“The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
– The Power of Facing Your Fears –
You will never be able to avoid your fears forever. You can sure as hell try, but they will always remain in the shadows of your mind, just waiting to come out and surprise you at an opportune moment. So what can we actually do about our fears?
Well, we have two options:
Option 1: We can continue trying to avoid our fears for the rest of our lives, living with an anxiety that will never be extinguished and a life that tortures us constantly.
Option 2: We can allow ourselves more exposure to the source of our fears, and in a controlled way, we can ease our anxieties over time. We can even possibly free ourselves from these fears once and for all.
I think most people would agree that Option 2 sounds like the most gratifying choice, however, Option 1 still tends to be very popular.
Let’s admit it, facing our fears can be scary as hell. I mean, if it wasn’t so hard to do, then our fears wouldn’t have had that much power over us in the first place. But, facing that fear will take power away from your anxiety, and put it back in to your hands. So, just remember that the discomfort could be worth it in the long run.
Overcoming fear doesn’t have to mean being reckless with abandon and throwing yourself in to a dangerous situation. It simply means not avoiding that which causes you distress to some extent.
For example; if you have a fear of water. I wouldn’t recommend you take a boat out to the middle of the Atlantic and jump in for a dip with the sharks or a giant squid. It’s probably more safe to start in shallow waters at first before getting into deeper waters as you become less controlled by your anxieties.
I mean – I suppose you could just throw yourself in to the deep end but that requires an extra special sort of courage and it could be very taxing on your emotions. I live by the belief that all things are best applied in moderation, so push yourself only slightly farther than you think you can handle every single day, but always a little farther!
I’ve only ever thrown myself in to the deep end a few times in my life. For example, I’ve always been somewhat afraid of heights, but when I began to travel in New Zealand, I forced myself to complete a bungee jump when I was in Queenstown. I believed that it would be good for me. I had spent so much of my life running from my fears that I thought this trip needed to be about running towards them.
I could hardly sleep for two nights before the big day, and for an hour before my jump, I hardly spoke two words. I was incredibly tense and just attempting to complete this fete was taking every bit of willpower that I had in me. Yet, I was able to trust that I could do this and that I would live to tell about it. Afterwards, I felt like a different person entirely. A person that could challenge any obstacle in my life. It was a great feeling and a major confidence boost, but it was only that rewarding because it scared me so much!
Did this mean that I was now free of all fears and anxieties?
Hahahaha… No, but it sure helped me to prove to myself that my fear didn’t need to control my life.
Overcoming fear really means not allowing those fears to bully you into a way of living that is less than what you want for yourself. As your fears grow they demand more control over your life, and the more control you give them, the less control you will feel that you have for yourself. Fears and anxieties are greedy. You can give in a little, but they will almost always end up asking for more.
What do I know about fear?
I, for one, hate dancing with a passion! It’s one of my biggest fears in life and although that probably sounds silly to most of you, it’s very real for me! I’m a person who lives inside of my head too much. I’m hyper aware of what I’m doing and I feel that I can sense how I’m perceived, even though I may be wrong about that. I’ve had a few bad experiences where I’ve lost the interest of a lady or two by trying to dance with them because I freeze up and feel awkward.
I’ve almost panicked a few times. Not to mention, I don’t do well with crowds and I don’t really like loud noises much, so there’s that too!
Have I faced my fears as much as I could? Well, I’ve sure as hell tried. I’ve tried not to let it keep me off the dance floor when I’m being yanked and pulled, but I think it will always remain as something that I only do comfortably with a full bottle in my hand. I dance like a champion at home on my own, but in a bar or a club? Never. Yuck! Maybe I just take myself too seriously, but I sense the white man dance is in my future.
The funny thing is, earlier in my life, I was the type of kid that was afraid of a lot of things. I didn’t like horror movies, or going far away from home, or big social events, or new foods. The whole world just seemed terrifying to me and my world was very dark.
It’s taken a lot of work over the years to free myself of many of these anxieties and self doubts, but in order to do that I’ve had to challenge myself over and over again. It’s also helped me to prove to myself that I am capable of far more than I had ever believed and I truly believe that the same could be said for everyone else. You just have to be brave enough to challenge your own self doubt in order to grow.
An anxious person could see danger and negativity in many situations while a confident person might see nothing but challenges and opportunity. We have beliefs which alter our rationale and our perspectives of the world around us. So, in order to become more confident in ourselves, we first need to challenge those negative beliefs and anxiety inducing thoughts. How are those serving us?
You can separate yourself from your anxieties
We are not our anxieties and fears. They are only a little piece of us. They do not define us, but if you decide to believe that they define you, then they will define you.
We are capable of working against our anxieties. We can develop coping methods that give us control over our lives again. We can minimize the impact of these anxieties on our futures, even if we can’t eradicate them entirely.
Out of control fear is the most dangerous emotion to a human’s well-being, happiness and success in life. Fear can lead to defensiveness, isolation, hatred and anger. It’s necessary to have fear for our survival but trying to entirely control fear will often steer us wrong.
For example, racists and homophobic types, are often driven by fear in their beliefs. Either they have not had enough experience with a certain culture or type of people, or they have had one bad experience with a group which resulted in a blanket fear of an entire people.
For example; a man in a downtown Toronto gets mugged one day by a few hoodlums who coincidentally happen to be black. It’s possible that this man, may now carry a perceived fear of black men subconsciously because of this situation. Perhaps not, but this is sometimes how racism starts. Generalizing people into categories.
It’s also easy to get sucked in to fear when those around you love to fear monger to justify their own beliefs. Some very conservative religious types are great examples of those who have been conditioned by fear to be intolerant of anything different, because they are taught that there is only one true path and that it is the path which their religion has laid out before them. Fear mongering has always given me the creeps and that played a big role in my decision to leave Catholicism behind. I want to do right because I want to do what’s right, not because I’m afraid to do something bad or because I want to get into heaven (aka. doing it for my future profit rather than out of love).
I mean… “Thou shall not murder, unless it’s in the name of God. Then he’s cool with it.”, must not have sounded as nice on those ancient tablets of the mortal sins, because it’s estimated that 1.7 million people lost their lives in the Crusades back in the day. How is this justified? I lack the fortitude to perform those sort of mental gymnastics all day long.
Two Kinds of Fear
I’ve been through therapy to help me deal with some of my anxiety issues and fears. One thing that I was told by my therapist, was that there are two types of fears in us, our fear of the future, and our fear of the past repeating itself.
While we can certainly learn from our past experiences, we can not control what will happen in the future by hyper-focusing on our fears. All we will manage to do is ruin our present.
Which is a waste, right?
When we aren’t affected by those things that cause us distress in the present, we should be enjoying life. Meditation can be a great tool for us to bring ourselves out of our heads and into the present moment, it just takes a bit of time and dedication to get used to.
When we are living presently, fears and anxieties about the past or future have no ability to grip our lives. We are simply part of the world and trusting in ourselves to be able to react appropriately without over-thinking things.
We simply exist. We simply are.
Be sure to celebrate yourself for your courage in overcoming any of those fears that you have once had. You are on a path to becoming a stronger, healthier and more efficient version of the you that you had always known.
Love yourself for that, for you have decided not to live this life in fear.