What does fear do to us?

What does fear do to us? The consequences of being fear-based or operating from fear are extremely varied and insidious.

One consequence is that we tend to become narcissistic. When we’re caught in fear of being negatively impacted physically, financially, or psychologically we automatically divert our focus from others or the environment and bring it into ourselves. Obviously if our survival seems to be at stake we may not much care if we pollute or do something that has a negative impact on others. But even when the situation isn’t that extreme, we tend to draw our focus inward and ignore the impacts on others or the environment.

We can also be drawn into a victim-like stance where we see ourselves as being unfairly taken advantage of or impacted by other people or circumstances . It’s been said that victimhood is the biggest addiction operating in our country today. It’s not coincidental that fear is operating so pervasively. When we’re fearful it is easier to view the world as being against us. We tend to look for things to go wrong and can feel very disempowered when they apparently do so.

When we come from fear, anger, guilt sadness, etc. the result is that we become a source of negative energy. This energy can repel other people or draw a response in kind which adds more fuel to the victim fire as we experience even more loss and negativity. We may look for people who are willing to commiserate with us rather than support us in moving to a more positive place.

When we come from fear we tend to be more judgmental and critical of those people and situations we fear. If we fear something, we want to make it wrong. Judgment can become a mode of seeing everyone and everything outside of us. I’m talking about being judgmental, not about exercising “good judgment” in the sense of making wise assessments leading to good decisions. Being judgmental is rampant and creates a lot of unnecessary separation and ill feelings. Love doesn’t judge. Fear does. Being judgmental is another epidemic in the modern world. When anything “bad” happens it almost seems more important to find someone to blame and judge than to do something creative and positive.

Love is very aware and discerning. In fact, we are much more aware and discerning in the absence of fear. I had a session with a woman who was extremely fearful and anxious about the possibility of her husband having an affair. When she explored the reason for her fear, she discovered that she thought she needed the fear to help her be aware and tuned in in case their relationship started to falter and he was attracted elsewhere. Upon examination she realized that the fear and anxiety were actually creating a separation between her and her husband. In addition she realized that she was a very intuitive person when she was centered, and that the fear was blocking her intuition and stopping her from being able to sense what was going on. As a result of these realizations she recognized that she didn’t need fear. It was actually creating the separation she feared; and was standing in the way of having the relationship she wanted. She released the fear and according to her and her husband, her relationship became more solid than ever.

Fear limits our world view and life’s infinite possibilities. When we find ourselves in a difficult situation, fear can blind us to all the possibilities except a few versions of the old fight or flight alternatives. I couldn’t begin to measure the number of times where I or clients caught in fear saw ourselves in a position where we could only imagine getting out or engaging in battle. Inevitably when we undo the fear, we find a different way of “being” with the situation and other alternatives arise. Often we don’t have to figure it all out ahead of time. We can just trust that by showing up without the fear and being centered we will know what to do and say in the moment. It’s not that we get smarter in the absence of fear, we just regain access to the inner wisdom that was always there and was concealed by fear.

Another way that fear limits us is by shutting us off from the opportunity to try new endeavors, meet new people, entertain a new point of view, challenge old beliefs, travel, experience new cultures, discover what makes our heart sing, take risks, and step outside the box. I have a friend who will consistently turn down invitations to do something new because he has to get his laundry done or clean his house.

Fear also gives rise to and strengthens the ego. Ego is another tricky word that has several definitions. I don’t use it in the same sense that a therapist would when they speak of having a healthy ego, etc. I use it in the same sense that spiritual literature uses it, to mean that fearful part of our mind. It is the part of our mind that judges us and others, moves toward separation versus unity, is quick to go to fear, anger, sadness, guilt, etc., spends all its time in the past or future rather than the present moment, takes a lot of things personally, anticipates the worst, never forgets a slight or embarrassing moment, sees us as victims, and on and on it goes seldom allowing us a quiet moment. The ego doesn’t trust Love. It thinks that it is us but doesn’t know the truth of who we are. It’s an illusion of who we are.

