Written by: Jeffrey Craig
As a kid, I was a lot more fearless than I gave myself credit for. I remember riding my bike off a 10-foot dirt ramp because it looked fun. I recall standing on a lunch table in front of my whole school and professing my love for my second grade crush. I remember going up to bat in little league with certainty that I would hit the ball out of the park. There were very few things I was afraid of growing up, but I also didn’t see fear the same way I do now.
Growing up, I only saw fear in one dimension. Fear only existed when there was some physical thing that threatened my existence. Monsters, roller coasters, the dark. These were the things that frightened me as a child. Oh how times have changed.
Now as an adult, I have come to realize that fear takes many forms, most of which are of the nonphysical variety. It is not so much about fear of ghosts as it is fear of self. I have also come to realize that adults often experience more fear than their younger counterparts. This fear is more powerful and affects us on a far more serious scale.
So what happened that turned us all into a bunch of scaredy cats? Well from what I can gather, WE happened. We grew up. We learned to think in a more complex manner. We stopped focusing inward and took a look around us. Our ability to contemplate on a deeper level has deceived us. Our media has only fueled this fear by encouraging our irrational thoughts.The consequences of our fears are devastating. We ruin relationships, we miss out on great opportunities, we remain stagnant, we fail to reach our full potential, and we are left feeling alone in the world.
So how has fear changed? How has it mutated into something beyond just scary monsters hiding under our bed? Well first, in order to understand how fear has evolved, we must first understand what fear IS.
A simple definition of fear is: a distressing emotion caused by an impending danger, whether real or imaginary.
You see, fear isn’t just about the physical. It can be about a situation, an event, a conflict, anything really. Fear as we experience it is a biological reaction. Our heart rate increases, we begin to sweat, we get that knot in our throat. It is that reptilian part of our brain that activates the fight or flight response.
As men, we often hide our fear. We have been told that fear shows weakness. As a result, fear manifests itself in other ways. One such way fear manifests itself in men is through anger. Since childhood, we have been told that anger is the only emotionally acceptable way to express ourselves. It is considered more socially acceptable for a man to fight than to cry. Anger has become a defense mechanism for fear. It is the mask we wear to hide the fear that resides within us.
Another way fear manifests itself is through avoidance. When we feel afraid, we will completely divert our path just to avoid an uncomfortable situation or experience. Sometimes, these events that we avoid are actually things we want. Despite our own desires, we would rather fall back into the comfort of our predictable lives than step forward into an experience that may cause discomfort or struggle.
Although some fear is logical, such as locking yourself in a cage with a hungry lion or free climbing a massive rock cliff, the majority of our fears are illogical. When we really get down to the nitty gritty of what we fear, we find that the fear is unwarranted. It serves no purpose. It does not protect us; it simply holds us back.
The first step in overcoming our fears is to recognize them in our lives. If our fear remains unconscious, there is no hope in breaking free from fear’s chains. Here is a list of different fears and how they can manifest in our lives.
Fear of Death
The fear of death is probably the most rational fear we have. Our body reacts when it senses anything that could be risk to our safety. An example of this would be a fear of heights, a fear of poisonous snakes, or a fear of sharp objects. In each of these scenarios, there is some form of danger involved. It is natural for us to react this way, but what if the risk was removed from the equation? Is it still rational to fear something if the reason to experience the fear no longer exists? That fear prevents us from living an adventurous life. If there a reason for a child to fear drowning in a pool if they are wearing floaties? Is there a reason to fear heights if you are connected to a safety harness? This is where fear of death holds us back.
Fear of Rejection
Fear of rejection is less of an object based fear and more of a situational fear. As humans, we have an inherent need to connect with others. During certain situations, our connections may be at risk of being severed from us. This can cause us to react in irrational ways. Jealousy is an example of this fear. When we see someone we connect with creating a similar bond with someone else, we fear that our connection to them may be compromised. Another way fear of rejection can manifest is through abandonment. We fear that someone may never come back if they leave us for a short time. The fear of rejection stems from feeling devalued from another person and can cause us to react in irrational ways.
Fear of Humiliation
Another situational type fear is the fear of humiliation. When we are around others, we assume that we are under constant evaluation. We believe that others are observing us at all times and any sign of imperfection, any crack in our wall could reveal our flawed nature and lead to feeling inadequate. This fear forces us to be inauthentic. Instead of connecting through vulnerability, we put on a mask and play the role of someone better than we think we are. We constantly compete with others and base our value on how far ahead of everyone else we are. Embarrassment, shame, guilt, and failure are all things that can cause humiliation. This is often the fear that leads to men acting out in anger. The goal of the ego is to protect the image we have created for ourselves at all costs.
