How To Differentiate Between Good Fear & Bad Fear

“There is a time to take counsel of your fears, and there is a time to never listen to any fear.” ~ George Patton


I’ve always believed that fear is like a double-edged sword.  A little bit is a good thing; we stay away from the edge of the cliff and that keeps us safe.

Conversely, too much is a bad thing;  it can cripple us, preventing new experiences and growth.

The trick is knowing the difference and understanding when fear is appropriate and when it’s debilitating.

Thanks to the almond-shaped amygdala nestled deep in the temporal lobe of the brain, our body generates fear quickly in reaction to external stimuli. The “fight or flight” response kicks in and directs us to either stay and fight the thing that scares us or run away from it. This physiological reaction is due to a tangible threat: a snake, a bear, an intruder wielding a gun, etc.

At the other end of the spectrum is fear that results from imagined threats. Yes, if we quit our mundane job to pursue our passion we might not make as much money. If we move to another city we may not be happy. If we ask for a raise we might not get it. So, because something bad might happen, we never venture outside our comfort zone.

Some risks in life are worth taking if we want to grow. Author Susan Jeffers discusses this in her best-selling book  Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway.

Changes are often needed to improve our lives, but change is scary.

People in abusive relationships will stay in an unhealthy relationship and not leave their abusers. In spite of the potential for violence, these people cling to what is familiar and not face the fear of the unknown.

I credit fear with making sure I use a seatbelt, drive defensively, brush my teeth, pay my bills, etc. Fear kept me out of the deep water until I learned to swim. Fear guides me away from those things that I know can be dangerous and threaten my survival.

However, I’ve also allowed fear to paralyze me when changes were needed to improve my life.

“Throwing caution to the wind” is something I’ve learned to do over the past ten years when the circumstances called for it. I’ve made many major changes in my life and there have been great improvements because of it.

Each of those changes caused a certain amount of fear. Understanding which type of fear and whether it’s reasonable for a given situation helps in determining what the next step should be if any.

“Fear is the father of courage and the mother of safety.” ~ Henry H. Tweedy

Keeping that double-edged sword close at hand is advisable; knowing how and when to use it is imperative. If you don’t believe me, just ask General Patton!


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The Truth About Fear That We Need To Remember

Woman looking out of mask.

Fear is a strange thing.

When we’re children, it makes us scared, whether it’s the monster under the bed or that first failing grade. It might be the threat of punishment for our misdeeds, like soaping windows or making prank phone calls.

(Okay, I’m showing my age here. Do kids still do those things?)

Whatever the case may be, when we’re young we feel the fear; it’s simple and straight forward.

But, when we grow up, fear can manifest itself differently. Depending on the situation, it may come out as anger.


A therapist once told me that fear and anger are closely related, often involving other emotions such as guilt and hurt feelings.

Not so straight forward anymore.

When I think back on my own life I remember different scenarios that evoked both fear and anger. At various times, depending on my age, I responded to them very differently.

As I scrolled through social media this weekend, I got a strong sense that there are a lot of frightened people in the world today. While their fears might be somewhat different, the emotions they’re feeling are the same.

An Interpersonal Communications class taught me that we’re all unique in our worldview. The environments in which we grow up (nature and nurture) shape our beliefs and opinions about everything.

Lucky children experience unconditional love and kindness from their parents or caretakers. They’re taught to respect themselves and others.

However, many are not so fortunate. What we learn as youngsters create the type of adults we become. 

After a certain age, this worldview is extremely difficult to change. It can be done, but only with honest self-reflection and a desire to better understand ourselves and others.

Realizing that our anger and hostility is a mask for fear can help us to become more compassionate with ourselves. Only then can we extend that compassion to those around us.

I do feel the majority of people want to achieve the same goals but have different ideas on how to reach them. If we want to accomplish anything, we have to begin by changing our attitudes.

Actively listening to the other person requires us to fully concentrate, understand, and respond in a respectful manner. This conveys to the speaker that we care about the feelings that lie beneath the words.

It’s the technique used in conflict resolution. Employing this approach with ourselves and others allows us to have an honest dialogue and struggle together toward a common goal.

Will it work every time? Probably not. Are there people who simply can’t be reached? Most likely.

But, one thing is certain. Not trying will ensure that we never reach common ground and to me, that’s the scariest thought of all.