Fear has caused us all plenty of suffering in our lives.
We all know the terrible pain of being afraid.
If you are afraid right now, I am sorry.
I want you to know that I’m with you.
My only wish is to give you insight
that will comfort you and strengthen you.
Some of our fears have sharp edges that hurt us all the time.
Others just quietly sit there in our gut, making us feel weak and inadequate.
We have all tried to find ways to deal with our fears.
Some things have helped. Many things have not.
Fear is a hard thing to crack.
I want to offer you the best way I know to get free of fear.
It’s based on all my years of research and therapy and personal experience.
I’m going to show you what fear is made of and how it works.
Once you see through fear,
it will no longer have the same power to frighten you.
You will realize that fear is like the man in the photo above wearing a ghost costume.
It will no longer be able to rule you.
You will know what to do.
Are you ready?
Are you with me?
Let’s DO this!
Did you ever have a class in biology where they had you dissect a frog?
They said if you looked inside the frog and saw how things worked,
you would understand more about the physical life of living things.
Well, achieving that particular understanding never really interested me,
and besides I loved frogs too much to cut one open.
But if the teacher had said:
“Today we are going to dissect fear!” I would have been all in.
I was full of fear and had no idea what to do about it.
Dissecting fear would have given me an understanding of psychological life.
That has always interested me.
I began reading Freud when I was 13.
I remember sitting down at the beach reading The Interpretation of Dreams.
I had a little notebook and began making a list of my fears.
I wrote. And wrote. And wrote.
My list got so long it was ridiculous.
The only one I remember writing down is spiders,
but my listing experience revealed to me that I was going to need some work. 🙂
Fast forward twenty years, and I was a psychology intern in a major cancer clinic
interviewing patients about their fears.
I decided to explore fear in my doctoral research.
Conducted in depth interviews yielding hundreds of pages of vivid descriptions of fear.
Spent years dissecting and analyzing every word, building a theory of fear
and testing it with my psychotherapy clients.
This is how I learned what fear is made of and how it works.
This post is an intro. Let me know if you want to hear more.
Have been applying my insights in my own life ever since,
and have cut that big long list of my fears down to just five.
Hey, nobody’s perfect.
But I’m not full of fear any more, and none of them rule me.
So let’s go get ’em!
Divide and conquer
There are thousands of fears.
Thousands of things or events people are afraid of.
But there are actually only two kinds!
There is healthy fear,
and there is unhealthy fear.
Every fear contains some of each.
Another way of saying that is:
if you look at any specific fear you have,
part of that fear is your friend
and part of it is your enemy.
Let’s take, for example, the fear of failure.
Part of the fear of failure is healthy.
It motivates you to work hard so that you are less likely to fail.
Thus it is protecting you from the pain of not succeeding.
Part of the fear of failure is unhealthy.
It paralyzes you and stops you from trying new things.
Can you see how one fear contains both elements?
Divide it accurately
To dissect any fear, we first divide it into its two parts: healthy and unhealthy.
To be able to get free of a fear, we must divide it accurately.
This is so that we will realize what we are dealing with.
Is this fear of ours mostly healthy?
Or is it almost entirely unhealthy?
How we divide it makes a huge difference.
Because healthy and unhealthy fear are completely different!!!
And we deal with them completely differently.
So how do we tell the one kind of fear from the other?
We shall know them by their purpose.
Healthy and unhealthy fear have completely different purposes!
By the time you finish reading this post,
you will already be able to recognize each kind!
And you will be able to separate the one kind from the other!
How cool is THAT!
Let’s look at healthy fear
The purpose of healthy fear is entirely constructive.
It is there to serve us.
Keep us well and safe and alive.
Healthy fear is there to warn us of actual danger
or of a painful event on the horizon.
It is there to wake us up!
Its purpose is to prompt us to do all in our power
to prevent that real danger or painful event from occurring.
Or, if we cannot prevent it, to come through it with the least damage
to our body, mind, soul, relationships and belongings.
Healthy fear is there to protect us.
How do we deal with healthy fear?
We act on it.
To get free of healthy fear, we heed the warning. NOW.
Suppose this morning you read about a terrible house fire that killed a whole family.
Somebody fell asleep while they were smoking.
You get really scared thinking “That could happen to ME! And to MY family!”
This is healthy fear, warning you.
Instead of lying awake all night imagining your house burning down and you all dying
(this is unhealthy fear, torturing and paralyzing you)
you check to see if your smoke detectors are functioning.
Whoa! There’s only one! And it’s out of date!!!
You google to learn how many you need and where they should go.
You go buy them and you install them right away.
You also figure out your best and fastest way out of your house.
Your healthy fear has served its purpose: to protect you.
to deal with healthy fear and get free of it,
we take effective action, in time.
We do all in our power to protect ourselves and others.
We take actions that reduce the need for further warnings.
That is, we look ahead and take protective measures.
Now let’s look at unhealthy fear
Unhealthy fear has no constructive purpose whatsoever.
It is entirely destructive.
Its only purpose is to torture us.
Attack us with dreadful images of anticipated suffering,
repeating them over and over in our minds
like a third rate horror movie on constant rewind–
making us feel weak and helpless and defeated.
This is the same way PTSD operates, using memories.
How do we deal with unhealthy fear?
We expose its destructive purpose as ridiculous.
We expose it as nothing but a pathetic attempt to torment us.
It is like the neighborhood bully in a ghost costume.
We look down and see his pant cuffs and scuffy shoes
and we laugh:
“We are supposed to be scared of THIS CREEP???”
To get free of the creep,
we must challenge our surrender to it.
And we must take back the energy we have made available to it.
Here’s how we do that.
We ask ourselves some really good questions:
Why would I surrender to a bully in a ghost costume?
Why would I allow my own energies to be used against me in self torment?
Go ahead—be brave.
Ask yourself these questions every day.
The more you ask them, the less likely you are to do them.
Your will begin to see your self torment subside.
You will begin to get free of fear.
Which small fear would be a good one for you to practice on?
Go ahead–divide and conquer it today!
Let me know how it goes.