Fear of the Unknown
Fear of the unknown is unique and has no relatable object or situation. Fear of the unknown is simply that, the unknown. Predictability is safe, we know what lies ahead. But the unknown is not predictable. It involves risk. What we face could either have a big payout or devastating consequences. This fear of the unknown is what prevents people from leaving toxic relationships, traveling to new places, or taking on a new career opportunity. Instead of taking a leap of faith, we walk off the ledge and back to our comfort zone, even if we are unhappy there. The fear of negative results outweighs the possibility of a positive outcome.
Fear can manifest in many ways, but it often goes unnoticed. Once we have been able to identify fear in our lives, we can then take the steps necessary to overcome it and eventually, transform that fear into positive energy. Here are some ways to overcome the fear we are experiencing and use it as our strength.
Less Future, More Presence
Many of the fears we experience focus on the future. It is not where we are now that concerns us. Instead, it is where we will be that gets our hearts racing. Focusing on the future is pointless. We cannot predict or control the events that have yet to occur. The best we can do in any situation is be present. By staying in the moment, worry and doubt disappear. There is no need to fear a situation that has yet to occur. By staying present, we have energy to put toward the situations we can control in the now.
Focus on Accepting Others Instead of Being Accepted
The fear of rejection and humiliation puts the majority of the focus on other individuals. We place our value in the hands of someone else. Our concern is that we will no longer be deemed worthy of love and connection. We fear that we will be left alone, rejected and abandoned. But what is the point of worrying what other think of us? We cannot control how others perceive us. We only have control over ourselves. Concerning ourselves with rejection or abandonment won’t prevent it from happening, it will just prevent us from using what control we do have. Instead of allowing our fear of acceptance to rule our behaviors, it would be far more productive and beneficial to focus on accepting others. That is what we actually have control over. When we shift our perspective from being accepted to accepting others, fear is transformed into love. We make space for love to exists in the moment. And love will make a much bigger impact in our lives.
Make A Rational Assessment
Many of the fears we experience are incredibly irrational. Our minds have translated a situation into a sloppy jumbled mess. We are so overwhelmed that all we can focus on is the negative. It is important that when we face fears, we take a big step back and look at the whole picture. Fearing abandonment when there is no rational explanation as to why that person would abandon us is detrimental to our well-being. Many times, when we break down the facts, we see that the fear we are experiencing is unnecessary and we are free to move forward.
Worst Case Vs. Best Case Scenario
Worst case versus best case scenario is an instant anxiety reliever. Often times, we fear a situation’s outcome before it happens. We automatically assume the worst without actually putting all the cards on the table. We avoid amazing experiences because we fear the risk involved. By breaking down the worst case and best case scenarios, we are brought back down to reality. We see that the worst case scenario is unlikely to happen because there are simply too many other possible outcomes, all of which are better than we had originally expected. This exercise reminds us that risk isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it can be quite exciting and beneficial. And, even if an undesired outcome occurs, we are reminded that it can always be worse and that we can always move on from the experience.
We Are All Human
The biggest issues we face as adults our fear of how others perceive us. We have been trained to believe that we must be perfect or as close to perfect as possible. As a result, we try our best to portray that image everywhere we go. This is the base cause of our socially related fears. We fear embarrassment because that must mean we aren’t worthy of love and acceptance. But we need to look at the truth of who we all are. We are human beings. Flawed, beautiful, unique human beings. No one is perfect. We all make mistakes, we all want love and connection, and we all experience fear. When we remember this simple truth, fear dissipates and connection can bloom. We can experience love, connection, and acceptance through our imperfections. When we learn to take off the mask and lower our fists, we make room for people to see us as we truly are and if we are lucky enough, we may just encourage them to do the same.
Fear Can Be Mistaken for Excitement
As mentioned before, fear is a biological reaction. Our heart begins to race, we perspire, and we feel a knot in our throats. These symptoms can also be experienced when we are excited. As a result, in situations where we should feel excited, instead our brain tells us that we are experiencing fear. So, doesn’t this mean that we can train our brains to do the opposite? When we are experiencing fear symptoms, we can convince our minds that we are actually experiencing excitement. Through repetition, we can train our minds to do this automatically. Suddenly, the things we used to fear now make us excited. Maybe it’s not that you are afraid to bungee jump, but that you are excited to experience the freeing feeling of being weightless in the air. The fear transforms into positive energy that allows us to experience life as we were meant to do. Plus, a little danger makes things a little more exciting anyways, doesn’t it?
Fear has played a role in all of our lives and will continue to influence our thoughts, our emotions, and our behaviors. But, if we can bring our fears to light, there are ways that we can overcome them and turn them into something positive. Fear is a valuable resource that we can cultivate into energy that feeds our life experience. When we are able to rationalize our fears, stay present, accept others, and change our perspective, we are given control over our situation. Fear is no longer behind the steering wheel. We are. And that gives us the freedom to turn life into an incredible adventure. So, are you done being afraid yet?