Did you know that with only a few exceptions, such as a fear of heights, darkness or loud noise, pretty much all fears are learned throughout life? For me, personally, this was always hard to understand, because I was afraid of a variety of things!
I was scared of bridges.
I was scared of spiders, ants and bees.
I was scared of those small, lizard-snake-like slimy things, which slither around your bathroom floor at night.
I was scared that a girl I liked could find out how I feel about her.
I was scared of being honest.
I was scared of bad grades.
I was scared of having all eyes on me.
I AM scared of heights.
I AM sometimes scared of scaring my friends away with my emotional side, because I tend to live in my own world and can’t react to their problems properly.
Do you see yourself here? What are your biggest fears?
And the craziest thing is: For the longest time, I feared fear! I knew those situations in which I felt fear, and eventually I wasn’t scared of the situation itself but of the horrible feeling I would feel in that situation (“will”).
Sometimes, that makes you feel crazy and “not normal”, doesn’t it? Or is it rather a fear of OTHERS thinking you’re crazy and “not normal”..?
If we have even the slightest bit in common, then you hate the feeling of fear. Maybe you have a lump in your throat and your stomach turns. Especially that drop in your stomach seems to be a main symptom of fear, which a lot of people experience. That’s probably why we tend to spend a lot of time on the toilet, because our digestive system goes bonkers. But that’s just a thought…
Why do we feel fear?
Basically, fear is supposed to protect us. It’s supposed to help us recognize life-threatening situations so that we can avoid them.
But “life-threatening” doesn’t always mean the same thing. For me, a wolf would most likely be life-threatening. For Jens, my Mixed Martial Arts coach, it probably wouldn’t be. Losing my parents’ affection wouldn’t be life-threatening to me. For a newborn, it would be, because it completely depends on mum and dad.
Additionally, we might assess certain situations as “potentially life-threatening” because of missing or misguided education. We read and hear so much about poisonous spiders that some of us develop a fear of ALL of those cute, little creatures. Our image of sharks is so influenced by horror movies that we developed a fear of this sea creature, which naturally avoids any contact with humans because it values its own integrity.
And still, fears are present for all of us. They’re just there. Probably for you, too.
Your fears might be completely incomprehensible for others. They can be “irrational” if you think about them. That doesn’t matter. They’re just there, regardless.
You feel them. The lump in your throat, the drop in your stomach and that sudden blockade in your head, which makes it impossible to make clear, smart, brave decisions.
How do we overcome fear?
There’s a lot of nonsense out there about how to properly cope with fear. Specific types of hypnosis, which are supposed to cure your fear overnight. Tap yourself on your thumb and your forearm three times and BAM, you’re brave. You’re then told to ask yourself a few questions about your fear, write the answers down and repeat every night.
Well, okay, it’s not COMPLETE nonsense. But it’s all just preparations. It’s giving you a hand.
But fear can only be overcome in ONE SINGLE MOMENT:
The moment in which you feel it.
Fear is a feeling. And as with every other feeling, fear wants to be felt. You have to go through it to know what it looks like on the other side. Fear is not there to annoy you. It’s there to tell you something. “Hey, you might be in danger here!”
I assume you know in which situations this applies. I wouldn’t advise to feel your fear and concentrate on your breathing when confronted with a sabre-toothed kitty-cat.
But in other situations, that could be very helpful:
- Exam nerves
- Fear of rejection
- Fear of failure
- Jealousy (which is fear of comparison with others. The fear of not being enough for your partner)
- Fear of your own cellar (which I had until I was about 22)
- Fear of open, honest but uncomfortable conversations
If you feel any of those fears, you can be sure: You HAVE to feel them right now.
You’re allowed to feel fear
It’s completely fine to be scared. You are not crazy, even if you think that others could have that impression. You are not actually suffocating, even if the air seems to tighten (if you suffer from asthma, please ignore this sentence). You are not worth less. You are not dumb or useless.
In those moments, all those thoughts stem from your fear. And it’s no good to try and get rid of them asap. It’s no good to tell yourself, “No, I don’t want to be scared!”. It’s no good to silence your fears with music or by scrolling through Facebook. It’s no good to avoid the situation in which you feel fear. To run away from it.
Even if it works, it’s just a short-term solution. If another situation is similar, you’ll feel the exact same fear and it’s only going to get more uncomfortable each time. If you want to feel better, there’s only one thing to do, even if it sounds a bit paradoxical:
Allow yourself to feel fear.
Allow yourself to feel awful.
Take your fear by the hand and show that the situation isn’t as bad as expected.
Stay in that feeling and tell yourself, “It’s okay to be scared. I am not actually in danger and my fears are probably exaggerated. Fear, I feel you.” If you do this, something is going to happen. The fear is going so subside. You feel better.
Your breathing normalizes.
The drop in your stomach isn’t as significant.
Your head feels freer, you can think more clearly and more logically. You can make decisions again and you aren’t numb anymore.
Embrace the setbacks
And it’s okay if that fear comes back. It might very well be that you’ll still feel it a few times. That’s completely fine, it doesn’t mean you’re “useless” or worth less than others who do not have that fear. But if you tell yourself that, from now on, you’ll feel the fear and you’ll allow it to be present, then it’s going to get less intense over time. It’ll become easier for you to allow that inner feeling to be there, yet you’ll still be able to make clear decisions.
The decision to do it ANYWAY. To face that situation REGARDLESS. To STILL keep going. Because it’s just a feeling. It wants to be felt, that’s it. It’s not a reality. No indication for what you should DO. It’s a signpost of your inner self, your inner wisdom.
No matter how weird the term “inner wisdom” might sound: Have you never had those little “epiphanies”? Realizations which stopped your suffering for a second or made it feel redundant all of a sudden?
Those realizations won’t come if you constantly overthink things. It might work in maths, but not when it comes to you and your emotions. Those realizations will naturally surface once you’ve made it through the jungle of long-repressed emotions. Then you’ll have thoughts which weren’t there before. Realizations, which seem pretty logical, but which you haven’t thought of before for some reason.
By the way, it’s okay if this takes some time. It’s okay if you can’t immediately overcome every single fear. It’s okay to have setbacks in which you feel like you haven’t taken one step forward yet. Those are only small steps on a long journey. Stops which you just have to pass.
Eventually, you’ll feel it. You’re not expecting it anymore, because you haven’t thought about it in a while:
You’re in that situation which used to make you feel so scared. But you’re not realising it. You’re just there and doing it.
You sit your exam. You tell that a**hole what you think of them. You go up to that girl and tell her how you feel. You say “no”.
And it’s not until later that you think, “Huh… wait… that… that was me? Sick!”
I would like to invite you to ask yourself:
Which situations do you now go through without even thinking? What have you done over the past few days/weeks, which would have been impossible a couple of years ago?
It’s incredible how our lives continuously develop whilst we’re just living. But believe me, it’s worth taking a look. It’s worth to stop and think every once in a while, and realise where we’re at right now. How far we’ve come whilst we didn’t even pay attention.
It’s worth living CONSCIOUSLY.