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Understanding and Processing Fear

Updated: Mar 13


Fear is an emotion that is focused on the future and is based on the belief that someone or something is likely to be a threat or cause you pain. Fear can be triggered when we are feeling threatened, either physically, emotionally, or psychologically and can be real or imagined.


The degree in which you feel fear can vary greatly and is typically based on three main factors; intensity (how severe is the harm intended), timing (is the harm immediate or impending) and the level of your sense of power or powerlessness (how equipped are you to be able to reduce or eliminate the threat).


Minimum Degree = WORRY

Moderate Degree = FEAR

Maximum Degree = PANIC


There are many different situations or circumstances that can elicit fear but the most common are:

  • Fear of Criticism

  • Fear of Loss

  • Fear of Abandonment

  • Fear of Rejection

  • Fear of Not Getting Your Needs Met

  • Fear of Sickness

  • Fear of Death

Like all other emotions, the sense of powerlessness plays a big role in our feelings of fear as does the aspect of our expectations not being met. With fear however, the focus of our expectations not being met is focused more on the future.


All emotions are indicators and fear indicates that we may not be safe. This can be a very valuable tool if the threat is one that is possible or probable.


The problem with fear is that many times, while the danger may be possible, it is often not probable...it's not likely to happen.


We have all heard the acronym False Evidence Appearing Real and this IS the case WHEN the danger is not probable or when the danger is one that is imagined.


BUT, there are certainly many times when the evidence is very real! If I lose my job and I have no money in the bank...it is very probable that I won't be able to pay my bills. This is a very real and very valid fear.


All of the fears I listed above are possible and can be both real or imagined depending on the situation.

  • Fear of Criticism

  • Fear of Loss

  • Fear of Abandonment

  • Fear of Rejection

  • Fear of Not Getting Your Needs Met

  • Fear of Sickness

  • Fear of Death

The first thing you need to determine is if the threat is probable. Is it more likely than not to happen? What evidence do you have to support the belief that this fear may actually become a reality?

  • I am afraid that...

  • The evidence I have to support this fear is...

The next thing you need to do is to examine your evidence. How strong (or weak) is your case? Many times, the evidence we come up with is inconclusive or circumstantial and often based on past experiences or insecurities.


STRONG EVIDENCE: I'm afraid my husband is going to leave me because he told me he's in love with another women.

WEAK EVIDENCE: I'm afraid my husband is going to leave me because he never tells me how pretty I am and my first two husbands left me.


STRONG EVIDENCE: I'm afraid I am going to die because I was diagnosed with cancer.

WEAK EVIDENCE: I'm afraid I am going to die because I keep having headaches and everyone in my family dies young.


Whether the threat is real or imagined doesn't change the fact that you are feeling it. It may, however, change how you process and respond to it moving forward.


I have outlined steps for processing your fear caused by a threat that is either real OR imagined below. I will then go on to give you additional tools to help you to process those feelings of fear that are more irrational or based on imagined or perceived threats.


I have included a PDF workbook that you can print out and use to complete these processes.


 

PROCESSING YOUR FEAR

 

The first step in processing your fear is acceptance of the situation.


Denial is a powerful coping mechanism and can be helpful in very small doses. When we are faced with a very distressing situation, we may need time to process the situation.


When Rhett Butler leaves Scarlett O'hara in Gone With The Wind, her famous line is "I can't let this happen but I can't think about this now, I'll go crazy. I'll think about it tomorrow."


You may need time to come to grips with the situation at hand and the potential challenges you may be facing otherwise, you may be sent into a psychological tailspin!


You CAN'T however, stay in denial for very long...especially when the threat is severe and/or imminent.


You must come to a place of acceptance in order to begin to strategize the steps necessary to reduce or eliminate the threat. In order to come to a place of true acceptance, you may find it necessary to first process your feelings of anger and sadness in regards to the situation. If you need help doing this, you can refer to my articles on anger and sadness.



The next step is to accept that you are feeling afraid, even if you know that the fear is irrational. There is a reason you are feeling afraid and this is a valid feeling, simply due the fact that you are feeling it.


