"I learned that courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."
Fear comes in many different forms and is possibly the most powerful emotion in human beings. The fact is fear is natural and it’s instilled in all of us from childhood. The entire world is controlled by fear of some kind.
Basically, fear can be characterised into two types: survival and irrational. Survival fear is what we experience when we want to stay alive. It’s the feeling that arises when we approach the edge of a cliff, or face a predator. We experience the fight or flight sensation. Either we stay and fight or we run like hell to escape the situation.
While we might doubt it, everyone has fears - it’s a natural part of being human. For example, virtually everyone has one or two irrational fear —of spiders, the dark, heights, and the big one, going to the dentist. For most people though these fears are minor. It’s only when such fears become extreme causing tremendous anxiety and interfering with normal life that they are termed phobias.
Various studies have shown that fear is the enemy of reason; people cannot think clearly when they are afraid. Fear results in distorting our emotions and perceptions, and often leads us to make poor decisions. For example, people who have suffered trauma fear messages that can sometimes trigger uncontrollable flight-or-fight responses with dangerous consequences.
Fear is an intrinsic protective mechanism. Fear shields us from harm by sending a rush of adrenaline to help us physically deal with potential danger. But there are times when fear can be so overwhelming that it keeps us from fully participating in life. Once we realise that fear is a state of mind, we can choose to courageously face our fears, change our minds, and create the life we want to live. Being courageous however doesn’t mean we aren’t afraid, it simply means our bravery overpowers our fears.
We may feel very alone in our fear, thinking that nobody else could possibly be as scared of ordinary things such as the ocean, heights, public speaking or flying, as we are. Yet these types of fears are very common, and we can have great success overcoming them.
Remember, it is not the absence of the fear but the courage to act anyway that determines success. When we learn to face our fears, we learn to observe our thoughts and feelings, yet not be ruled by them. Instead we choose how to shape the lives we want.
Because fear is a real and powerful force which, if left unchallenged and unchecked, can stop people from having success; fear makes people sick, fear shortens life and stops us speaking up when we need to. As many of us have experienced, fear puts boundaries around us and our hesitation only enlarges or magnifies the fear.
But, action cures fear. If we can act immediately, we can avoid the ongoing negative consequences that result from indecision. But, firstly we need to determine exactly what it is we are afraid of. Is it fear of failure, fear of success, fear of being caught out, or fear of what might or might not happen in the future? Only after we confront our fear can we work on eliminating it.
Fear of exams is one of the most debilitating of fears. So, what are we talking about when we speak of taking ‘action’? The fear of failing an exam may require you study harder or differently. Your fear of other people’s opinions might mean you need to develop a different mindset –perhaps consider, are they qualified to judge? Are they people who you consider good role models? We need to accept that we cannot please everyone, we all get criticism sometime. If our intentions have been honest then we are best to let it go.
Guilt is insidious and a self-esteem destroyer. For example, if we have committed an act we feel guilty about and fear being caught out, it can eat at our confidence until we can no longer function in our job or in our home. The resulting indecision or postponement in facing it can fertilise the fear thus we become stuck in an endless cycle. The psychological barriers we erect exacerbate our fears. Sometimes too our fears might be of situations totally out of our control.
Many of us will have observed that fear is now the political currency of the 21st Century. Fear is what is generated and it is used to “motivate” and ‘control’ us. Our elected leaders are at war with our emotions using fear as their weapon. Thus, our fears are often the result of negative thinking- worrying about the maybe or the what ifs of the future. The battleground is our mind.
Now, more than ever, all forms of media use fear to drive better ratings. Fear drives attention, fear creates panic, fear creates extreme positions, fear steals our freedoms and our liberties and makes us enemies of each other. We are now unquestionably living and working in a society based on fear. It controls all our group decisions and actions. We are making policy and society decisions based on fear, sometimes unfounded, and sometimes not on intelligent and well thought out reasoning. No longer can we believe in what we are being fed by the media.
In recent times many believe the shadowy side of the pharmaceutical industry has taken this to the extreme. Where once people were strongly encouraged to vaccinate their children, allowing parents to make choices without guilt, has now become a fear campaign, driven by what some believe is misinformation. The fear of what is true or false regarding the vaccination issue has succeeded in creating division between those who choose to vaccinate, and those who don’t, meanwhile making laws to control parents’ choices.
Unfortunately, many people feel that our modern society is overrun with a destructive and growing social preoccupation with fear. We must not let this fear factor breed more violence, mental illness, trauma and social disintegration. We must endeavour to cultivate a realistic and positive mental outlook toward our fears. Demonstrating a positive less fearful mindset, when contemplating the future, we are more likely to encourage the younger generations that follow us to be less fearful of what lies ahead. Let’s show that it is okay to be afraid sometimes for without fear there cannot be courage.