Make friends with fear
“The hero and the coward both feel exactly the same fear.”
— Constantine “Cus” D’Amato, American boxing manager and trainer
“I’m afraid of fear.”
I thought it was an interesting admission. I had been talking with a friend about her life and asked what she felt had been the greatest obstacle standing in the way of her happiness.
“Whenever I want to try something new, I feel this great fear welling up inside me.”
I could relate.
For most of my life fear had been my primary motivator. Sometimes it was a vague uneasiness and other times an illogical panic that threatened to overwhelm me.
Certain experiences in my life had nurtured fear within me and I seemed unable to quell it. It seemed as if fear was my arch enemy in life.
Over time I began to realize that my real enemy was my lack of understanding of fear.
Like my friend, many of us have tried to segregate aspects of our emotional spectrum, labelling feelings such as love and joy as healthy while others — fear, for example — as harmful. You were probably told not to be afraid of anything — that fear was illogical and unnecessary.
Part of the problem lies in our association of fear with such words as weakness or cowardice. “I ain’t a-scared of nothing,” one old-timer I know used to say regularly — even though most things in the modern world scared him near to death.
We’ve been told that fear stops us from living a life of passion and dreams can only be achieved when we release ourselves from fear. That’s only partially true. It is unhealthy and unrealistic to expect that we can live a full and vibrant life by denying aspects of our emotional self. All emotions are important; therefore all must be acknowledged and respected. As Mark Twain noted, “Courage is not the absence of fear; courage is the mastery of fear.”
At its most basic level, fear is a survival instinct — necessary for response to threats and dangers. Fear has protected our species from extinction. Without fear, we wouldn’t have known to run away from predators or step back from the edge of the abyss. Fear becomes an issue when we allow ourselves to shut down or become irrational in its presence.
When we step out of our comfort zone, it’s only natural that we experience the fear response. But there is nothing more exciting than confronting fear head first and engaging it. I’ve leapt from an airplane at 10,000 feet and I can tell you I was fully aware of my fear and had not released it. But leaping through fear brings with it a rush of adrenaline and excitement that is unsurpassed: a natural and positive drug — the ultimate high. That’s why people’s bucket lists usually include items like skydiving, climbing mountains or touring the world – not falling asleep in front of the television or dying at their desk. The stories we share with others and the dreams we hold dear usually involve facing the unknown and challenging our fears. Fear and possibility live in the unknown.
Even great dreams are usually a little scary. My father once told me that if a goal didn’t frighten me at least a little bit, it wasn’t big enough. When we feel the fear of chasing a big dream, with that also comes the awesome reality of realizing that dream.
While fear provides many direct benefits to anyone who acknowledges it and overcomes it, fear can also provide a path into the depths of our own psyche, helping us understand the subconscious feelings that drive us. Fear can be a powerful and positive force for change when we use fear to our advantage.
Every time fear shows up, we have an opportunity to learn something about ourselves. Fear brings with it a tremendous amount of information for the person willing to delve deep and decipher the message.
Fear tries to keep us safe based upon what we perceive as a threat. I have met people who consider love a threat – who consider success, friendship, abundance, financial prosperity and even good health as a threat.
If we simply rely on our fear to achieve safety, fear will take it upon itself to remove us from the perceived danger. That could mean sabotaging our efforts at a healthy relationship because we feel undeserving of love.
It could mean removing us from the possibility of a great job because you feel inadequate for the task and unworthy of success. It could even mean making unhealthy lifestyle choices because we hold the belief that all disease is genetic or that failing health is preordained.
A more fruitful approach may be to ask yourself why you feel fear in a particular situation.
Much of the assistance fear provides happens at an unconscious level, so unless we introduce self-awareness into the equation, fear will continue to control our life and diminish our opportunities. Be open to this experience — lean into it. You may be surprised by what you discover.
The renowned French author and dramatist, Andre Gide once wrote, “There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them.”
Remember why fear is here and you’ll recognize it as friend and not foe. Fear is your friend and ally on your path to success. When fear shows up, welcome it and ask for its help in revealing and resolving issues in your life.
“Never tell me the sky’s the limit when (I know) there are footprints on the moon.”
– Author Unknown
Murray M. Fuhrer – The Self-Esteem Guy
Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca