By Randy Moore
One of the major inhibitors to feeling abundance is the emotion of fear. Fear is induced by a perceived threat which causes people to pull away and hide—literally or figuratively. It’s a survival mechanism and the fight-or-flight response has deep roots in our psyche. Social pressures make fighting less appealing, so a more acceptable response is to withdraw. This can lead to inertia, procrastination and denial. Understanding fear and developing effective coping strategies enhances our sense of abundance.
Fear usually relates to future events and most fears are predictable. A 2005 Gallup poll ask adolescents between 13 and 15 to list their greatest fears. The question was open ended with no prompters. The top ten fears were, in order: terrorist attacks, spiders, death, being a failure, war, criminal behavior, gang violence, being alone, the future, and nuclear war. Here are other common fears: snakes, heights, water, tunnels, bridges, needles, public speaking, cockroaches, demons, and ghosts. Sound familiar?
The fear of death is universal and a foundation for almost all organized religion. The assurance of an afterlife reduces the fear of death among people who attend religious services regularly. Two fears related to death are the fear of the unknown and the fear of uncertainty.
Fear plays an important part in our natural response to various threats. For example, the fear of disease can motivate us to take care of ourselves by working out and eating better. The fear of financial difficulties can inspire us to work harder to earn promotions and pay increases. The fear of being alone can prompt us to nurture relationships. In other words,
Fear isn’t always our enemy.
Unfortunately, fear is used continuously to manipulate and control people. This is evident in politics and organized religion. Many politicians and religious leaders emphasize fear to elicit compliance, donations and other forms of support. This pattern has been practiced for thousands of years. Many elections continue to be won and lost on who can make whom the most afraid.
It’s helpful to reflect on our experiences of fear since early-life patterns can be repeated over a lifetime. My earliest memory of fear was when I was five years old. My mother dropped me off at a boarding school, and I didn’t realize it was my new home until she drove away. The idea that I would learn so much over the next decade wasn’t relevant at the moment. I was too afraid of being alone in a new and strange place.
I recall another experience of fear in fourth grade when I got into trouble for losing a book titled Bright April. I had no recollection of checking the book out of the library, but that didn’t dissuade the teacher and principal from making me feel as if I had committed a capital crime.
The experience of living at a boarding school was often about coping with fear and the hostility of angry adults. I have long since forgiven these folks. They were singularly determined to make us “good citizens” in an era when sparing the rod wasn’t an option.
I had a different set of fears when I left the boarding school to live with my father in California. I was 15 and my new fears were about coping socially in a much larger school with fewer rules and lots of cliques. I joined the military following high school to return to the familiar discipline and structure that defined my earlier childhood.
I mention these examples because some of the muck from these early experiences continues to stick to the bottom of my shoes. It helps explain my occasional tendency to feel fear even if it’s unwarranted. On a positive note, my experiences have made me more compassionate and more vigorous in opposing all forms of abuse. It partly explains my progressive mindset and my disapproval of intolerant individuals and groups.
The most important thing I’ve learned about fear is the human tendency to imagine the worst case scenario.
Here’s a good definition of FEAR that more accurately defines its nature: False Evidence Appearing Real.
Experts recommend people confront their fears in a safe manner. Are you afraid of snakes? Go online and learn more about these amazing reptiles to understand their place in nature. Consider gradual desensitization by eventually looking at a snake in a pet store. You may never want to own a snake, but acquiring new information at your own pace could mean feeling less threatened.
Here’s a practical way to confront less tangible fears. Make a list of all the things you are feeling fear about today. Rank order the items on a 1 to 5 scale with the higher number representing extreme fear. Review your list occasionally to notice how your fears change over time. That perspective alone will help minimize the short-term impact of fear. You can do the same exercise for three other key emotions—anger, sadness and happiness.
Fear is a learned behavior and so is courage.
Randy owns Triple 3 Marketing. He’s a long term advocate for positive change, having owned community magazines since 1999. Randy sold Positive Change Media in April 2009 and took a year off before launching Triple 3 Marketing. In addition to helping business owners, he also provides private coaching. Randy has a masters degree in communication arts from the University of Wisconsin at Madison where he studied persuasion and attitude change. Contact Randy at firstname.lastname@example.org.