“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” ~ H. P. Lovecraft
Many times challenges emerge not from dark external places, but from the depths of our inner reaches. Here dwell the multi-headed demons that include self-doubt, hopelessness and fear. These are the demons holding us back, preventing us from attaining our fullest potential and highest quality of life.
During his inauguration on March 4, 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945), the 32nd president of the United States, gave an entire nation strength and courage with his words “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself ___ nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Roosevelt served during some of the most challenging periods in American history including the Great Depression and America’s entry into World War ll. The accomplishments of Roosevelt were significant. As a champion of the working class he was the only president to be elected to four terms of office. And too, during one of our nation’s darkest moments, Roosevelt was correct in identifying fear as “nameless, unreasoning and unjustified.”
Fear is only a concept, idea and hypothesis. By trusting in it, we breathe life and energy into this non-existing vapor, giving it shape, form and mass. We create this inner demon through faulty belief and perception. This belief creates an explosion of adrenaline and the ensuing physiological response of rapid heartbeat, elevated body temperature, sweat and terror.
Fear is a response that we can turn on or turn off. It is our choice to either contain the monster or permit it to break free of its chains and dark prison. Should we choose not to contain the beast; it will silently materialize, draining us of precious psychic energy even as it grows larger, stronger and more dangerous.
Basic survival mechanism
Just how dangerous is fear? According to The Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University, “Science shows that exposure to circumstances that produce persistent fear and chronic anxiety can have lifelong consequences by disrupting the developing architecture of the brain.” The research added, “These experiences cause changes in brain activity and have been shown to have long-term, adverse consequences for learning, behavior, and health. Studies show that solutions for children are available through programs that effectively prevent specific types of fear-eliciting events, such as physical or sexual abuse.”
Fear is a basic survival mechanism that we experience in response to specific external threats. This emotion triggers the innate reactions of flight, fight or freeze, behaviors designed to maintain our survival against danger.
An even more specific description has been provided by The North American Nursing Diagnosis Association, defining fear as
“a response to a perceived threat that is consciously recognized as a danger. Causative factors may include separation from one’s support system in a potentially threatening situation such as hospitalization, diagnostic test, or treatment; knowledge deficit or unfamiliarity; language barrier; sensory impairment; and phobic stimulus or phobia.”
Although fear can be a reaction to a real or perceived danger, sometimes certain non-life-threatening situations can trigger an unpleasant psychological or psychophysiological response. An abnormal degree of fear or a fear inappropriate to its cause is called a phobia, and can include an aversion to numerous things, including crowds, heights, spiders or clowns.
Perverse time machine
Fear is a lie and a ruse. The control that fear wields resides in a future realm. Like a perverse time machine it tricks us into a future filled with anxiety and uncertainty. Fear of failure and fear of the unknown go hand in hand whenever we shift energies into the future and outside of our power of now.
Fear can also seduce us back into a shadowy past, activating attachments to strong emotional issues from yesterday. Still, this fear can be an opportunity to seek resolution and shift energies from the past to the present. By resolving past issues we can break the chains of fear in a transformative moment of freedom and clarity.
By overcoming fear we permit ourselves to recognize and confront personal challenges. American Civil Rights Leader Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) stated that “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” We can never know our true character, as Rev. King has so succinctly stated, until we are forced into action and forced into channeling all of our energies and resources into a single purpose.
Overcoming the deadly and paralyzing effects of fear is one of the most important tasks we will encounter during our life’s journey. Dr. Charles Stanley (1932- ), founder and president of In Touch Ministries, observed that, “Fear stifles our thinking and actions.
It creates indecisiveness that results in stagnation. I have known talented people who procrastinate indefinitely rather than risk failure. Lost opportunities cause erosion of confidence, and the downward spiral begins.”
It keeps us frozen in time, locked in the prison that is our safe and predictable comfort zone. It is the uncertainty of attempting something different, the expectation of tasting the bile of failure. It prevents us from attaining our highest reaches. But there is a way out of this dark maze. Yale School of Medicine researchers have found that facing the things that scare you relaxes the fear circuitry, making that a good first step in building resilience.
And that is good news. We can break the chains that enslave
us to fear. We can celebrate the freedom of choice. And, most importantly, we can face and conquer our fears allowing ourselves to create the abundant life we were meant to live.
Maxim W. Furek is passionately researching the essence of happiness. His rich background includes aspects of psychology, addictions, mental health and music journalism. His book Sheppton: The Myth, Miracle & Music explores the miraculous and supernatural elements experienced by two entombed Pennsylvania miners. Learn more at shepptonmyth.com