- Mental Health
Your 3 Biggest Fears Confronted
What is Fear?
The word fear on its own has several meanings -- one can be afraid of a particular thing, like spiders; one can have a sense of impending danger, like walking through a dark alley; one can approach something with dread, like a cancer diagnosis; or one can be in awe of something, like a deep reverence for God. For this purpose however, the definition of fear as it pertains to this article is, "anticipation of the possibility that something unpleasant will occur". The thinking about the chance that something bad might happen is what motivates people to use negative behaviors as a coping mechanism. By understanding what drives those behaviors, a person can change their way of thinking, and in turn, change their behaviors.
He who fears something gives it power over him.— Moorish Proverb
3 Main Fears
Three of the biggest fears that most anyone faces are:
- Fear of Failure
- Fear of Inadequacy
- Fear of Rejection
These fears are what prevent people from taking the steps they need to improve their situations, or even worse, sabotage healthy relationships. However, each of these fears can be used to your advantage if you just know how to use them properly.
Fear of Failure
One of the things we are taught almost from infancy is that failure is bad. When you learned to walk and fell on your bottom, the result was that you developed a fear of failing to stay on your feet. When you were in elementary school, you learned that failure to do your work would result in a failing grade, which might result in having to be held back a year. When playing sports you learned that failure to play at your best would result in your team losing the game. As adults, the Fear of Failure expands as do the consequences of failure -- if you perform poorly at your job, you will get fired and if you get fired, you may lose your house and possibly your significant other. If you have what you think is a great idea but it fails to come to fruition, the result is your loss of credibility and reputation.
The Fear of Failure can drive two kinds of behaviors. For some people, the threat of failure motivates them to be their absolute best- to learn more and work harder than their counterparts. These are the people that get in early and stay late; they are incredibly dedicated to their personal challenge and they are relentless in its pursuit. Their motto is, "Failure is not an option". Examples of this type of person would be an elite athlete or someone climbing the corporate ladder at their job. They can clearly see their goals and will do almost anything to attain them because the fear of failing to reach that goal is their motivator.
For others, the fear of failure is so great that they won't even make an attempt at a difficult situation. These are the people that refuse to even entertain the thought of their own personal challenge because they are so convinced they will fail and are afraid of the consequences. Examples of this type of person would be the kid that won't try out for the baseball team because he thinks he'll be so bad at it, that he'll automatically be the laughingstock of the whole school, or the person that stagnates in their job because they are too afraid to apply for the promotion. They are motivated by what other people will think of them if they fail.
Both types of people are afraid of failure, but they use that fear in two completely opposite ways; one group lets that fear control them and the other group harnesses that fear for their own gain. One group uses fear of failure as an excuse not to try, and one group uses that same fear to try harder. If a fear of failure is holding you back from reaching your goals, ask yourself these questions:
- If I accomplish this goal, what will be the absolute best possible outcome?
- If I don't accomplish this goal, what is the absolute worst possible outcome?
If you hope for the best, but are prepared for the worst, chances are you'll end up somewhere in the middle which is better than not even attempting a goal to begin with. It took Thomas Edison 10,000 tries to make an incandescent light bulb that would work. When asked why he didn't consider himself a failure, Edison replied, "I didn't fail; I just found 10,000 ways that won't work". If Edison had been too afraid of what other people would think if his idea failed, the world would be a very dark place indeed.
The Fear of Inadequacy
The fear of inadequacy, or not being good enough, also has its roots in childhood. If you don't have a certain look or certain clothes, you're not cool enough to be in the "in crowd". If you're not a fast runner, you'll get picked last for the team or not at all. We are trained consciously and subconsciously our entire lives to measure ourselves against other people -- if you misbehaved, your parents might've said something like, "Why can't you be like your sister?"; magazines and other media idealize certain body types that only a small portion of the general population can attain; competitions are held for everything from intellect to athletic prowess to beauty to who can eat the most hotdogs the fastest. Everything we take for granted as commonplace is designed to pit one person or group of people against another to see who is "the best".