We can't control what emotions we feel at any given time but we CAN control how we react and act on them.


When we have an "imagined" fear, it's still coming from somewhere. Just because you can determine that yes...this IS an illogical or irrational fear does not make it magically go away.


When we judge ourselves for feeling this way, "This is ridiculous, you're so stupid for feeling this way." it doesn't make the fear go away, now you just feel afraid AND ashamed!


Many well-meaning people in your life may also adopt this strategy, thinking that it is helping in some way. "Oh honey, don't be afraid that you will be rejected. You are beautiful and you don't have anything to be afraid of." When people tell you that you have nothing to be afraid of when you are clearly afraid...how does that make you feel? I would imagine it makes you feel worse, not better, right?


Don't do this to yourself AND be selective with who you share your fears with. Make sure that they are someone who will empathize with you as opposed to making you feel "wrong" for feeling a certain way.


Once you have come to a place of acceptance, both of the situation and of your feelings, it is time to begin to assess your ability to deal with the situation and come up with possible solutions. Whenever we are dealing with a threat, a good rule of thumb is to hope for the best but plan for the worst.


The Greek philosophers known as Stoics, practiced what is called "Constructive Pessimism". It is the practice of not only imagining the worst case scenario BUT following your vision PAST the most undesired outcome and THROUGH to what your thoughts and actions would be if the worst was to happen.


We don't often do this when we are thinking of the worst case scenario, we only imagine the worst happening and all of the negative effects, thoughts and feelings, you might call this "Destructive Pessimism"


DESTRUCTIVE PESSIMISM: I am going to lose my house and my family will be homeless and we will be scared, poor and miserable!

CONSTRUCTIVE PESSIMISM: I may lose my house and if do, I will find an affordable apartment for me and my family to live in. It isn't the ideal situation but we will make the best of it and once we are settled in, I will begin making plans to rebuild my life.


DESTRUCTIVE PESSIMISM: I am going to totally bomb my speech and make a fool of myself and everyone will laugh at me. I will feel humiliated and no one will ever want to be my friend.

CONSTRUCTIVE PESSIMISM: I may bomb the speech and if I do, that's ok. No one is perfect and many people have a hard time speaking in public. I am sure that I will feel embarrassed but it's not going to kill me, I will simply use the experience to work on my confidence and communication skills. This too shall pass and I will survive.


I now want you to let yourself go to that deep dark place of the worst case scenario BUT before you do, make sure that you are not in a frantic or panicked state. It's ok if you're still scared but if you are in a state of panic, this exercise will certainly intensify this feeling. In order to do this exercise effectively, you need to be able to face your fear, head on, with a sense of personal power.

  • The worst case scenario in this situation is...

  • If this happens, the steps I will take to overcome this challenge are...

  • If this happens, the mindset I will adopt is one of...

EXAMPLES:

  • The worst case scenario in this situation is that I will lose my house.

  • If this happens, the steps I will take to overcome this challenge are to find an affordable apartment to live in or to reach out to my family for a temporary place to live.

  • If this happens, the mindset I will adopt is one of acceptance and resilience. I know that I have been through worse and I can make it through this.


For years, when I was younger, I suffered from anxiety and panic attacks. After my son Tyler was born, these feelings intensified and became debilitating.


This combination of acceptance and "Constructive Pessimism" is one of the most effective tools I used to recover and break free of my anxiety.


When I would feel a panic attack coming on, I would tell myself, "I know what this is, it's just anxiety and while it's scary...it's not going to kill me. The worst case scenario and what I am most afraid will happen is that I will freak out in the middle of this Target store with my baby in the cart. If this does happen, I will call 911 immediately and get help. This may be scary and embarrassing but I know that if I do this, me and my son will be safe and get the care we need."


I never did have to call 911 but just knowing that I had a plan in place was enough to calm me down in the moment. I am not an expert on anxiety but I do know that the worst thing that you can do when you are in a panicked state is to try and fight it. Acceptance is absolutely crucial and then from that place of acceptance, you can begin to think from a more calm and clear state of being.


