Think of the spectrum of emotions we can experience. Everything from elation, love to anger and fear. Emotions can be very challenging to deal with. A great example of this is FEAR. At its most challenging state, it hits to our very core, fearing for our life, and causing a fight or flight response. And yet it is an emotion that can also be a powerful motivator, causing us to take immediate action which could be life-saving.
From a personal growth perspective some of our key work includes facing and confronting our fears, realizing that these are often associated with issues from our past and how we translate these to events we continue to experience today. To provide context, here is a personal example. One of my core fears that I developed from my abusive childhood was fear of abandonment. Those that loved me would leave me, which was based on the feeling of unworthiness and low self-esteem.
At one point when I was 15, my mother died of cancer, leaving me with my abusive Dad. In turn, my Dad threatened to take his own life, holding a knife to his throat, whenever he wanted attention. Unknowingly, I had developed this unhealthy belief which would haunt me in my earlier relationships. During an argument my girlfriend would state that they needed space and would leave. At these times I would fall into a state of desperation, always fearing the worst. It was not until years later, as I disclosed in my book, Discovering Michael: An Inspirational Guide to Personal Growth & Self-Discovery, that I confronted this fear and learned how to initially cope and then overcome it.
On the physical level, we can understand fear as any event, real or perceived, that threatens our basic needs as identified below in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The greater the perceived threat, the greater our fight, flight or freeze response. In these moments, our heart races, pumping blood to our extremities in an effort to prepare us to kill or be killed, to flee for our life, or freeze in the face of fear. The key is realizing that at these moments blood is not being pumped to our brain as logic gives way to instinct. This instinctual response can as severe for some whether it is fearing for our live, or feeling threatened if someone we love is leaving us.
The key is realizing that fear is largely based on our perception of a situation. Managing fear then is a manner of understanding and dealing with our perceptions. As with any aspect of personal growth, the key is developing our awareness. The challenge comes in that when we are experiencing what we perceive as life-threatening fear, we are not using our brain.
Recent events in Paris reminded me of the power of fear. Just prior to 9/11 we were accustomed to living the overall good life for most of us here in the USA. Then along came the events on this day that shifted our focus from our needs of love/belonging, esteem and self-actualization, to one of survival. Our basic needs of survival and safety were now at risk. Most of us watched in horror of these events, and fear soon led to retaliation and a declared war on terrorism. Fear in this case was a powerful motivator to a call to action since we perceived that our way of life was being threatened. Many of us returned to this feeling while we watched these events being repeated in Paris. In short order, the rhetoric of the political campaigns changed to anger and retaliation. We were once again reminded of our fear that this could be our neighborhoods and our friends and family.
Not meant to argue the good or bad, right or wrong, of our reactions, the key point here is recognizing the power of fear to mobilize us and act in a way that could be irrational. As I watched these events, I found myself angry and wanting retaliation. As the events unfolded, there were a few comments made stating that fear was the very reaction that the terrorists wanted. It reminded me that I had to separate myself from the emotion of fear, to return to a sense of logic and wisdom to reconsider my stance.
This example relates to what I have learned about dealing with fear. The first step is to be aware that you are feeling fear, and that fear has the power of consuming us depending on our perception or the reality of the situation. This is hard to do since strong emotions such as anger and fear can consume us, limiting our ability to respond rationally. If our feelings of fear are strong, than we need to find ways to calm our sense of fear before we react to them. Obviously when life-threatened, we must respond immediately, but most other situations where we experience the strong sense of fear, are often not life-threatening, and require that we calm ourselves before reacting. Once we achieve a calmer state, our next step is to return to the logic mind in a way that seeks to understand the situation from a logical (vs. emotional) perspective. Here we can ascertain fact vs. fiction, perception vs. reality, and find a better place to determine how we will respond.
Fear, as I have come to learn more about it, is a powerful tool for our personal growth. Learning how to confront our fears is where we develop our own sense of self-power, self-control, and deeper awareness into self. They say that when you confront a fear and win over it, you feel empowered with a greater sense that you can accomplish anything. It is all about how we perceive things and then respond to it that develops your sense of being!