Whether trying something new, not having heard from family or friends for a while, getting lost while driving or facing the recent fallout from the devastating earthquake, these situations evoke feelings of fear. Fear shows up as anxiety, worry, doubt, despair, hopelessness, paranoia and even as arrogance and prejudice.
Fear is desired and useful as it is a source of survival. It stimulates a response to danger such as fleeing, hiding or freezing. These reactions are required to keep us safe when responding to a traumatic or life-threatening event such as an approaching tsunami or an abusive situation. These fears are considered rational as they are based upon real events which require a response in order to survive or avoid threat.
All other fears, real as they feel, are considered irrational and upon closer look are really unwarranted or exaggerated, triggered by past associations. These fears override or emotionally hijack our higher cognitive brain. We may react by turning the media off in avoidance or doubt or by aggressively acting out. So, what is the source of these irrational fears?
Current research suggests that fears are learned responses to exposure to an event which produces some amount of physical or emotional discomfort. Situations can range from being stung by a wasp to the death of a loved one. One also learns fear indirectly, such as experiencing people’s fear when hearing a horrific story or when witnessing abuse.
Fear can be classified as a fear of rejection, of the unknown, of death, of isolation and of the loss of self-dominance or control. Fear is complex as many of these fears overlap. The key is to isolate the fears because fear that can be acknowledged is no longer so monstrous. What’s interesting to note is, it is the discomfort or anxiety that comes from not knowing what the fear is about that makes us doubt, worry and fear. Anxiety is unnamed fear.
Carl Jung stated, “It is a bewildering thing in human life that the thing that causes the greatest fear is the source of the greatest wisdom.” Look at the sources of your anxiety and fear. Are there some forms of fear that stand out more for you such as the fear of the unknown or being alone? What does the fear which controls your life cost your relationships, your community, the world and your soul?
Everyone has fears or inner dragons. There is no fleeing them as they show up in day-to-day life and in our dreams. As the poet Fleur Adcock wrote, “It is 5 A.M. All the worse things come stalking in and stand icily about the bed looking worse and worse and worse.” What comes visiting you at night? What chases you in your dreams awakening you in fright? What do you deep down avoid doing that would enhance your soul?
We are called to face our fears. Jung stated, “Only boldness can deliver us from fear, and if the risk is not taken, the meaning of life is violated.” Call up your inner Hero, approach your fears and take a step towards living your intended life. Who are you meant to be?