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Can Irrational Fears Lead to Regret?

Updated on May 8, 2019
Cyndi10 profile image

The former executive director of a successful nonprofit agency now content specialist, Cynthia writes about a variety of researched topics.

The Scream by Edward Munch
The Scream by Edward Munch | Source

The Fears and Regrets that Plague Us

Fear is often defined as the irrational, unwanted and, quite often, unwarranted emotional reaction to a stimuli. Fear stems from man's earliest, basic survival instinct: fight or flight. It was a useful emotion for early man, probably one of the reasons homo sapiens survived. Fear is still valuable today, protecting you from potential harm and injury, like walking on the edge of a rooftop because there is no fear of heights or falling. However, when it is an irrational fear and you are unable to overcome that irrational fear, it can sometimes cause you even greater, long lasting harm by preventing you from realizing your dreams. This makes you wonder if there is a correlation between irrational fears and regrets later.

Recogninzing when fear is detrimental and when it is helpful is important to leading a successful life. The world is full of individuals who have irrational fears - fear of germs, fear of flying, fear of riding in elevators. When these fears are particularly strong, the irrational fears become phobias and can be absolutely terrifying and literally paralyzing. The fears then become extremely difficult to overcome.

Of course, on the other hand, fears can be immensely helpful such as when it prevents you from walking along the ledge on the roof of a tall building or dashing across a busy street while cars are bearing down on you at top speed. In other words, fear can be a useful adjunct to common sense. However, it is extremely important to overcome irrational fear, especially the fear of failure.

What a nasty, sneaky, very tricky and extremely powerful emotion fear can actually be. For example, fear of failure may prevent you from taking on a new project at work or it may keep you tied to a job that is toxic. Fear of rejection may prevent you from uttering even a single word to the individual you think may be "the one."

Fear is so powerful an emotional response speeches are developed around it. Consider the famous line from President Roosevelt's speech, " The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." The question becomes how do we recognize when fear is useful and when it is an obstacle to our personal and professional growth? When is fear warranted and when is it dysfunctional and stultifying?

Fear of flying is an example of an unwarranted fear. In fact, fear of flying can be classified as a phobia if the fear is strong enough to keep you out of an airplane. The fear is unwarranted because when you look at the statistics, there is more danger in driving your car than flying and I'm guessing you are in your car daily.

Fear is warranted when you hear your smoke detector sound off. It is sounding because there is potential danger. Ignore the fear (fight or flight) response and and it could mean injury or possibly death.

Examine which of your fears have merit and which are responses you have developed over time. Fear of failure is a huge fear that most of us have. It is multifaceted. It isn't confined just to our personal lives, but it has a tremendous affect on our professional lives as well. How many times have you wanted to ask for the promotion your work merits, or the raise, or the new office? Front and center is the fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of the word "no." Later, you wish you had spoken up. In fact, letting your fears get in the way is sure to haunt you later, causing regrets that you may be unable to amend.

"Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt." William Shakespeare

Some psychologists suggest that exposing ourselves to our personal demons, our fears, is the best way to overcome our fears and move past them. In other words, recognize what is really prompting your fears, hold them up to the light, examine them carefully and then cast them aside. For example, is your unhealthy fear of lightening rooted in the response you saw your grandmother have at every thunderstorm? Recognize that and, while you maintain a healthy respect for lightening, don't react to it by running to the closet or hiding under the bed. Looking at the source of an irrational fear will go a long way to help you to overcome that fear.

Fear must be looked at squarely, recognized for what it is and then banished. If fear is holding you back in your business or your career, recognize that fear.

However, sometimes fear can be very subtle and you don't see the sabotage for what it is - irrational fear lurking just out of sight, just out of consciousness. Fear is often presented in the guise of rationalization. "I shouldn't ask for that promotion right now, the company is__________, the boss is __________." You fill in the blanks. Or fear causes unnecessary delay: "I'll ask tomorrow, or the next day, or next week..."

