Tuesday, March 31, 2009
by Philip Holder, Ph.D.
THE SOURCE OF FEAR
Fear is defined in Webster’s dictionary as, "an unpleasant, sometimes strong emotion caused by an anticipation or awareness of danger" or " anxious concern". That may be true but from my experience in my therapy practice I would modify that slightly. I think it more accurate to say that fear is an unpleasant, sometimes strong emotion caused by the anticipation of "loss". It may be a loss of health (disease or damage to the body) or it may be loss of face (damage to the ego, pride, or image). It stands to reason then, that fear increases with an increased attachment to the physical world. It increases as well with a dependence on the approval of others. Fear is also more pervasive when there is a lack of faith that we have greater significance in the universe than what we own, or how others perceive us.
SIGNS OF FEAR
Fear is shown in many ways. Some show fear by withdrawing or by cowering (if you never take a chance there is no risk of loss). The most profound examples of fear are anger and hate..
Some people think that hate is the opposite of love. I disagree. Indifference is the opposite of love. Hate and love are often closely knit. Someone who can deeply affect your life can bring you loss therefore hate and love are often intertwined.
Anger is the primary sign of fear. Those who act out their insecurities as anger are the most fearful of all people. Often those who act "macho" or "bad" are perceived as brave. Look past the façade. Those who act with anger are deeply immersed in fear. When two kids get in a fight, it is fear that spurs them on. It may be fear of looking like a chicken to friends, or loosing their girlfriend (or boyfriend), or it may be fear of physical harm. It is rare that fights occur over reasonable issues. Fear is the catalyst that fuels anger.
THE EFFECTS OF FEAR
There are two areas to consider when contemplating the effects of fear on your life. The first is the physical short term effect and the second is in how fear effects your life in general.
Fear is more than a simply a mental state. If effects both the physiology of the body and the chemical balance of the brain as well. When people are afraid it generates stress. Extreme stress can manifest itself physically in a number of ways. In extreme cases it can cause tunnel vision, loss of color perception (color blindness), it can cause a distortion of both time and of depth perception.
Want a good example of this… Often when someone is involved in a serious auto accident they will describe these effects. They may say, "It was like everything was in slow motion", or, "Everything was in black and white". What they are describing is the effect of stress generated by fear. Fear (and the stress generated by it) will raise blood pressure. It will also deplete the immune system. Fear causes errors in judgment and prevents us from taking the most reasonable course of action.
The long-term effect of fear can be more devastating than the short term. We are all what we practice to be. If you practice baseball every day you will become a good baseball player. If you practice carpentry every day you will become a good carpenter. If you practice being happy every day, you will become happy. If you practice fear (anger) every day, you will become a fearful and angry person. People often train themselves to perpetuate these negative behaviors. There are times when this behavior has been practiced for so long that the person is unaware that they have a problem with fear and anger. It becomes their practiced behavior for dealing with any challenge.
CASTING OUT FEAR
To cast out fear one must first get past the ego. More fear has been created as a result of perceived or anticipated loss of face (ego) than was ever created out of anticipation of loss of physical well being. A great deal of this fear is a result of people’s inability to prioritize. I always suggest that when someone feels himself or herself getting angry that they ask "is this situation really going to have any effect on the overall outcome of my life". In most cases, the answer is no. Place you attention on what is truly valuable. Look at the bigger picture. In this life we own nothing and no one belongs to us. I don’t know who first said it but I truly believe in the old saying, "let go of everything and what remains is what is truly yours". When you are angry, stop and ask yourself what you are afraid of. Only by being honest with yourself about what is causing anger can you take back control of your life from fear and anger.
When I see the mindless things that we adults often argue over, I wonder who the kids really are. Winning a meaningless and petty battle or point can cause you to lose the war. Remember… "Never argue with an idiot. People watching can’t tell who is the idiot". In an argument or confrontation people often lose sight of what the original disagreement was even about. Fear of loosing (or being outdone) takes total precedent over the importance or lack of importance of the original issue. People argue about whose religion is best, what martial arts style is best, who’s the toughest guy or the cutest woman. These arguments are all rooted in fear. Those who are condescending to others, or boastful, exhibit a state of perpetual fear. Someone who is truly centered, confident, and focused has no need for boasting or for petty squabbles. They are too busy doing things that are positive and constructive. The next time that you hear a person degrade or belittle another person, or criticize another martial arts style or instructor, or say destructive things about a colleague, know that it is the person doing the criticizing who is full of fear and insecurity. Anger is born out of fear. Fear is born out of a sense of inadequacy and/or the anticipation of loss. Fearful people are those who take themselves and the material things of the world far too seriously. Life is to be enjoyed by raising ourselves up to meet our personal potential. It has nothing to do with anyone else.
If you cultivate a sense of your spiritual worth, if you understand that there are greater things in this world than what we have or what others perceive us to be, then there is no reason to fear. When fear vanishes, so does anger. When anger is gone, your thoughts become clear. When your thoughts are clear, you function at your best.
Only lazy people attempt to make themselves look better by degrading others. You can practice being brave by being kind. You can practice courage by being tolerant of the beliefs of others. Accept that there is more than one way to accomplish any goal. What is the right way for one may not be the right way for others. Those who think that theirs is the only way, or that they know all of the answers have condemned themselves to ignorance. When you keep an open mind your potential for growth is unlimited. When you are free from fear, you can experience each moment to the fullest. This focused and centered state of mind will help you to excel in anything you undertake. Only by letting go of fear and casting out anger can one truly experience the joys of life.