Many people come to me asking to find ways of overcoming fear and leaving it behind. I wonder about why that is so. Fear is a valuable feeling that helps to put us on alert that something is out of our comfort zone. I remember hearing Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross say that we are born with only two natural fears: the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. Every other fear is learned. That may be so, and I suspect that if we were facing a live tiger that had arrived in front of us, we would feel fear justifiably.
Fear is a kind of excitement in our nervous system that can be similar in feeling to other excitements, and when we feel it, there is a message that it is giving us. Extreme fear can result in a fight, flight or freeze response. Gratefully, however, not all fears are that extreme. If you feel fear because you are about to give a presentation, performance or a talk, then that fear can be perfectly natural and may even make your presentation more effective. When I work with people who experience these kinds of fears, I encourage them to build a relationship with the vulnerable, fearful part within them and support it during those times. Sometimes they see that part as the child within and when that is how they visualise their vulnerability, I encourage them to say to it: I know you are afraid, and I am here and we are going to do this together. Fear often becomes worse when we try to deny it or push it away. It doesn’t like to be ignored!
If you feel fear for money, health or relationship issues, it is good to look carefully at your experience to see if your fear still feels accurate. For instance, if I have had health issues in the past and suddenly one emerges in the present, I may feel fear until I am able to look closely at my previous experiences and see whether they were devastating or not. Checking out our past experiences can help to bring perspective and ease our anxiety. Also if you can do some research and make some considered choices about the present health issue that can help you to feel like you are not completely helpless and therefore reduce your fear.
If you are growing and developing within yourself and embarking on new ways of being, it is quite appropriate and natural to feel fear. Your conscious mind, which is a very powerful thing, likes its familiar patterns, its accepted and habitual way of being. It can go out of its way to make you maintain your known pattern. However when you attempt to change your habits or patterns and move into new territory, it very often rebels and kicks up a fuss making you feel very frightened indeed. At times like that, if you can sit with that fear and allow it to run its course, while reassuring your conscious mind that everything is all right, you may find yourself feeling much more comfortable with the new adventure that you are undertaking and you may even find that a whole new idea or approach emerges in that very consciousness that can help you to move forward. When I experience a useful insight after having sat with my negative feelings for as long as they seem to need, I call those feelings a ‘portal’ for a kind of wisdom that comes through eventually. It seems that feelings such as fear just need to be felt, experienced and allowed and when they are allowed, they finally subside and make way for new insights.
If you feel fear about something happening, it is often because that very thing has happened to you in the past.
I hear many stories from people who are afraid that their partner will leave them, and these are people who have been left or abandoned by someone close. However, in these instances, it is useful to look at your current experience because your present partner may be showing no signs of leaving and not every experience must end in the same way. Sadly we sometimes build up negative expectations because of our previous experiences and we then tell ourselves that the same thing will happen again and it may very well not.
Fear about loss of money or income or being made redundant is certainly uncomfortable and here again, if you are able to look carefully, you may need to act on your fear, to check out your options and to be clear about your needs. What becomes most dangerous in this kind of situation, as in that of health and relationship is denial and ignoring because if you engage in those responses, you may well find that life becomes more difficult than is necessary. Very often when we are afraid, we are unable to look at the pressing issue in front of us, and in that case, it is very helpful to have a close friend, family member or therapist nearby so you can ask for their help.
If you have experienced trauma in the past, either in childhood or in adult life or both, it seems that you may be more likely to have occasional bouts of fear or nameless dread. That fear may not be about anything current, and is often just about an idea that you tell yourself might happen. Fear may arise if something is emerging in your consciousness for you to process and has nothing to do with external events. Also fear may arise because external events trigger it and sometimes your fear becomes stronger as a result of your past experiences. At times like these, it is best to take care and be kind to yourself, allow the fear to run its course and to know that this feeling of fear will eventually pass. I treat these times as kind of ‘special moments’ when I allow myself to feel vulnerable. I take care of myself, refuse to make any important decisions and maybe even limit any conversations to only those people whom I trust completely and I don’t go out and socialise. It is a time for me to be with myself and those closest to me.
Fear is not a comfortable feeling, certainly not pleasant and joyful, but it is valuable and it can alert you when you are in a potentially dangerous situation, like that tiger in the first paragraph! As with all feelings, it is better felt, acknowledged, evaluated and, if justified, acted upon rather than ignored and denied.