Learning To Overcome Fear
Fear is an essential human emotion that all of us
face throughout our lives. Fear has both a bright and a dark side
and depending upon how we deal with it, it can become a trusted
friend or a debilitating foe. When fear signals the approach of
a real and present danger, it can help steer us away from emotional
or physical harm. At these times, being tuned into it and respecting
its message is a valuable life-skill.
On the other hand, fear can give false signals. If
a fear response is a conditioned reaction to something from our
past or is the result of a misperception of the present, it can
result in avoidance, aggression, and other inappropriate behavior.
At these times, fear does nothing but drain our energy, cause us
to act inappropriately, and limit our lives. At its worse, fear
can become a crippling emotional problem. These are the sort of
fears that we can choose to rid ourselves of. The first step in
this is to know your fear.
Know Your Fear:
To explore your fears, try the following exercise.
Take some time alone with a piece of paper and a pencil. First relax
with your favorite breathing or stretching exercise and then gently
suggest to yourself that you are about to take a big step toward
greater happiness and freedom.
Now begin to list everything you fear. Don't try
to understand why you fear these things, just list them. If you
feel stuck or you find yourself thinking too much about whether
you really fear this or that and how much, free associate a little.
Just say to yourself "I fear..." and write down whatever
first comes to mind. When your list is complete, take time to announce
each of your fears aloud and pay attention to how you feel inside
when you do. Does your fear increase or decrease? Do you think about
the things you fear any differently?
Most people find that by doing this exercise, many
fears will begin to fade as soon as you acknowledge them, and they
begin to see the thing they fear in a different light. Some fears,
on the other hand, will prove stable. Some will be quite reasonable
and healthy and you will know these because they make sense. Some
will be unproductive, the result of unfortunate learning and trauma.
If unsure about whether a fear is healthy or wasteful,
ask yourself whether your life would be endangered or enriched if
that fear were to disappear. If losing a fear would endanger your
life, it's likely a healthy one, but if losing it would enrich your
life, it's likely an unnecessary one.
After you have completed this exercise, you will
have a better sense of what fears you do have, which are healthy,
which are useless, and which are more illusion than substance. Finally,
be sure to take time to thank yourself for facing and acknowledging
your fears and for taking a big step toward greater happiness and
Overcoming Your Fear
Now we explore a technique that has proven to be
useful in helping people overcome irrational or unproductive fear.
If you are still unsure whether a fear of yours is a true or false
signal, whether it is a healthy one or irrational one, you may wish
to talk it over with a trusted friend or confidant, or speak with
Can you relate to this scene? You're in the hall
at work and you see your boss coming out of the elevator. You’ve
heard she’s angry with you about something, and your heart
suddenly starts pounding. You quickly turn your back and look for
an office to dash into.
How about this one? You're at a social gathering
and you turn to see someone you've been secretly attracted to standing
across the room alone. Your heart starts kicking into high gear,
you feel a knot in your stomach, and you turn your back and make
your way over to the finger foods.
The first thing to keep in mind about fear is this:
As threatening as it may feel, fear is only another emotion and
we have a choice of acting on it or not. There is a strong tendency
to act and think fearfully when we feel fear. Unfortunately, acting
and thinking in fearful ways, even biting one’s nails, pacing,
or imagining unpleasant outcomes, will feed fear. The more we do
it the more fearful we feel and the more we think and act fearfully...and
so on. This is an emotion-behavior feedback loop that sustains fear
and in extreme cases leads to anxiety or panic attacks. The solution?
Acting assertively, confronting the feared object
or task head on, even with a little aggression, tends to reduce
fear. The reason? The feeling of fear is incompatible with assertive
and aggressive behavior. When we act assertively, we break the fear-behavior
loop, we tend to feel empowered, and we think resolutely. Now, keep
in mind that it is far better to react assertively to fear as soon
as possible, else the flames of fear can become increasingly difficult
to put out. So the trick is to recognize your fear and act quickly.
Recognizing the first sign of fear, how your body
reacts to it, enables you to act quickly and stamp out the flames
with a counterattack of assertiveness. Whether it’s a racing
heart, a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, or a ringing
in your ears, don’t go in the defensive at the first sign
of fear, go on the offensive... immediately. That usually means
doing exactly what you’re most inclined to avoid doing. If
you can launch your counterattack at the first sign of fear you’ll
likely overcome it before it knows what hit it. Here, a little Neuro-Linguistic
Programming can be helpful by providing you with a power shot.
You can create a power shot by associating memories
of personal effectiveness with distinct, physical and verbal stimuli.
First, sit back and recall times when you’ve acted assertively,
effectively, or otherwise felt great about yourself and your ability
to handle tough situations. When you have a clear memory of how
you felt then, create a distinct physical and verbal association
with this. For example: pressing the tips of the left thumb and
ring finger together and silently shouting "Go!" With
repeated pairings of the feelings of competence and power with this
trigger, the trigger can be used to help conjure the feelings when
So how could that office worker use this technique
to deal with the angry boss? When he sees the boss in the hall and
feels his heart race as a first sign of anxiety, he would look her
straight in the eye, trigger his personal power shot, walk up to
her, and say, "Good, morning. I heard you wanted to speak with
Keep in mind that the above technique is designed
to help people overcome irrational or unproductive fear. It shouldn’t
be used to reduce fears that are keeping you from harm’s way.
With a little experimentation, practice, and self-compassion, it
can be highly effective for most people. Don’t expect immediate,
revolutionary results, though these do sometimes manifest. Success
feeds success and if you start with smaller fears first and progress
through more substantial ones, you can change your life.
Copyright © 2002, G. S. Renfrey
To obtain a copy of this article, click on the link below. It will open a PDF version in a new window which can then be saved. You may need to enable pop-ups from this site for this to happen.
Download a PDF version of this article
Return to Articles Page