Just like with the Fear of Failure, Fear of Inadequacy can drive two types of behaviors. Some people will use that fear to do whatever they can to come out on top. They view inadequacy the same way as failure, that neither are an option. They want to see themselves in the winner's circle and will do what it takes to get there -- study harder, train harder, push themselves harder. They never want to be seen as not being good enough.
Other people will use the Fear of Inadequacy as an excuse to stay in the shadows and not take chances. They convince themselves that no matter what they do, they'll never be as good as the next person and so they just give up. They hide behind their fears and use them as a reason not to try, and in so doing, deny themselves the opportunity for success. They also fail to recognize their strengths and choose to dwell only on their weaknesses.
Is the Fear of Inadequacy preventing you from taking that first step towards something you want to achieve? Try this simple exercise:
- First envision the best possible outcome until that picture is clear in your mind.
- Next make a list of the attributes you possess that can help you attain that outcome.
- Then make a list of the steps you still need to take in order to make that outcome a reality.
There was a popular line from a skit on Saturday Night Live where a man would repeat the mantra, "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me". It was meant to be funny of course, but there's a lot of truth in those words and in the power of positive thinking behind it. Instead of taking the easy way out and assuming that you're not good enough, take an inventory of your positive traits and you'll find that you're already halfway to your goal.
Fear of Rejection
Like the first two, the Fear of Rejection also has its roots in infancy. As very young children, we cling to our parents' legs because we fear abandonment. In school, we try to do everything we can to fit in and be liked because we fear the rejection of our peers; rejection from our peers means having to eat lunch alone or not have anyone to play with at recess. As we age, the Fear of Rejection could also be called Fear of Loneliness; we focus a lot on the consequences of what might happen if we are not accepted for who we are.
The Fear of Rejection can also drive behavior in two different directions, just as with the Fears of Failure and Inadequacy. One group of people will take the Fear of Rejection and turn it into a need to be liked; they will examine their own positive attributes and things that make them likeable, and then draw attention to those qualities while striving to improve in the areas in which they may be lacking. This group understands that they are always "under construction"; that is to say that they are constantly looking for ways to better themselves.
Another group of people will take that same fear and use it as an excuse not to form relationships. It's kind of ironic that because they are afraid of being rejected and lonely, they push people away and end up lonely anyway, never even giving the relationship a chance to get started. This group tends to focus more on their own negative attributes and when they do get rejected by other people, that negativity gets magnified and they start to assume that everyone else will reject them too. This group puts up walls and barriers around themselves to keep others out so they can avoid the pain of rejection, but ultimately what they accomplish is isolation.
Do you let the Fear of Rejection hold you back from forming and enjoying meaningful relationships? Here's a couple of things you can try:
- Make a list of your best qualities and post them where you can see them. Don't hold back, just be honest and paint a picture of what makes you likeable.
- Make a second list of your worst qualities, and beside each item, write out the steps you can take to improve that area of your life.
Everyone gets rejected now and again, whether it's on a date, a job interview, or just trying to make new friends, and it happens for hundreds of different reasons. Some of those reasons might be because of a personality clash or mismatched values, or even something as shallow as physical appearance. Don't try to analyze why the rejection occurred, but focus on the relationships that matter the most to you. Every person that comes into your life is there to teach you some kind of lesson, so instead of feeling angry or sad because of the rejection, think about what you can learn from the experience.
Fear is almost always viewed as a negative thing. However, it can be harnessed and used to bring about positive changes. Fear might drive certain behaviors, but you are the driver and only you can choose which direction to steer; you can use your fear to drive you to a place of success, or you can use it to drive you to a place of excuses. You can choose to have power over fear, or you can choose to let it dominate you.
Which direction will you choose?
To fear is one thing. To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you around is another.— Katherine Paterson, "Jacob Have I Loved"