Fear (n) An unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain or harm.
That’s the dictionary definition of fear according to Oxford Dictionaries. I know because I looked it up and I looked it up because I was having a really hard time trying to explain what it was.
Fear: It conjures up different associations for all of us. For some people, tight spaces raise the heart rate while for others flying can become a confronting experience. For you, maybe it’s spiders that cause panic, or perhaps it’s being too far above the ground.
But while these phobias, these shallow fears that initiate a rush of adrenalin, are inhibiting, they are not the truly debilitating kind.
The debilitating fears, the ones that make us so intensely afraid that they cripple us are the fears that appear to us primarily as individual feelings that we struggle to define.
I think it’s so difficult because they are so often intangible. How can you begin to identify a fear that starts off as a random thought? A tiny little thought that somehow slipped into your mind without you even noticing it; unwanted, unbidden, yet there all the same.
It doesn’t even seem dangerous at first. After all it’s just a thought. Just a tiny little insignificant thought. And what is a thought? An imaginary, intangible thing.
So there it sits – an idea in your mind; barely formed and largely ignored.
But the problem is that it sits there. Like a dormant virus it lies largely undetected, feeding itself, surviving, and slowly wreaking havoc without you realising it. It breeds doubt, imperfection, the potential to fail, and the vulnerability it would take to succeed. All of a sudden this little thought has multiplied and is manifesting itself as a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, and oppressive mental blockages that cut you off from your most precious goals and dreams.
It sounds like ‘I can’t.’ It sounds like ‘I’m not capable.’ It sounds like ‘I’ll probably fail.’
It has made itself at home before you realise that it’s a terrible idea to let it exist. By that time it’s usually so entrenched that the idea of possibly overcoming it seems overwhelming. Laziness and comfort makes it so tempting to simply accept that it’s there.
That’s the dangerous part: Being scared becomes too comfortable, being fearful becomes too familiar.
In a lot of fiction, a ‘greatest fear’ is often so terrifying that it cannot be named. This can often be true for us in reality as well: to give this type of fear a name is acknowledgment that it exists, almost as if we breathe life into it by christening it, making it real.
But what we misunderstand is that fear is already there. The very fact of our denial is telling enough. Not looking for it is not going to make it vanish and no amount of denial, avoidance, procrastination and ignorance can counteract the poisonous effect of its influence over our lives.
If ignored, it only grows and there is no shortcut to eliminating it either. Just like in fiction, the only way to kill it is to confront it head on.
Name the fear. Acknowledge its existence. Call it out of the shadows.
Remove its power over you by recognising its presence in your reality. Then, reassert your boundaries and tell it to get lost because there is no place for it within you anymore.