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  • Sharon Borland

#56 Fear – What’s it Telling You?

Man with large shadow of himself

Examining fear can free us from its limitations.

Fear can protect us from harm – it alerts us to potential danger and enables us to respond in a way that minimises the impact of that danger. If fear has such an important role, it’s probably something we should pay attention to, yet there are lots of ways that we can be persuaded to ignore it and push through it regardless. Might this be a useful strategy and, if so, in what circumstances?

Before looking at fear, thinking carefully about the language we use to identify our emotions and experiences can really help to examine what’s going on. For example, we could consider that fear is usually a short-lived physical response to something in the present, whereas anxiety might be a more persistent state, often experienced in our bodies. On the other hand, worry is something that goes on in our thinking and is often focused on the future rather than the present. Applying these different emotions and experiences to your own circumstances as you read the rest of the article may help you to focus on what’s most significant for you.

If we want to pay more attention to the anxiety or fear we’re experiencing, we need to know whether we’re correctly identifying it. This might seem very simple – there are some chemical reactions that might cause our bodies to shake, our stomach to churn or our heart to race. And yet these same feelings in our body could be excitement and anticipation. How we interpret and label them can determine how we experience them, which in turn can be shaped by our environment or context (perhaps what we’ve been told or experienced in the past). For example, if someone close to us describes feeling anxious about going to a party, we may then interpret our own feelings as anxiety when in fact we’re feeling excited about going. How we subsequently act or behave is likely to be shaped by this interpretation.

One reason not to allow fear to guide our decisions and actions is that it’s often not reliable. Following a traumatic event, we may continue experiencing fear in the future even though the danger has passed, particularly in situations which bear some resemblance to that event. Our brains are working all the time to predict what might happen next and getting us ready to respond, but these predictions are not always accurate. By engaging more in an enquiry, we may conclude that the current situation isn’t quite the same as before and we are safe. Or we may see that it’s so unlikely to be repeated that we can safely choose to ignore the fear signals. You may not experience an immediate change, but over time you have the opportunity to equip yourself to respond differently. If, however, you’ve experienced a very traumatic event, you may require specialist help to enable you to face and overcome the trauma.

There will be some fear triggers that have their roots in an obvious traumatic experience from the past whilst others may be much more subtle. Understanding the source of our anxiety or fear is likely to enable us to re-frame the circumstances more easily. This may take some examination to fully appreciate the link between the past and present, but once the link is identified, we can again remind ourselves that this is not a repeat of the past.

Ignoring our fears denies us the opportunity to reframe them and free us from the impact on our lives. Doing all we can to avoid fear is likely to limit what’s possible for our future. What fears are in your life and what choices could you make?


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