Fear is the thief that comes each day to steal our potential.
A medic I know takes blood from donors. He recently told me about a woman who had come along to donate, but when he approached her with a needle she shuddered and began to cry. He’d seen this sort of thing before. There were other people in the room and he was mindful of her embarrassment, so he leaned in close and said, “It’s really okay. You don’t have to give blood if you don’t want to.”
She smiled through the tears, and said, “That’s just it. I do want to. It’s something I believe in. I just can’t seem to get past this stupid fear of needles.”
Each of us inhabits a body. We are the sole owner and occupant, so being in charge of it should be a simple matter, yet at times like these we’re often divided against ourselves. There are times when we know what we want to do, but this paralysing fear rises up through the soles of our feet and gets a stranglehold on our intentions.
We know that it would be great to stand up and confidently address our colleagues at the next business meeting because we have so much useful information to share, but then we picture ourselves drying up, stuttering, looking foolish.
Deep down we know that the fear is irrational. We’d like to think that we can reason our way out of its grip, but honestly? Sometimes reason alone won’t cut it, and the best way to beat something is to just beat it.
By the time that we are adults some of us have grown to become fear experts. Like any skill that we acquire, we get better at fear the more we practice it, and we ‘practice’ it, year in and year out by avoiding the situations that bring it on.
So, let’s put fear under the microscope for a second and think about what it is. The first thing to realise is that fear is perfectly natural and you wouldn’t even be here without it! We all respond to perceived danger with heightened senses and a rapid increase in heart rate. This is the classic “fight or flight” response gifted to us by evolution. It prepares our minds and bodies for survival at a moment’s notice, and it’s something that we should be thankful for. Consider that if our distant ancestors hadn’t been fearful at times, they might have been eaten!
There are fewer predators to worry about these days, but this mechanism is still with us, and it often gets activated by situations that are not life-threatening, like needles and public speaking. We begin to avoid these situations and associate them with the discomfort of a rapidly beating heart, sweating hands and tense muscles. Whether it’s social gatherings, spiders or a million and one other potential cues, we feel the fear and back away. The cycle of self-limitation begins, and at its worst, this avoidance grows into a phobia.
Needles are a common fear, but after she had told my friend about it, shared her shame and was met with acceptance, the woman at the blood donor clinic took a risk for once and stayed for the transfusion. Her experience was uncomfortable, yes, but she found that it was nowhere near as bad as she’d imagined, and she saw it through. My friend said that when she got through her ordeal there were more tears, but this time they were joyful. She was relieved and proud of herself, and she even said she was ready to do it again!
Although she had thought that having a needle in her arm would have been unbearable, she realized that what would have been more unbearable would have been if she’d walked out and let fear win. If she had walked out then yes, she would have found a few moments of relief, her heart would have slowed, but then a lingering cloud of self-loathing, weakness, and shame would have made her miserable.
Like everyone else she would have first learned to fear when we she was small. Some fears are ‘built-in’, and common to all children across the world. They are there to ensure survival, and they include fear of the dark, strangers and insects. Other fears we learn from others.
Everything is new to children and at a young age we are ill-equipped to assess every danger. As children, we rely on others to keep us safe, and we learn by example, looking to see what scares our parents and our peers. Slowly we learn that there are things in the world to be afraid of, but as we grow, so does our confidence and we forget most of our childhood monsters. Still though, some remain.
There are 7 kinds of fears that follow some of us into adulthood. Fear has big eyes and a big mouth – it’s a good talker, a salesman for itself, and once it has a handhold it’s reluctant to let go. So, what are these 7 fears?
We fear that we’re not good enough
The greatest fear is that we aren’t good enough. I say ‘greatest’ because it’s not only common but it impacts on everything else that we do.
As with every belief, we need to become like a scientist and examine it to see if it holds true under all circumstances. For this belief to be correct, we need to compare ourselves to someone else, or rather to everyone else, in order to show that we have an inferior character, set of skills, income, experience etc.
We will never be the same as anyone else on this planet. There are 7 billion people on earth, each one an island of individuality. There are 7 billion independent entities cruising around busily being themselves, and it’s statistically highly unlikely that we are significantly worse than all of them at everything. It’s impossible to meet everybody else in the world, but chances are, compared to all of them you are probably doing okay!
Fear always sows seeds of uncertainty. We compare homes and cars and salaries with those around us, as if price tags offer cast iron evidence of our personal worth. This is wrong but all too common, and it’s a siren call to sameness when the real value in each of us is actually our differences from everyone else. Individuality should be the true currency that matters.
While it’s important to have a strong economy and an education system that turns out skilful individuals to take their place in it, we also need to guard against turning out clones who merely exist to work and consume.
We should really be comparing ourselves with ourselves, with our own yesterdays. The fear “Am I good enough?” is one we should forget. The question, “Can I be better today than yesterday?” should be one we ask every day.
We’re afraid that we can’t improve
Your “comfort zone” is anywhere where you feel safe, and we all have them. It’s sometimes difficult to commit to improving ourselves when we know that we will have to leave our comfort zone, but outside it is the only place we can grow.
I speak to people all the time who convince themselves that, “When the time is right” they will be ready to tackle whatever challenge it is that they’ve chosen. The time will never be right of course, because they will never feel truly comfortable. They will always approach an obstacle to personal growth with a sense of trepidation, which is natural. They need to acknowledge that the fear will always be there, and that the only way to get past it will be to face it head on.
Yes, it’s hard work, but the reward is worth it. Whether it’s a new sport, hobby, or learning a foreign language, fear likes to oppose you by asking “And who do you think you are that you believe you can do this?” And I ask fear who he thinks he is if he thinks I can NOT.
Never be deceived that you can’t improve. You are always good enough to be better.
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