Getting to know, and question, your fears – Part 1

Fear scrabble

Have you taken the time to get to know your fears? 

All of us have fears.  Some are evolutionary fears, like the fear of the dark and looming objects. We see horror movies making the most of these fears through selective lighting and “jump scares.” Some fears are more personal fears brought on by an experience, often early in life, that then stay with us submerged in our hearts and minds.  These fears can be fears inherited from our family history or shared experience.  Some of these fears seem to be logical fears (the fear of snakes for instance) and some seem less logical (the fear of butterflies). Regardless of how we gained them, these fears are a part of us and can be triggered without warning.  What follows then is usually a trip down a well prepared response path including physical, mental and emotional reactions

As we progress down the path of living mindfully it becomes important to question all of our unthinking reactions and our fears often fall into this category.  Often our fear exists in the background waiting for a trigger and in those cases it can spring upon us quite suddenly and with great intensity.  Before we know it we have reacted without thought and then our mood, our day and possibly the days of those around us have been affected. Yet often we don’t know why we react and simply accept our fears as an ever present part of our lives.

 

crow
Know your fears

Can your fears be a positive presence in your life? 

One of the most powerful things we can do for ourselves is to get to know our various fears and understand our “pre-programmed” reaction to them.  In this case we can view our fears as an opportunity to get to know ourselves better rather than something that is negative and to be avoided.  It can lead not only to self-exploration but also discussions with family to discover the long lost reasons for reacting a certain way or avoiding certain circumstances.  This then presents an opportunity to be free of ingrained behaviours or at least to be more understanding of ourselves when we do react in a certain way.   

To use myself as an example, one of my enduring fears is my fear of heights.  This fear develops in most children once they begin to move around more on their own.  In my case I believe that this was enhanced by a few early childhood events which has increased my reaction.  Over many years this reaction has become ingrained and I simply accepted it for a long time as a “normal” part of my life.  This fear can cause me discomfort if I find myself suddenly exposed to heights but it can also greatly increase my enjoyment of life by adding an adrenaline rush to my activity or by giving me a sense of accomplishment as I work through the fear to achieve my goals. 

While on holiday recently I was walking across a high multi-use bridge, in order to see the sights on the other side.  In the distance I could see a tram coming towards me and so I moved away from the tracks.  As I crossed away from the tram’s path I happened to look down and realised I could see through the bridge.  At the same time the bridge began to wobble and sway due to the motion of the oncoming tram.  My reaction to this combination of events was to become literally “weak at the knees” as my fear suddenly leapt into being.  I felt light headed, my legs grew tingly and weak, my heart rate accelerated and I found myself fighting against my fear and not enjoying myself as I had been only seconds before.

I was amazed at the strength of my reaction and so took a moment to explore what had happened.  I was faced with the logic that it was a strong, metal bridge, over which travelled the city trams on a regular basis. In another more reactive part of my brain I was trying to deal with the sure knowledge that the bridge was going to collapse and I needed to turn and run as fast as I could.  Needless to say I was very happy to get to the other side of the bridge and on the return journey we walked across a lower level and my fear did not resurface. 

 

bridge and shoes
Know your fear – mine is heights

What opportunities does your fear give you?

Having crossed back with no issues I reasoned that I had an excellent opportunity to better understand my fear and so hopefully reduce my reaction to it.  This was not just for personal learning and development, but also driven by the fact that I would be climbing the highest peak in Iberia in a week and I really need to prepare myself if I was to be able to complete, and more importantly enjoy, that climb.  Exposure to heights is a process I go through before every climb and normally over a period of months I can become comfortable enough with heights to get onto a mountain, after which my love of climbing comes to the fore and I am fine.  In this case I had only days to overcome my newly awakened fear so that I could undertake the climb – and so the challenge was set. 

The first step to achieving this goal was in answering the following questions.  We can all ask ourselves these questions as we begin to explore our fears and continue down our path of self-knowledge and acceptance:

Do you really know what your fears are?

Do you know why you have them?

Are you prepared to get to know them better?

How could you explore them in a way which still leaves you feeling safe?

What benefits would you receive through knowing your fears?

In part two of this blog next week I’ll take you through the process I undertook to answer these questions and you’ll find out whether or not I was able to come to terms with my fear and reach the summit!  

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi

Peter McFadyen

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