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.”
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 or imagined, 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 wellbeing 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 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 fearful?
How do you keep your fears in check?
The lines are open!
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