Fear was a vital emotional tool for our ancestors as it formed part of the very valuable fight or flight response. In the modern world, it might be said that fear is still useful because it instills caution and that this makes us less prone to rash – and potentially dangerous – decisions.
There is, however, an epidemic of fear that is generally unnecessary and counterproductive; it stifles you in your pursuit of happiness, joy and contentment.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the ways in which fear has invaded our lives and taken control of our thoughts and actions. Hopefully, by the end of it, you’ll agree that these fears, and others like them, are irrational and pointless.
Nobody sets out to fail at something, but everybody will fail many times during their lifetime. Yet, through a fear of failure, people become paralyzed and neglect to even try, and this could be considered the biggest failure of all.
The issue is that failure is not seen, as it should be, as simply not achieving the goal you set out with. It is seen as a stigma that is attached to a person, a label that is doled out by others, and as a loss of something within.
Instead, failing at something should be seen as an opportunity to learn; it can tell you more about yourself, it can teach you critical thinking, and it can make you better prepared for your next attempt.
As babies and infants, we fail all the time and this is an essential part of the learning process. At some point in our lives – probably when we start to care what others think of us – we begin to feel ashamed of failure instead of embracing it as part of our respective journeys.
Getting older is unavoidable, but the general sense is one of denial; we refuse to contemplate aging because of all the implications of doing so.
There will come a time when our health will start to fade, our minds might begin to fail us, and our ability to do certain things will diminish. This might appear scary, but when you look at the evidence, it appears to show that overall happiness increases once we hit retirement age and beyond.
While this may not sound like the reality you know and believe, it might be that your vision of elderly life is clouded by your fear. Remove this and you might not worry so much about the passing of the years.
The ultimate end is, of course, death and this is something that a large proportion of the population fears to one degree or another. This fear probably stems from one of three things: pain, leaving loved ones behind, and the unknown.
Physical pain should not be feared because it can be managed to the point at which it ceases to really be a problem and a vast majority of deaths occur peacefully.
As for the sadness and suffering of others, most people will go through a natural grieving process and soon recover to their former selves. Yes, there are some instances where grief never fully ceases, but even in these cases, people will continue with their lives.
And, finally, to the great unknown that accompanies death. We fear death, not because we want to cling to life, but because we simply cannot be sure of what comes next. The thing is, whether or not there is an afterlife is not something we should be concerned with because if there is, then great, but if there isn’t, you won’t be around to know that there’s not.
4. The Future
Apart from aging and death, many people fear the more general future because it is full of uncertainty. This fear typically comes about because of a bias towards negative thinking where a person is convinced that the future holds danger.
For these people, the idea that the future might be brighter than the present, that nice things will happen, just doesn’t exist. They only see the risk, the potential hazards, and the dark clouds gathering on the horizon.
As much as an optimistic view might be better, the only true way to live is by turning your attention to the present moment as much as you are able to. Fearing the future is like being scared every time you turn a corner – you can’t know for sure what you will find, but until something bad does happen, why spend your days worrying about it?
5. Standing Out
Some people relish their role as an outsider and are not afraid to express themselves, even if few other people can relate to them. For most of us, however, the idea of being different, of standing out against the backdrop of familiarity is one that fills us with trepidation.
We worry about how our peers will view us, what they will think about us, and how they will treat us. This fear chokes our expressiveness and leads us down the road of conformism.
Why is this feeling such a fruitless one? Well, because anybody who mistreats you because of who you are is not someone you should want in your life anyway. Those who accept you regardless are likely to embrace – even encourage – your individuality, and these are the people you want to hang onto.
6. Standing Up For Your Beliefs
We all have views and opinions on what is right and what is wrong, how we should be leading our lives, and how society should act as a whole. These beliefs are not necessarily fixed, but at any given point in time, they are the compass by which you are guided.
So why, then, are we so good at keeping our mouths shut and at turning the other way when we see or hear things that go against our beliefs? Too few people are willing to stand up and speak out because they fear ridicule or even retribution.
And, yes, these things may be experienced, but by not making your voice heard, you are implicitly agreeing with the behavior of others even if you do not agree in your head.
Fear prevents you from expressing your true self and this makes for a life only half lived.
Some relationships don’t last the distance. Indeed, some people go through a number of them before they finally meet the right person.
There are those, though, for which a relationship is almost always overshadowed by the fear of an impending break-up. They can’t help but have a pessimistic romantic outlook, most probably caused by past experience.
But the fear of a break-up can, by itself, be the spark that lights the fuse that eventually leads to a heart wrenching explosion. Carrying this fear into a relationship instantly creates anxiety, paranoia, and misunderstanding.
There is no survival value in having such a fear. Sure, a relationship may not turn into a ‘happily ever after’ scenario, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it while it lasts. And if it does have to come to an end, at least you’ll know that you did not sabotage it by giving in to fear.
Being rejected by anyone, for anything, can be a brutal blow to your confidence if you let it. The fear of even asking the question of yourself can grow if you fail to see the other side of the coin; that by taking the chance, you give yourself opportunities to grow.
Much like failure, it is far worse to not take the risk than to take it and be rejected. Whether it is a job, a love interest, an audition for a group or team, or something else you greatly desire, the rewards of trying your hand far outweigh the risk of rejection if you are able to treat rejection as it should be treated – as water off a duck’s back.
If you can learn to see rejection as nothing more than a temporary setback, then you will no longer fear it.
People are, for the most part, resistant to change because it can feel like more of an upheaval at times. Somewhat paradoxically, most people want to make some kind of change in their lives, but fail to do so because they are frozen by fear.
It comes back, in part, to the fear of the unknown and the worries over failure. Change requires risk, change takes courage, and change is not always guaranteed to go smoothly. Because of this, we fear change and prefer to settle for the next best thing: complaining about the lack of change.
So many people can talk until they’re blue in the face about how they want to do this or how they are going to do that, but when push comes to shove, they find excuses not to.
But change is only natural and to fear it is to fear living. To escape change, one must simply be pretending to live because change cannot be avoided.
10. Different Cultures
In this global society we now live in, we are exposed – to an ever increasing extent – to cultures that are different from our own and this is the same in almost every country of the world.
Globalization and instant communication mean business is international, entertainment is international, and even food is international. On top of this, migration is greater now than at any time in our history, meaning people who would have once been separated by land borders, are now living and working alongside each other.
Fear of the outsider has been present since the time of early man where tribes would battle for territory and hunting rights. This fear seems to have found its way into the modern world where the same issues do not exist.
Now we seem to fear other cultures because we think they will dissolve our own or because there are religious differences. We fear simply because we feel more distant from people of other cultures than we do from people of our own culture.
But, when you think about it, this makes no sense; a stranger is a stranger and to believe that you will be more inclined to get along with someone just because you share a cultural heritage is to believe that conflict does not exist within cultural boundaries. It does.
Finding someone’s personality agreeable and being able to build bonds with them has nothing to do with culture, ethnicity, or religious beliefs. It has everything to do with shared values, shared interests and other, more meaningful, commonalities.