Dealing With Fear At the Source

dealing with fear

Have you ever wondered where fear comes from? Most people feel some degree of fearfulness on a regular basis, but it’s rare that anyone questions its source. Since these feelings wear so many different faces, is it possible for all fears to come from the same source?

Before we look at the actual source of different fears, let’s talk about three of the more common broad categories of fear. I think you will find that most fears fit into one of these general categories:

Impending danger. This is the fear associated with the “fight or flight” response. Much of what happens in the face of impending danger is automatic. That doesn’t mean that we all respond the same way, not by a long shot. Just that our response in the face of real impending danger is usually dictated by our own unique emotional reflex. Some will feel paralyzed by their fear, while others will take flight. But whatever the response, it tends to be automatic.

Unexpected tragedy or loss. When we are forced to face unpleasant situations, it can easily trigger fearful feelings. This often happens in the face of loss or tragedy. It might be the loss of a job, a loved one, or an opportunity we were depending on. It could also be a serious disease or accident. Whenever circumstances take an unexpected and unwelcome turn, we can easily see things in a fearful light.

Uncertainty, the what if syndrome. This is the broadest category and it includes many of the most common types of fear. For example: fear of failure, fear of loss (not the same as actual loss), fear of rejection or embarrassment, fear of loneliness, fear of disease, and so on. This category is unique because none of the huge variety of fears included in it are based on existing realities. Instead, they are the result of dwelling on a possible negative outcome. They are all based on an imaginary “what if.”

Could all fear have a common source?

Realizing that fearful feelings come in such a wide variety, it might seem unlikely that they could all stem from one common source. Especially considering that some are based on real situations, while others are nothing more than figments of our imaginations.

Well, as unlikely as it might seem, all fear is based on one core emotion. In fact, it is the granddaddy of all human emotions. What is it? It is the inherent and insatiable desire to feel safe and secure. Anything that threatens that sense of security creates feelings of insecurity, and all fear is based on insecurity.

Real fear or imagined fear, it doesn’t matter

Let’s go back and identify how insecurity is involved in our three categories of fear. When it comes to impending danger, on an emotional level we feel like our very existence is being threatened. The “impending” aspect means there is a strong sense of urgency involved. This is why we tend to react automatically. It’s programmed into our survival instinct. Our sense of security is directly linked to our survival instinct on the deepest level.

Tragedy and loss rock the very foundations of our world. Our sense of security is deeply rooted in our physical well being and our close relationships with loved ones. Any threat or loss in these areas triggers a corresponding sense of insecurity.

Uncertainty has a different relationship with our sense of security than the other two categories. Fears included in this category are an expression of an existing sense of insecurity that is being projected into the future. If you want to reduce the level of fear in your life, this is the place to start.

Dealing with the “what if syndrome”

Changing the way we deal with impending danger or tragedy is very involved. These are either major emotional events that involve a healing process, or sudden, unexpected situations. However, most of the crippling effects of fear that limit people on a daily basis fall under the heading of uncertainty.

There are an almost limitless host of emotional conditions that depend on the what if syndrome for their existence. Anxiety is one of the more prevalent. Even depression is often based on a sense of hopelessness about the future. Changing the emotional anchors we attach to our perception of the future can work wonders.

Negative thoughts produce negative results

What if syndrome is a negative mindset being expressed in a future tense. Since the mind is only creative, this is an extremely dangerous way to project your energy. It can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This is true even if your thoughts are something like “I hope I don’t… (lose my job, get cancer, spend the rest of my life alone, etc).” What you are really projecting is “I’m afraid I might…” So, right away your creative mind goes to work looking for a way to manifest the very result you are fearful of.

Change your focus, change your outcome

The obvious solution here is to stop projecting fear into your future. I suggest a twofold approach. First, you need to shift your focus in a more productive direction. Additionally, it’s a good idea to identify things that encourage feelings of insecurity and eliminate them from your life. This second step can have a huge impact on your overall outlook.

Replace fear and negativity with curiosity

What’s so great about curiosity? Several things! It allows for many possibilities without trying to dictate or force an outcome. Curiosity is almost emotionally neutral, leaning slightly to the positive. And curiosity is inquisitive instead of judgmental.

The ability to view life as a journey is greatly enhanced by a curious nature. This mindset allows life to unfold naturally. Once we are comfortable with the unfolding nature of life, we begin to feel secure in the process. Change becomes something to embrace, rather than something to fear.

Reduce your exposure to negative input

What do you gain by watching distorted sensationalism on the nightly news? How is your outlook improved by long conversations that focus on problems you can’t do anything about? How does listening to chronic complainers and fault finders help you adopt a less fearful mindset?

Constant exposure to these things will only make you feel less secure about your life and your future, why go there? I’m not suggesting that you hide your head in the sand. I am simply saying that being bombarded by negativity will increase your feelings of insecurity and fear.

Get over the “what if syndrome”

Most of the things people tend to worry about never happen. And, even if they do, worrying about them never helps. It just robs you of your joy and fills you with fear. Truth is, most fear is nothing more than a figment of our imaginations. It’s an expression of insecurity based on pointless speculation.

