We all have fears. In a way, it is the cost of admission for having a body. Fear is programmed into our DNA in order to ensure survival, and that is simply part of what it means to be alive. However, you may have noticed that your fears extend far beyond a healthy fear of saber-toothed tigers! Human beings have similar fear reactions to just about everything under the sun – such as a fear of rejection, or of intimacy, failure, change, loss, confrontation, being “found out,” or even more irrational fears such as fear of closed spaces, and even open fields! You name it, and someone out there has developed a fear of it. And these fears keep us from enjoying life to the fullest, from living up to our potential, from following our passions and from living in alignment with our deepest, truest calling.
We often know that our fears are baseless and irrational, yet that does nothing to alleviate the intense feelings of panic when the object of our fear raises its ugly head. Why is that? Why are our fears so persistent despite everything we do to talk ourselves out of them? There are three primary reasons:
1) We are identified with our fears.
We are very identified with our fears, by which I mean that our sense of self is inextricably linked to all of the deeper fears that we have. A fear of social situations is not just some random thought that passes through the mind, it is my fear of people, I am the one who is afraid. And because of this identity, letting go of a fear feels almost the same as dying. Some part of us, some important part of our identity would die if we let go of a fear, even an irrational fear that causes much misery.
Interestingly, every one of our issues – whether they be about fear or lack or self-worth, etc. – is its own little ego identity, with its own voice and its own persistent agenda for what it needs/wants. Sometimes those voices and agendas work in concert with each other, such as when a co-dependency issue and a fear of abandonment work together to find and maintain a certain kind of relationship. In other ways, though, two or more issues might fight with each other, such as the fear of failure and the fear of success. I often tell my clients that our issues are all like small psychotic children running around in our heads, each one clamoring for attention!
The solution to this identification is to take some time to sit with your fear, feel it from a connected but detached place, and observe how you are identified with it. Notice that you can actually observe that sense of identification – and if you can observe it, how could it possibly be you? Also, if you cannot stop it from spewing out the same recorded message all the time, then it cannot have anything to do with your inner Chooser, with the You that actually has free will. Just keep observing your fear, feeling it through your body and connecting to it without becoming your fear until something lets go at a very deep level.
2) Our fears are familiar to us.
This has to do with the old saying, “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.” We often feel more safe with the familiar than with the unknown, even when the familiar is painful and miserable. Our fears are very familiar to us, and so there is something very comforting about them, even in the midst of incredible turmoil.
The only way to address this issue is through courage. You have to be willing to experience the unknown before you can let go of the known. Of course, life might decide to force the issue and the unknown will be thrust upon you, but it is generally less painful and dramatic if you embrace change on your own, first.
3) We believe that our fears will keep us safe.
This is one of the most fascinating aspects of ego-consciousness that I have ever encountered. When we have a fear of something, naturally we avoid it – that is how a healthy fear of saber-toothed tigers keeps us from getting too close to something that will probably kill us! So in our minds, we believe that having a fear of something will protect us from its harmful effects; the fear will prevent the calamity.
However, this is only true of our healthy fears. Unhealthy fears don’t protect us from harm, they just keep us in avoidance of life. And here’s the rub – almost all fears are unhealthy fears! More importantly, our fears not only don’t protect us, they are the only reason why we feel that we need protecting! It is the fear of failure that makes failure seem like such an awful experience. If you have no fear of failure, then if/when it arrives, who cares? It’s just another experience to learn from. In the end, while it may seem like our fears protect us from harm, in most cases they are actually what creates the harm (psychologically, anyway) in the first place.
In this case, the best way to address your fear is to remember a fear that you have already overcome. After you got over that fear, did you later wish you hadn’t? Have you ever thought to yourself, “Boy, I sure wish I still had that fear!”? Notice how ridiculous that sounds? If our fears were so good at protecting us, wouldn’t we miss them when they were gone? Yet that never happens. So the best thing to do is to recognize that no matter what story your fear tells you about the awful consequences of letting it go, once it is gone all you will feel is freedom, and then you can choose, rationally, what experiences to embrace and which ones to avoid.
When we confront our fears, we tend to go through a cycle of resistance, attachment, and anxiety about letting it go. Sometimes that is because our fears are familiar to us, sometimes it is because we believe that the fear will keep us safe, and sometimes it is because we are so strongly identified with the fear that we cannot imagine who we would be if we were to let it go. In each case, there is a solution, a response that will help you move forward in this courageous work. Many blessings in your journey!