The ego’s voice is not our own even thought it operates in our head. The great thing is that we don’t have to listen to it or follow it any more than we have to listen to a person who constantly lies to us and tries to mislead us. We’ll look into the ego more later, but I just wanted to share enough to avoid confusion and upsetting those who use the word differently whenever I mention it. The way that it is used here and in spiritual literature for eons means that it is very closely associated with fear.

There is another part of our mind that knows that fear is not needed or helpful in most situations. In fact, it doesn’t even seem to know of fear. As evidence of this I’ve had clients who narrowly avoided a head-on crash or similar catastrophe and talked about how terrifying the experience was. I ask them to take themselves back to the moment when they realized what was about to happen and executed the maneuver that saved them. I then ask them, “How much fear were you experiencing in that moment?” The answer is invariably “none”. They may have pulled over and sat trembling at the side of the road afterward but there was no fear in that moment. The fear came in when they thought about what could have happened.

My thought is that their “real” mind or loving creative mind didn’t even know of fear and couldn’t go there. Another phenomenon I’ve witnessed is concerning the fear of death, which many have said is our greatest fear. However, when someone absolutely knows they are about to die and there’s no way out, the fear of death can disappear and be replaced with perfect peace, clarity and calm. This happened with my wife’s transition which I describe elsewhere. There was no fear, no sorrow, no judgment, and no sadness. There was nothing but an amazingly palpable presence of Love which was felt and described by everyone approaching her room.

So again, I believe that part of our mind knows that fear is an illusion and can step out of it at critical moments. Maybe this is a momentary experience of enlightenment. Another way of looking at it is that sometimes when we are facing an impending disaster or death, we are brought into the razor’s edge of the present and fear can’t survive there. This also becomes evident when I ask people who are facing a multitude of problems how they are right now - in this very moment. Not how they were a moment ago or will be in the nest moment but right now. Most often than not, they discover to their surprise that they are fine – perfectly OK. Even if they are experiencing some physical discomfort, often they find that if they really come into the present moment the pain lessens and they are OK.

Fear also intensifies pain – sometimes enormously. I was working with a woman who was concerned about her back pain. I asked how she felt about the pain. She said she was afraid that it would continue indefinitely or get worse. She also said she was angry about having it and the limitations it was placing on her activities. I asked her why she was fearful and after some exploring she realized that she was using the fear to motivate herself to take care of her back and to find a way to heal it. I asked her about the anger and she discovered that the anger was for similar reasons – to motivate her to do something about the pain. She also realized that the fear was making her tighten her body, which accentuated the pain and created aches in other areas. She came to see that the anger not only added to the tightness, but in addition led her into a victim mentality which was depressing and de-energizing her. I’ve shortened the dialogue considerably but by exploring her fear and anger she was able to understand and undo them. She came to realize that she didn’t need them to motivate and take care of herself. At the end of the session, I asked her how her back was feeling and she said it wasn’t bothering her at all! The humorous aspect is that oftentimes people don’t consciously realize the pain is gone until I ask. The cycle seems to be that we experience pain, then we become fearful which intensifies the pain, which makes us more fearful, and on it goes.

I have had many similar experiences with clients. Whatever they are feeling, if they are willing to explore and undo the fear-based beliefs and emotions, their pain is often greatly diminished or gone. Fear-based resistance to pain actually intensifies it. Another aspect of fear is that it takes us out of the present. We are feeling sad, depressed, or angry because of the pain we’ve been experiencing or we’re scared and apprehensive because of our negative anticipation regarding what’s going to happen with it in the future. Sometimes it is helpful to step right into the pain in the present moment without judging, resisting, or fearing it. Some people describe it as a feeling of walking right through it.

Although we try to use fear for good purpose, in reality it is always detrimental. It is important to understand these dynamics because, as has been said by others, the truth will set us free. If we can’t see what is really happening, we don’t have much chance of changing it. We can’t heal it until we can see it. That’s why it’s so important to understand the dynamics of fear in our life. Then we can “undo” it.