Fear is never found in danger, but within us
Fear is a universal experience which is transversal to every person and every culture and plays a key role in our survival. If we never felt a certain amount of fear (that correct dosage that protects us), we would eventually make more mistakes or ultimately even put our survival at risk. This protective dosage of fear is called prudence. However, excessive prudence generates a sort of dependence that is neither positive nor growth-promoting. When we depend on fear to protect ourselves, we are not really protecting ourselves but hiding. “I’ve been afraid of something all of my life…”; “Most of the times I run away and avoid facing things”; “It seems that fear is always after me…”; “I’m afraid of anything and everything…” (now, is that everything something your brain is making up?).
Let’s take children as an example… they usually go through a phase when they are afraid of the dark; when parents turn on the bedroom light, fear magically disappears (but did it disappear because the light came on or because they felt the comfort and safety of their parents’ presence?). Indeed, are they really afraid of the dark? Or are they afraid of what they imagine is hiding in the dark?
As is the case with children, fear in adults arises much more from what they imagine to be the source of fear (a breakup, problems at work, starting a new project, life changes, for example). The problem is that in the darkness of what we fear, we cannot turn on the light as we did when we were young. Most of us therefore try to control fear by seeking logical and rational explanations (fear is an emotional experience that cannot be solved by logic itself), thus trying to predict the future (if you know what is to come there is no reason to be afraid); This logic gives us a sense of control and this sensation relieves (but does not solve) the anguish generated by fear.
On the other hand, there are those who, faced with fear, try to remain still, preferably immobile, so as not to make noise (this way fear will not find them, or so they think); “faced with this situation I prefer not to do anything”; “I don’t want to get in trouble”; “I already know what to expect from this situation, if I change, I don’t know if things will get better or worse.”
Adults’ fears are usually called anxiety (fear and anxiety are based on the same physiological mechanism). When faced with anxiety most of us tend to flee. We avoid doing things, being around people, we postpone making decisions, imagine that anxiety will make us lose control, go crazy or even die. “When I am in a crowd I tend to get anxious” (but are you anxious because of the number of people, or what you think these people might be thinking about you?); “When I enter a place I’ve never been to, I always have to figure out where the exit is” (having control and knowing where the exit is only allows you to escape anxiety / fear, not solve it). “When I am faced with a new situation, I get anxious” (Not knowing what is to come means one cannot predict what will happen, so it is not the situation itself that is frightening, it is the lack of control over something that actually generates fear); “This is my dream job, but I’m afraid to start” (Do you fear the job itself? Or are you afraid of failing in your dream job… not being up to it? Of never becoming the person you dreamed of becoming one day.)
Most people’s bogeyman … is the unknown! The unknown is a dark, empty place, like an abyss where one cannot see the end … as the unknown is scary, there are people who prefer to stay in a situation they already know (it hurts… but I will endure it… what if the other option will hurt even more!), thus preventing themselves from knowing the unknown… and seeing that there was no reason to be afraid in the first place, no reason to flee, no reason to hide, no reason to waste so much time and suffer from strong emotional exhaustion.
Escaping fear is a usual strategy… but it only provides momentary relief… fear will come back, stronger, slyer and much more insidious. You may continue to flee your whole life and thus continue to delude yourself with the false assumption that by fleeing you control fear; you can run away, but indeed, as long as you run away, it is fear that is in control (Have you noticed you are the one who continues to run away … not fear?).
Running away has no legs… while you are running away, you use up all your energy, sometimes rushing into making a decision, sometimes not making decisions that should be made. You get tired and you will grow more and more tired. Meanwhile, fear is still there, building up strength, because fear never gets tired… and while you are running away…fear is feasting on our running away and getting stronger.
While you are running away, you are not doing what needs to be done, i.e. admitting that you are afraid, realizing that fear is within you and not outside you (so there is no point in running away), figuring out what you are really afraid of, and finding strategies to face up to fear. If we do this fear ceases to be fear, it becomes a concrete thing that we know… and because we know it, we can face it… because now we are finally controlling fear!