In other words, most of the time “there is nothing to fear but fear itself.” Do yourself a giant favor, let it go!

What makes you feel the presence of fear?
How do you keep your fear in check?
The lines are open!

If you enjoyed this article consider email updates!

This short video (6 min.) explains why many people feel disappointed and
let down by life, and what it really takes to experience greater satisfaction.


  1. John December 8, 2009 Reply

    My fears are most definitely in the “uncertainty and what if” category. And I know from personal loss of opportunity that this type of fear — any unreasonable fear — can put your life on hold, perhaps forever if you allow it to continue.

    I love your comments on curiosity as a solution to fear. If we can nourish our curious natures, we will surely chip away at that persistent fear, until one day we realize that it no longer dictates our course.

    Curiosity is a magical thing; it inspires courage without the need to feel brave, and curiosity breeds creativity.

    Good stuff :-)


    • Jonathan December 8, 2009 Reply

      Hi John, encouraging to here your thoughts on curiosity. Not too many people fully appreciate the power of a curious nature, I can see that you are the exception. Your last statement really nailed it: “Curiosity is a magical thing; it inspires courage without the need to feel brave, and curiosity breeds creativity.” Thanks for your insightful contribution.

  2. Tim December 8, 2009 Reply

    This was a very helpful post, Jonathan, just like your last one. I never thought to just follow my curiosity during times when I felt hesitant or anxious. Just thinking back about those times makes me think about how different they would have turned out if I applied that wisdom. Carrying that advice with me for now on could make a real difference in my life.

    Excellent thinking.

    • Jonathan December 8, 2009 Reply

      Hi Tim, a lot of people will learn to project positive thoughts instead of negative ones, which is definitely a good idea. The problem is, doing that still ties us to a certain outcome. With curiosity, we put ourselves in the experience instead of trying to bend the experience to fit our preconceived notions. Even when setting specific goals, we should leave room for things to unfold, and then make adjustments accordingly. Learning to nudge our life in the right direction is preferable to micromanaging every little aspect. It makes for much less fear, and much more fun.

  3. Persha December 8, 2009 Reply

    I guess fear comes from the things that we are emotionally uncomfortable with. Emotionally in the sense that it creates chaos between being afraid and exactly not knowing why we are afraid.

    It could stem from things that we usually have bad experiences with, and just get fixated on and fail to conquer those things.

    Thought provoking post…

  4. Zeenat December 8, 2009 Reply

    HI Jonathan,
    I loved how you handled and segregated all the Fears. I actually wrote an article about ‘conquering fears’ in a guest post on CYT. But this article of yours is simply superb! I used to be in the what if category…but not anymore. I have learned to keep a check on it with reality, but i still cant stand spiders….eeekkkksss ;) I still scream when i see one….more out of eekkyyyness and less out of fear :)

    • Jonathan December 8, 2009 Reply

      Hi Z, I remember your article and it was very good. I got a good laugh at the spider thing. My wife will come and tell me “there’s a HUGE spider in the other room.” From the way she says it, I always expect to find a giant tarantula or something.

  5. Dragos Roua December 8, 2009 Reply

    For me, fear is the prediction of something bad that might happen. It can be triggered by a lot of factors but you summarized those pretty well. It’s a projection of what you DON’T want to happen.

    In our brains, the place for fear is in the lymbic system, which is one of the oldest parts of our precious gray matter. In the beginning, it was a very important part of survival. If you have been attacked by a predator and something bad happened, you recorded that. Next time you see the predator, you project what MIGHT happen IF the predator will attack you. This is fear. This is what we call “fight or flight” situation.

    In modern times, fear has become a tool for manipulation. It’s interesting you wrote about this subject, because this was a long time passion for me. I even started a book on the subject.

    • Jonathan December 11, 2009 Reply

      Hi Dragos, I never knew you had an interest in this area. I bet there are a lot of good blog articles in that unfinished book. There is still real value in being able to recognize the potential for danger based on past experiences. The problem comes when the imagination projects fear based on emotional insecurities rather than a legitimate threat.

  6. McLaughlin December 9, 2009 Reply

    I think that the hardest kind of fear to deal with is imagined because it is just about impossible to get people to realize that the fear is only in them.

    • Jonathan December 11, 2009 Reply

      I totally agree. To us as individuals, our perception is reality. That’s a hard nut to crack.

  7. Steven Aitchison December 9, 2009 Reply

    I used to go through all the different fear processes but usually fear of what might happen. Now I fear that I have no fear :)

    I guess it’s to do with the emotional value you attach to that which you fear and how you deal with the emotions of the fear as well.

    great article Jonathan.

    • Jonathan December 11, 2009 Reply

      Hi Steve, I have a hard time visualizing you dealing with such fear. You certainly got WAY past it. I commend you my friend.

  8. Lana December 10, 2009 Reply

    “Replace negativity with curiosity” that’s exactly what I am trying to do in my life now. Takes lots of trust, but so worth it! Thank you Jonathan for a great post!