The next step in the process is to take some time and focus on those things that you are most grateful for right now in this moment AND those things that you will still have EVEN if the worst case scenario were to happen. You will notice that those things that you are most grateful for are almost always the things that you will still have even if the worst case scenario were to happen.

  • The things in my life that I am grateful for right now are...

  • Even if the worst case happens, I will still have...

EXAMPLES:

  • The things in my life that I am grateful for right now are my kids, my health, my animals, my friends, my resilience.

  • Even if the worst case happens, I will still have my kids, my health, my animals, my friends, my resilience.


It takes courage to face your fear head on but once you can imagine the worst case scenario including the steps you will take and the mindset you will adopt if this happens AND you can focus on those things that you will still have, you can begin to take action to help to reduce or eliminate that which is currently threatening you. List as many things as you can think of.

  • The things I can do to reduce or eliminate this threat are...

  • The thing that makes the most sense to start with is...

  • The next thing that makes the most sense to do is...

After you have completed the first thing and the next thing, continue to ask yourself this question until you can honestly come to a place where you have literally done everything within your power to do.


If more ideas present themselves then act on those ideas but, at this point, there is nothing more you can do except to detach yourself from the outcome AND make your decisions moving forward based on any new facts and/or circumstances that present themselves.


There are many times in stressful situations when a threat is imminent and what decision to make or what direction to go in are not clear. This is a time when you need to rely not only on your good judgement but also your intuition. If there is not a clear cut, logical next step...what is your gut telling you to do? Trust yourself and do what is true for you.


If you have a hard time trusting yourself or your intuition, it may help to read my article "What Does It Mean to Be Authentic".


 

FEAR BASED ON AN IMAGINED THREAT

 

If you determine that your fear is irrational and the danger you feel is not "real", once you have gone through the process above, I have included some further tools below to help you work through these feelings.


There are several different reasons you may be feeling an irrational fear or "imagined" sense of danger. I have outlined some of the reasons below. If you suspect that any (or all) of the statements below are true, I want you to finish the sentences below that statement. If you aren't sure...going through each one may help you to determine whether it is true for you or not.


Sometimes just examining the fear and writing out your thoughts and feelings is enough to dissipate the fear. Other times, examining your fears and writing out your thoughts and feelings about it will be the starting point for doing further work on your limiting negative beliefs about yourself and the world that are making you afraid.


  • You feel that the fear is valid because of a belief you have about yourself or the world.

    • This situation scares me because I believe...

    • If I didn't believe this to be true I would be able to...

    • What actions and/or shifts in mindset need to happen for me change this belief?


  • You feel that the fear is valid because of a distrust of yourself or others.

    • I am afraid because I think that {a particular person or people} are going to...

    • I believe this because...

    • The evidence I have to support this NOT being true is…


  • You don’t feel confident that you will be able to get your needs met in the future.

    • I am afraid that I am never going to be able to…

    • I feel like this is true because…

    • The evidence I have to support this NOT being true is…


  • You feel helpless and paralyzed and are therefore unable to take proactive action.

    • I feel like there is nothing I can do in this situation because…

    • If there was anything I could do about this situation it would be…

    • If I could shift my thinking about this situation, it would be to the mindset of...


  • The situation is triggering you because it is reminding you of something.

    • This situation makes me so scared because it reminds me of...

    • Another time I felt this way was…


Whether your threat is real or perceived, immediate or impending...fear can be the emotion that has the greatest impact on our ability to live authentically and achieve our desired goals.


I know that these processes are not going to eliminate your fears completely but they can be a powerful tool to help you better understand where your fears (particularly those ones that are imagined) are coming from and how to better process them.


Life and living authentically takes practice and patience. You are a beautiful, wonderful work in progress and all of the processes and tools that I provide are meant to be used to help you on your journey towards living the fulfilling authentic life that you were meant to live.


I hope that you find them useful and that they can provide you with some insight and comfort.


xoxo

Gina


 

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