Saturday, September 30, 2017

When Fear is a "Four Letter Word"

Fear becomes a "four letter word" or unhealthy and dysfunctional when it interferes with our functioning, rather than facilitate our coping and survival.

Fear is the emotional and physiological arousal that alerts us to potential danger and threat to our well being.  The healthy form of fear occurs when the danger is real.  In such cases, it gets our attention and prompts us to seek ways to get to safety and re-establish a sense of calm and equilibrium.

Unhealthy fear or the "four letter word version" occurs when we experience this distressing emotion in response to perceived danger, that is not real or to negative thoughts that have no proof.  Examples of mental states that underlie unhealthy fear include:
  • persistent and chronic worry about the future
  • negative and pessimistic expectations that have no foundation
  • irrational, unrealistic and erroneous beliefs 
  • viewing a negative event from the past as ongoing, even when it has ceased
  • negative, self-deprecating thoughts and self-assessments 
In these cases, fear can be described as the acronym, "False Evidence Appearing Real" (F.E.A.R.). Such thinking is often referred to as negative self-talk and represents cognitive distortion.  It generates distress that often reduces our self-confidence and sets us up to behave in negative ways. For example, if a person has a persistent belief that he/she is incapable of succeeding, they will usually either avoid challenging tasks or perform far below their actual capacity.

To overcome the distress and negative impact that unhealthy fear causes, it is important to do the following:
Challenge the underlying thoughts or negative self-talk by asking, "What evidence is there to support my fear generating perceptions?"

Take reasonable risks to test out one's negative predictions, that may not have a basis.  A very powerful question from the book, Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson, M.D. is, What would you do, if you were not afraid"? 

Focus on what is happening in the here and now or the present and adopt a healthy recognition that we cannot change the past or predict / control the future 

Recognize and accept the reality that we cannot change others or read their minds

Refrain from internalizing painful experiences, such as failure or being hurt, disappointed or rejected
Instead, recognize that what happens to us does not define us.


Re-focus on what you can control and embrace a healthy sense of empowerment over your life and circumstances, while recognizing realistic limitations.

Remember that in response to challenges or negative experiences, we can 
Heal, Learn and Grow

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