    • Jonathan December 11, 2009 Reply

      Hi Lana, there curiosity mindset gets easier and eventually becomes second nature. Soon, your trust will be in the assurance that a sense of curiosity is the most natural way to be fully engaged in your own life.

  9. Gail December 11, 2009 Reply

    Hi Jonathan. Very thoughtful article, Jonathan. You made some insightful points. The insecurity you talk about is a fear of not surviving, of death. When we meet that most basic fear – the fear of not existing – with curiosity and tenderness, we ultimately realize how precious every moment is. There is only the present, this moment. When we see that everything else is temporary, we are available to be fully alive, in the wonder of things as they are….

    • Jonathan December 11, 2009 Reply

      Hi Gail, you phrased that so incredibly well. Thanks for taking the time to share your insights. I have read several of your articles and love the way you write. It’s a pleasure to have you here Gail.

  10. Robin Easton December 11, 2009 Reply

    Dear Jonathan, You mention negative input. I avoid it just like I would a disease. In fact, I consider it a disease in our culture. Media makes it’s money by feeding people doom and gloom. A society that is living in fear is more easily controlled than a confident fearless group of people who choose to live in awareness VS fear. We naturally think more clearly when we aren’t afraid. We are more bold and not as apt to follow like sheep when we are unafraid.

    So I not only avoid all the crap that fear mongers tell us we HAVE to know (or we might be in danger if we don’t) and I choose to live in awareness instead. Beyond that, I fill my life with as much joy, adventure, good loving people who support, cherish and watch over me. I fill my life with beauty, nature, creativity, and TONS and TONS of humor. As you say we can choose what we focus on.

    Thank you and hugs,

    • Jonathan December 11, 2009 Reply

      Hi Robin, all those things that you fill your life with, you also radiate. To me, you epitomize all those good things. We’ve talked about it before, and I know that neither of us watches the news (or any TV broadcasts for that matter). That’s a hard concept for many to grasp, but I know that all we are missing is a steady dose of sensationalized propaganda designed to instill fear and insecurity. Thanks for being such an inspiration Robin.

  11. John Duffield December 17, 2009 Reply

    Good morning Jonathan. I’d like to dust the invisible elephant in the room with chalk so his outline stands out. This elephantine beast is called “fear of judgment”, and it is for sure the biggest, most destructive fear of all. What do I mean by fear of judgment, and why is it the biggie of biggies? First some homework. Try imagining your life from birth to death has absolutely no value, point or purpose. You’re nothing but an accident of chemistry waiting to be washed away by the rain. Soon your life will be over and you may as well never have been born. Meditate on that for a while until you feel absolutely worthless. O.K….that’s enough. No need to ruin the holidays. But here’s the thing. Not one of us wants to really and truly feel like our lives are worthless. It’s such a painful state of mind, people who come to that sad conclusion often end their lives.

    Thankfully, most of us don’t get that beaten down . But not because everything everywhere isn’t judging our value or worth. In today’s world, richest, strongest, smartest or best at anything are “winners” for example. And what about second, third or last best? We’re “losers”. Make no mistake either. Every man woman and child is looking at you right now and judging your worth as a human being. So what do you think that does to us? It makes us fear being judged above all things, keeping our authentic true-blue souls locked up in their shells. How come? Who wants to come out….only to find we have little worth? Not me. Not anyone I know either.

    So what happens to you or I if we’re afraid to “come out”? We never know who we are or what to do with our lives. We miss the life we were put here to have. If that doesn’t sound too bad, chances are you don’t know what you’re missing. And….. as we speak…. There are millions of men and women hiding in their shells, living mere shadows of lives. That’s why fear of being judged is the Mother of all fears. It takes life just as certainly as guns or bombs. There’s a simple way to get rid of this fear, but that’s another story for another day.

    Ciao Jonathan. John Duffield.

    • Jonathan December 19, 2009 Reply

      This was brilliant John, I can almost hear some readers saying: “That’s exactly how I feel sometimes.” Until now, I had never really correlated insecurity with the fear of being judged to this degree. But you nailed this and put it in a way that anyone can relate too. Incredibly insightful John, thanks.

  12. Carol King January 8, 2010 Reply

    This is such a great post, I love the wisdom you have shared here. When I experience fear 99.9% of the time it is the ‘what if’ type of fear. I spent a lot of time looking for ways to handle this and I settled upon 2 methods. (EFT) Emotional Freedom Technique and turning the fearful what if questions into positive what if questions.

    For instance if I am thinking, ‘what if I can’t handle this new job.’ As soon as I catch the thought I switch it to ‘what if I turned out to be really good at this job,’ and then that thought leads to, ‘what if I became the most productive employee this company has ever had.’ Doing so always lifts my mood and makes me smile, its a real vibration booster.

  13. Anne March 22, 2013 Reply

    We tend to try to shield ourselves from pain/loss but it may help to think of it this way: when you cut yourself off from someone out of anxiety, they hurt from the loss of you. So now you both have pain unless you force yourself to act even with anxiety. Sometimes you’ve gotta believe.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>