I have always been a little bit fearful.
I can’t watch horror movies, I won’t sleep for days. Even “thrillers” are pushing it, I’ll take sappy rom coms anyday. When going to a scary movie was the activity du jour in high school, I’d spend $10 on a ticket, take my seat and last all of 30 seconds before getting up and waiting for my friends outside.
Roller coasters, no. Ghost stories, no. Haunted houses, hell no.
I’ve been thinking a lot about fear lately. Why are some people drawn to the feeling? Why do some, like myself, avoid it at all costs?
And can fear be broken down into categories? For instance, I’ve never felt afraid of things like moving to a new city, or quitting a job or, much to my parents’ fear perhaps, majoring in things like journalism and anthropology. Throw me into a dark room full of spiders though, and that’s a different story.
fear | ˈfir/ | noun
- an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.
This article from The Atlantic explains why some brains enjoy the feeling:
One of the most interesting things about studying fear is looking at the social constructions of fear, and learned fears versus those fears that appear to be more innate, or even genetic. When we look across time and across the world, we find that people truly can become afraid of anything. Through fear conditioning (connecting a neutral stimulus with a negative consequence) we can link pretty much anything to a fear response … we know that we can learn to fear, and this means our socialization and the society in which we are raised is going to have a lot to do with what we find scary.
It then goes on to cite a bunch of monsters, like the Loch Ness Monster and the Chupacabra. Apparently the reason we find them scary is because they defy the laws of nature in some way:
This speaks to the fact that things that violate the laws of nature are terrifying. And really anything that doesn’t make sense or causes us some sort of dissonance, whether it is cognitive or aesthetic, is going to be scary.
So I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, because I believe there’s more to fear than monsters and haunted houses and horror movies. So much of what prevents us from actually living the lives we’re quietly and desperately yearning for comes down to fear, and it has a lot to do with social constructions and conditioning.
Fear of not losing weight.
Fear of dying alone.
Fear of not getting the job.
Fear of being stuck in a terrible job.
Fear of meeting new people.
Fear of raising children.
Fear of not having children.
Fear of getting married.
Fear of getting divorced.
Fear of getting sick.
Fear of taking a sick day.
Fear of missing a workout.
Fear of eating a cheeseburger.
Fear of not pleasing everyone.
Fear of never being good enough.
Fear of never being happy.
Fear of people who look different than us.
Fear of people who practice different religions than us.
Fear of people who have different sexual orientations than us.
Fear of people who work different jobs than us.
Fear of people who have different political beliefs than us.
Things that violate the laws of nature are terrifying.
A society in which there are definitive ideals about what we’re supposed to do, how we’re supposed to look and what we’re supposed to believe is a petri dish in which fear can proliferate.
The surprising thing though, is that that’s okay. Fear is okay. In fact, Miracles Now author Gabby Bernstein suggests that “The presence of fear is a sure sign that you’re relying on your own strength.”
Which is great, because I think we’re all a little bit fearful of departing from societal norms, right? And maybe I’m afraid of the dark and of ax murderers, but that doesn’t mean I’m not brave. I think we can be- no, we have to be both. You can’t be brave if you’re not afraid.
And maybe I’m scared about how much money I’ll make or if I’ll have the career I want or please the people I care about, but at least I made my way into the arena, ya know?
Because here’s the thing: the fear doesn’t go away, but we can learn how to live with it and embrace it. We can acknowledge that we are afraid, but we can also be brave. We can use fear as a powerful tool to make things happen in our lives.
As one of our mentors, Marie Forleo says, “Most of us have been programmed in exactly the WRONG way to deal with fear and instead find ourselves completely debilitated. Most people think fear means fu*k everything and run. And unfortunately, most people never break out of this misinformed, painful mind state.”
Fear can affect everything from our weight, to our job, to our relationships. It affects the way we treat people and the way we see the world. It can cause some serious pain, and yet it’s also something comforting we can hide behind. But it doesn’t have to be this way, and once we understand this concept, our whole life can change.
Once we embrace our fear without allowing it to hold us back, once we can stand in the arena and fight on in spite of it, we’ll have a better shot at getting what we really want.
Here are some simple ways to change your thoughts around fear:
- Get clear on your fears. WRITE THEM DOWN. Literally get your current fears out of your head and onto paper. This can be anything from having too much debt to not having an outfit for your date tonight.
- Talk about them. Have a conversation with someone you trust and are comfortable talking to about anything (could be a friend, therapist, Health Coach, business partner, family member). When we’re in what feels like a safe environment, we’re able to bring our fears to the forefront, and just opening up about them can help move us along.
- Play the game. Whenever fear comes up, ask yourself: “Okay yes this is scary, but what’s the worst that could happen? How likely is it? And what is your plan should that actually happen?” Just keep asking yourself that question as the fears come up and you’ll see that usually, the worst case scenario isn’t as terrifying as it seems. It rarely ends in sudden death. Accept for like, in sky-diving or something, not usually the esoteric stuff.
- Let go of what other people think. Oof, I know, easier said than done. But it’s important, and it’s the first guidepost for wholehearted living according to Brené Brown. Imagine what you could accomplish if you spent less time being afraid of what other people think? Life could be really, truly amazing.
How about you? Is this something you struggle with? Do you have a go-to move for dealing with fear? Please leave a comment and share below!
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Also published on Medium.