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  • Writer's pictureJ.F. Skubis

The Fear of Fear

What if you were no longer afraid of being afraid? Fear can be a useful thing. It’s been a tool for us throughout as we have come to be at the top of the food chain. It can help us avoid many potential dangers. Being in a dark parking lot and feeling something is just not quite right about the people congregating and exchanging something across the way, seeing erratic behavior in a social environment from a person you do not know, or being in line at a convenience store and seeing someone who appears on edge, keeping one hand in their pocket, and making a beeline for the cashier, these are all damn good times to allow the hair on the back of your neck to raise and initiate a potential threat response. Though that’s not the type of fear I’m referring to. The fear in question is the one that is not so much the sense of innate protection and more the kind of leaning towards self-destruction.

This type may be oddly categorized in your brain as a form of preservation, yet is not benefitting you in any fashion. For example, you are needing to do a bit of public speaking at a company event. If you speak well it could lead to a large number of sales that could greatly benefit the company and therefore your career. Just the thought of it makes you tense up and your mind explodes with the “What if?” scenarios that provoke further anxiety. You lose your gumption and convince your colleague, who isn’t as well versed on the subject and really doesn’t have much to do with the department, to deliver a short speech for you. At best this confuses your potential clientele and highlights the efforts of your colleague. The worst part of it is that you lose even more confidence. You beat yourself up for not following through, you are now even more worried about how your colleagues will look at you since you didn’t have the stones to do it, and it lead to even more “what if” scenarios playing out in your mind! Maybe this is part of your job and now your ability to do the position justice is in question. That’s the type of fear that does harm. Another example, you have a brilliant idea on your hands for a new product. You think about it and see no downside to it being on the market, in fact you’re amazed that it’s not already out there. You start to work on it a bit and encounter a little resistance, maybe a few of the steps along the way are harder than you thought. You put the project on hold. Pretty soon a few days turn into a few weeks, then months, then years. It’s always at the back of your mind but something is holding you back. It’s not at all that the obstacles encountered were all that difficult, it was just that it was unknown how to go about or through them, it was something new, uncharted territory, so you left it alone. You’re fumbling about the store one day, looking for nothing in particular, and there sits your product. Well, not your product, because you failed to do anything actionable with your idea, but someone else’s best representation of it. You later learn that product is flying off the shelves. Now you not only have self-directed anger, but a complete lack of the potential revenue that could have accompanied you following through. How about another situation? You are friends with a couple. They are often on rocky terms and the husband frequently hauls off and strikes the woman. You don’t know about it right away but find out after you have developed a deeper friendship with the wife. You know in your heart that what is happening is wrong, but you do nothing. You think to yourself, “It’s none of my business. They will work it out in due time or maybe she’ll just leave him.” She doesn’t leave and ends up in the hospital, however she’s too afraid to say anything about the truth. Ultimately, he leaves her. Your friendship with both is maintained, though I would hope you’d cut ties with this man, but now he is abusing someone else. Your fear of stepping in has now enabled further malevolent behavior and endangered others mental, physical, and emotional well-being.

In examples such as these you have an initial fear response, it prevents you from doing anything. This makes you quite uncomfortable. That’s perfectly normal. Pressing forth and doing what is right is not easy. The initial fear is enough to prevent a fair share of people from acting. Where the real crippling happens comes after that. That response is found so undesirable by most everyone that they feel anxiety even at the thought of experiencing that again. Effectively they become afraid of feeling fear, we could also state this as fear of fear, or if you have fancy book learning in your past (or use Google search engine) we can call it Phobophobia.

Phobophobia may normally be used to describe this in more extreme cases, however we all have it to some degree residing within us. Humans really are complex creatures. It is not enough that we can fear, but then we have the ability to fear the potential of fear. It’s amazing we get anything done at all! I’m sure there are several situations in your life right now that could fall under this umbrella. Think deeply on why you haven’t done what you desire to do. Is it sloth? I’m willing to bet it’s more than just laziness. That’s just a convenient excuse. Take that sense of fear preventing you from doing any one thing and trace it to its core. You’ll likely find that it leads to nothing. It’s like a ball of string. We start with one end on the outside of the ball. We start to unravel, there’s layer after layer after layer forming this sphere. We keep going with it and finally we get to the center and simultaneously the other end of the string to find there is nothing. It was an initial fear response shrouded in many other layers of fear of that fear. Now I’m not trying to oversimplify here, because there is a potential there may be something wrapped up in all that string. It could be you almost drowned as a child, so you became afraid of taking a bath, so then you never learned to swim properly, and this prevented you from enjoying summers more with your friends, which led to you not joining the Navy, and then not going water skiing with your friends and so on. That’s more of the innate fear I was referring to in the beginning of this article, it’s clear and causal and quite simple to trace back.

Do yourself a favor and find some time to really be honest with yourself and dig down deep into those uncomfortable feelings, lean in. There are reasons behind why you’re not doing what you want to be doing, why you aren’t on the way to actualizing your dream, and why you have an incredible sense of void within you. This is both a terrifying and exuberantly liberating process. There’s a couple angles you could start from. You can take a goal that you just seem to be stuck on or haven’t pursued and work from that end out, or you can start at your fear and work your way in. Either way you’ll get answers. Either way you’ll better understand yourself. Either way you’ll feel empowered to move forth and get more from life. You can figure this out yourself, however we tend to program blind spots into our minds because, well- it’s easier that way sometimes. If you find yourself having trouble with this process it can help to bounce these things off a friend or counselor. Heck, sometimes just talking to a stranger about things can be useful. You’ll often find that it’s not what that person says or doesn’t say. Notice how I said, “bounce these things off of”? That’s because we need to talk and listen to ourselves to help process things. Oddly enough we just sometimes need another human to be a mirror for us. I won’t get too much in the weeds on that, it’s an article for another day.

To wrap this all up with a nice little bow there are few things preventing you from getting what you want out of life. If it’s sloth, well then just stop being so damn lazy! More than likely it’s some form of fear or fear of fear (Phobophobia). Grab that ball of string and start unraveling! You’ll be better for it.

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