Observations on Fear (and how to manage it)

A daring person standing on the edge of a glacier. The image captivated me as I browsed through a magazine. He contemplated a chasm of beautiful, but undoubtedly frigid water that stood between him and his destination. Poised on the edge of the ice, there was a sense of wanting, wanting to get beyond the water coupled with reluctance and no idea how to get past the expanse. It struck me that this is fear, the icy chasm we cannot get past, filled with risks invisible below the surface.

I related to the man; as I sat there, my perception of his desire and his adrenaline subtly aligned my body to a faster clock. It felt familiar, like when I see a snake at the zoo or when I want something but cannot muster the courage to ask.

Fear is often the element that stands between the life we have and the life we want—where we are and where we want to go. Like an invisible wall, it holds a line in the sand (or water if you are on a glacier) that prevents us from going forward to reach beyond our current position. We either stand still or make efforts to circumvent our fears. Sometimes we find ourselves on different paths that, though maybe no less fulfilling, are not where we wanted to be.

With some of the great transformational thinkers of our time such as Dr. Brené Brown, Tony Robbins, Dr. Jerald Jampolsky, and many others talking about fear, shame and vulnerability—three elements inextricably tied together—we are able to understand fear and address it in ways we never could before. This information and conversation can help us untie the knot, get to the heart of our personal fears, and then figure out strategies to open ourselves up to greater vulnerability, allowing us to be more connected, less stressed, and happier.

Fear is a battle we fight mostly with ourselves. While events or circumstances may trigger a fear, it is our internal response based on a lifetime of experiences that we must shift to fully embrace the life we want.

Fears are learned, and we all have them. Some are simpler like fear of the dark, perhaps abated with a night light or companionship, but it is the deeper fears, the emotional stops, that really keep us from fully living. They appear and look like something else, visible when we:

  • Control others’ behavior to create a safe, predictable outcome, even when the outcome is unhealthy.
  • Fail to trust.
  • Deny ourselves what we most want e.g., a new career, better relationships, children, new experiences, or education.
  • Withhold our feelings, dreams, desires, and our true selves.
  • Create unrealistic expectations for ourselves and others.

And the results can be life limiting such as:

  • Depression, anxiety, and overall ill health.
  • Anger, resentment, or martyrdom.
  • Isolation and loss of joy.

Overcoming our fears is a process. There are many tools and paths to achieve a more loving way of being in the world, but the common elements to most paths are:

  • Focus on yourself, not other people. Know your story and your triggers. When you know yourself, it is possible to create awareness and strategies that support moving beyond fear. Delving into those with a professional, a friend, spiritual advisor, coach or class can be invaluable.
  • Define your core values or beliefs for your life. Evaluate how your behavior and life circumstances fit and what needs to be adjusted.
  • Change how you see a situation or how you perceive someone or something. When we practice forgiveness, especially to ourselves, the possibilities in life expand.
  • Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Ask for help. Be real. Be honest. Be open.
  • Practice empathy and reach out to others. When we look through a lens of love and compassion, we can see each other differently. Recognize that we all struggle, and nurture the ability to sit with others in discomfort and vulnerability without judgment.

I personally am not of the belief we can ever live fear free. After all, it is an inborn response that protects us from dangers in our environment. Following our intuition and responding to the fear signal is important in keeping ourselves safe. Knowing the difference between good fear and limiting fear is the key, and being able to work through the limiting fear is essential to a happy, healthy, well-connected life.

“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance.” John Lennon, musician

SANDRA FISCHER is the creator of Relationship Reveal: 64 Cards for Discovery, Skill-Building, and Growth, a new card game that gets to the heart of what matters in happy, healthy relationships. Sandra consults in communications, people development and optimizing organizational effectiveness with 25 years of experience working for companies including Microsoft, Amazon and AT&T.