Fear is one of those emotions that is often classified as negative. After all, Yoda taught us that “fear is the path to the dark side.” If you can’t trust Yoda, who can you trust?
However, the truth about fear is more complex than good/bad, negative/positive, light side/dark side. Fear is both good AND bad, necessary AND damaging.
Fear keeps us alive.
Even in the 21st century, we need fear to help us survive at times. Fear floods our bodies with hormones when we are in a life and death situation, such as kidnapping, domestic violence, or encounters with wild animals. These hormones allow us to push past our limits to fight or flee successfully. A great read on this topic is the classic book, The Gift of Fear, by Gavin de Becker.
Fear can destroy us.
On the other hand, fear can be dangerously limiting. Consider a person who knows she is sick, but refuses to see the doctor out of fear. Her fear will literally kill her for lack of medical care. Fear often keeps women and men locked in abusive situations. Fear leads to us carrying guns around and killing innocent bystanders in our attempts to protect ourselves and others.
Fear can also destroy us in more subtle ways. Fear of relationships can cause us to sabotage our love lives and end up alone. Fear of disapproval can keep us from taking risks in our careers, leading to lack of confidence and lower salaries. Fear of terrorism can cause us to become racist. Fear of the Zika virus can lead to less time outside.
Given all the negatives, can’t we just go ahead and say fear is bad?
After all, we don’t need to worry about basic survival. We have cars, apartments, HVAC systems, reliable affordable food sources, social safety nets, family units, modern plumbing. (And yes, I am specifically talking to those of us who live in the USA, since many of these things are not a given in the rest of the world). If fear’s value is only in survival, and we can agree that basic physical survival is 99% guaranteed, can’t we simplify life and say fear should be avoided?
I don’t think so.
After all, sometimes fear can even be enjoyable, like when you’re watching a thriller movie or riding a roller coaster or skydiving. And even in our safe comfortable lives, fear serves a purpose. A spike of fear can lead to life saving action when faced with a potential automobile accident.
The secret to allowing fear’s existence in a delicious life is awareness and management.
I’ve talked about the lizard brain before, which is covered in Martha Beck’s Steering by Starlight. Another excellent examination of fear can be found in Tara Mohr’s Playing Big. Mohr distinguishes between lizard brain fear and another, more ethereal fear emotion that is closely related to awe, reverence, and expansion. Both authors encourage us to become aware of our fears and manage them.
Spend some time becoming aware of your fears. Examine whether the fear is linked to an actual survival issue. Most of the time, especially if you have time to consider it, your fear is NOT linked to survival. Sure, maybe you’ll be vulnerable to someone and be rejected. But while that will hurt, you’ll live. On the other hand, if your fear is focused on your body or health, it would be wise to see an expert to make sure there isn’t a serious problem.
So what’s REALLY wrong with fear? Our inability to distinguish between survival fear and non survival fear. When our lizard brains broadcast fear messages to us (as they do constantly), we fail to see that 99% of the time, the fears are not worth listening to: because listening to those fears will not help our survival. Awareness is the key to learning when our fears should be heeded and when they should be ignored.
Want to learn more? Check out my blog post about the lizard brain!
Or, schedule a FREE conversation with me. Choose the Breath of Fresh Air and let’s talk about your fears.