Fear of rejection will stand in the way of that book you know is in you. Who wants to receive all those rejection letters? No one, but giving in to that fear ultimately means you don't have faith in your abilities. After all, why should you automatically assume your pursuit will end with rejection? So what if the publisher(s) didn't see you for the unique writer you are? When this particular fear sets in, look at how many great authors failed before they succeeded. Edgar Allen Poe, one of my favorite authors, faced rejection throughout his short career, yet he continued to pursue his writing. His early death prevented him from becoming a success in his own time, but today he is held as one of the great early American writers. What if he had given in to his fears?

On occasion, the fear is fear of success itself. This is especially illogical and irrational. But it seems fears are embraced like an armor, often as a way to fulfill subconsciously anticipated failure. We feed the fear. Why? There may be many reasons, some you may admit to, some you don't realize are even there, but are a subtle part of your culture or your upbringing. That fear prompts phrases like "my friends won't like me," "I'm incapable of handling the pressure," "I'm not smart enough," "I don't have enough education" and the list may go on.

The irrational fear of flying can hold you back from both adventure and success!
The irrational fear of flying can hold you back from both adventure and success! | Source

Overcoming Irrational Fear

Your success factor is not going to increase until you have faced and overcome your fear, especially your fear of failure. In fact, do as Thomas Eddison did when he "failed his way to success", embrace the fact that there is going to be failure in some of your endeavors. Life is not handed to us neatly wrapped, to be unwrapped and enjoyed without a care, like a child on Christmas day. That is not going to happen. Consequently, instead of succumbing to fear, recognize your fear and choose to "fail your way to success," if that's what it takes, leaving no room for regrets because of inaction and fear.

Overcoming fear is a process that includes inner dialogue, at times. You don't become the victor overnight and you sometimes have to re-conquer those fears. Conquer fear with action. Don't give in to the paralysis. Don't give in to rationalizing your way out of taking action. Instead, look at your task - your goal - and attack it with all the vigor and passion you can muster. Leave no room for fear!

Whenever fear creeps in, carefully consider what will happen if you give in, if you don't overcome fear: that novel won't see the light of day, your business will never be more than mediocre at best and you'll never make that speech. What kind of regrets will that create? Get out of your comfort zone. In fact, when fear is a huge factor in your decision making, know that you are quite possibly on the verge of something big, something important, maybe even life changing.

Talking about your fear is another way to overcome fear. Fear likes to hide in darkness: unspoken and festering. Seek a professional to talk with and to help guide you. Coaches and mentors are good resources. Speaking with a trusted family member or friend who is objective and nonjudgemental can also be extremely valuable. After all, most conquerors have an army behind them.

As powerful an emotion as fear is, consider the emotional pain you experience when you have not lived up to your own expectations for success because fear held you back. Unfortunately, regret is an emotion that doesn't emerge until after you have responded to the fear, especially the irrational fear of failure. If you don't overcome fear, regret creeps in and can linger and fester, even eventually causing disease. Overcome your fear; your success and your health may depend on it.


Fear is stupid. So are regrets.

— Marilyn Monroe

Fear Can Get in the Way

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Eliminate the fear, have no regrets and be a winner!


We're All Winners When We Conquer Our Fears

To conquer your fear of failure, look at the instances where you have succeeded at your task or activity. Hold onto those successes and the emotional satisfaction you felt at those accomplishments. Take them out, revel in how you felt - the satisfaction, the elation. These feelings can be especially useful when you are feeling fearful, but examine them at other times as well. You will want to repeat those feelings associated with your accomplishments and work harder to suppress those irrational fears.

Recognize as many fears as possible that may be a hinderance to realizing your dreams or the successful completion of your goals. Physically conquer those fears. Write them down, then proceed to crumple them, tear them up or burn them. In other words, act out any physical representation of destroying those fears that are destroying your vision of your future success.

What are you afraid of today? Is fear of failure on that list or is it some other equally debilitating fear? Seek professional assistance if your fears are overwhelming, and interfere with your everyday life. Find a way to overcome irrational fear. If you don't you will regret all the things you never did simply because you were afraid. Don't let your irrational fear hold you back from living the life you envision and want, not to mention having the success you deserve. Irrational fear will always cause regrets.

Copyright 2011 Cynthia Turner

© 2011 Cynthia B Turner


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