our lives. When we allow fear to settle in, there isn’t much room left for living. We’re afraid to try new things, we’re afraid to dream, and we’re afraid to let people love us.
Don’t you wish you could conquer your fear and start living? What if there was a way to throw off the chains and get rid of all the negative, anxious thoughts that swarm in your head?
What if you could be free from fear once and for all?
Read on, my friend.
Fear is defined as “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat,” but I like Mr. President’s version a bit better- “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
Now, I am NOT saying that feeling fear when a real threat looms is unjustified; we’re talking about fear that has no real root here.
For example, we experience betrayal and pain in one relationship, and all future relationships suffer because we are unwilling to trust anyone at all.
Or maybe we tried to make a dream come true and it didn’t work out, so we stop trying because we fear we’ll fail. That’s the kind of fear we’re talking about here.
The fear that stops us in our tracks and hinders us from living is one of the most damaging emotions we can feel.
Let’s talk about some common fears that we can face.
1. Fear of failure
I am one of those girls who likes to get things right. I don’t like to make mistakes, and I don’t like to let other people (or myself) down. I struggle with perfectionism, and I know some of you do too.
Perfectionism pushes us to stop trying if we don’t think we can achieve that unattainable level of “correct.”
Sometimes we wrap so much of our worth up in our performance that when we fail, we ARE failures. This can lead to a dangerous spiral in our thinking that ends with us feeling worthless.
2. Fear of uncertainty
We like to know what’s coming and when it’s coming. While this is impossible to accomplish most of the time, we like to pretend that we have control over our circumstances.
Knowing very little about the outcome of a situation or relationship causes anxiety in our minds, and this anxiety can often push us to irrational behavior and thinking.
3. Fear of abandonment
This one has always been my greatest fear. Yes, I’m an introvert and I love my alone time, but a fear of being alone goes much deeper. It’s the fear of being misunderstood or not having support when we need it. It’s the fear of growing old without a companion or friend.
For me, the root of this fear is really another fear…
4. Fear of not being enough
I see this fear in so many of us! We buy into the lie that we don’t have what it takes to be loved or accepted. We feel that we aren’t pretty enough, skinny enough, charismatic enough, smart enough, or good enough.
Constant comparison to other people, whether in the media or in our communities, leads us to think there is one perfect type of person, and we spend time and money striving to become her.
Social media contributes to this “less-than” mindset, and we swallow the bait every time, leaving ourselves feeling vulnerable, unwelcome, and unloved.
How do we tend to react when these fears come to the surface?
Sometimes we yell and scream at whoever is near us. We hurt those we love because we are hurting and we aren’t sure how to properly express it.
Sometimes we shut down. We build walls around ourselves, and we don’t let anyone in.
Sometimes we put all of our energy into our work. Perhaps we’re afraid to fail, so we spend every waking moment trying to perfect the work we do.
There are lots of unhealthy reactions to these deep fears we experience, but they all stem from a feeling that things are out of our control. Something scary is staring us in the face and we don’t know how to deal with it.
Wouldn’t it be much better if we had a toolbox from which we could pull healthy responses to fear?
Let’s create that toolbox right now.
1. Be conscious of your reactions, both internal and external
Being aware of how you react to a situation can change everything. If you know your triggers, and you pay attention to your reactions, you can begin to stop the unhealthy responses and replace them with healthy ones.
If someone turns you down after you invite them to hang out, be aware of where your mind goes. If you start to hear negative self-talk, recognize the lies for what they are and replace them with truth. “I will never have any friends; nobody likes me.” should be replaced with, “This is an isolated incident; I’m sure she had a good reason for saying ‘no.’”
When you make a mistake, notice what you start to believe about yourself in that moment. Things like, “I’m so stupid.” and “I can’t do anything right.” are dangerous thought patterns, and you have to prevent them from taking hold.
2. Don’t dwell on your problems
When you allow fear to take hold and grow, it becomes a monster that soon can’t be controlled. While it is healthy to think through and process your struggles, it is not healthy to wallow around in them like a freshly-washed dog in the grass.
Know when to stop yourself. Learn your boundaries. Know the point at which you need to stop thinking about something in order to keep your thoughts healthy.
Focusing on what really matters will allow you to push out the fearful thoughts. In the big picture, does it really matter that you didn’t get invited to that party? In 5 years, will you even care that you got a B on that paper?
This next tool was really helpful for me when I was working through the struggle with fear.
3. Take an honest look at reality
If you are feeling anxious or uncertain about something, make yourself think about the situation as it really is instead of creating all kinds of imaginary outcomes in your head.
“If this awful thing happens, then what?” Decide how you will deal with the worst-case scenario. Find solutions to those enigmatic catastrophes in your head.
“If he breaks up with me, what will happen? I will be extremely sad, spend a few days eating ice cream and watching netflix, and then I will start to heal. I will survive. And I will move on. But I will not die. The world will not end.”
4. Write down your fears
What fears loom in your mind? Can you add any tools to our toolbox? What works for you?