Fear, Phobias and Frozen Feet
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What are fears?
He who fears to suffer, suffers from fear.
“Crash!” Glass shatters somewhere in your house and you know that you are supposed to be alone at home. You feel the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, your feet seem to be frozen to the ground. “Fight or flight,” is what goes through your mind. You feel your heart beating faster. Your mouth becomes dry. Your face has developed an ugly grimace. As you hear thuds in the next room, you feel a surge of adrenalin rush through your veins, and at that moment, you feel that you can annihilate any adversary. You reach for the bedside lamp…
Fear is nature’s way of stopping us from getting hurt. When overcome by fear, your body goes into protection mode, releases all kinds of funny chemicals, shuts down different systems – all just to keep you safe from harm. Fears can range from a little scare, like when someone creeps up behind you when you are brushing your teeth – to paralysing terror and even passing out. Little fears can be quite exciting and give an adrenalin rush, like when you go bungy jumping. Extreme fears can make you irrational. When you can’t think straight, you can be easily manipulated. Fear is the opposite of desire, and while desire attracts, fear repels. Pessimism leads to fear and fear can also come from confusion. New ideas can cause us fear. Even the bravest of the brave have experienced fear in their lives. Fear transcends all cultures, countries and continents. Even animals experience fear. Fear results in us doing one of two things – fight or flight.
When we have an intense fear of something, that we actually experience panic attacks and anxiety whenever we are confronted with it, then we can assume that we have a phobia. Usually if we know we have a phobia about something, then we avoid it like the plague. We might know that we are being silly and unreasonable, but we are just unable to overcome our fear. Although many phobias start out in childhood, they can actually impact at any age. I don’t know if it’s because men are supposed to be macho, or if they are just better at hiding their fears than women, but phobias are generally twice as common in women as in men.
Once we have identified that we have a phobia, it’s not the end of the world. There are many ways to cure us of our phobias. First, we need to get educated about it, and read as much as we can lay our hands on. When we know what is happening to us and why it is happening, it will reduce the anxiety and we will no longer believe that our fear is going to kill us. The big thing, is to learn what triggers the panic attacks. Learning different relaxation techniques is also good. Sometimes, if we let one phobia control us and dictate our lives to us, then that might trigger another phobia and so on, until we’re riddled with a whole bunch of phobias that’ll turn our lives into a living hell. We then get to be more afraid of the panic attack than the actual phobia. So, if we take the situation, break it down into little parts and concentrate on overcoming each small part, eventually you’ll be able to overcome the whole phobia.
An interesting form of therapy that can be used is called Cognitive Therapy. It was invented by Aaron T. Beck. Basically, it works on the premise that good and bad things happen to everybody – both happy and depressed people. It just depends on how you react. It’s the half-full vs half-empty glass debate. Some people are able to see something positive in every situation. They have a major car accident and will react by saying something like, “At least we’re alive and survived that!” or, “We needed a new car anyway so it’s a good thing our car got written off.” Then there are the people who see negative in everything, even when good things happen to them. A husband gives his wife a beautiful and very expensive watch for her birthday. Her reaction, “He’s just trying to tell me I’m always late and never on time.” Or, “He’s a control freak, now he’ll believe I don’t have any excuse for doing things when he wants them done.”
Having negative thoughts when good and bad things happen to us is just a bad habit. There’s nothing medically wrong with you, you’ve just let yourself get away with it for years so that it’s become ingrained into your psyche. Cognitive Therapy helps you to break those horrible old habits, by giving you techniques to help you find positive things you can rather say to yourself, and helps you to spot the negative thoughts and shut them out. Let’s face it, having negative thoughts gives you a distorted picture of your life, and will help create more fears, phobias and anxiety. We don’t want that, do we? So with Cognitive Therapy, you identify the thinking patterns that have corrupted your outlook on life. You change them and calm your mind so you feel better and voila! You are now able to think clearly and make better decisions, and not be so warped! And importantly, no drugs are used in this kind of therapy – it’s all you and your therapist!
Many of our fears are unfounded or based on something that might have happened in our childhood. Either way, they have distorted our thoughts, which in turn has caused us to have negative feelings which has resulted in us showing undesirable behaviours.
Common fears that impact on our relationships
So, if I was a mathematician, I would write something like this. FEAR is DISTORTED THOUGHTS + NEGATIVE FEELINGS = UNDESIRABLE BEHAVIOURS. When we are faced with our fear, we follow the same mathematical equation every time without fail. We don’t check to see if there is any evidence to warrant our reaction. We just respond automatically, like we are on auto-pilot. It is a coping strategy that we devised for ourselves a long time ago. So, that explains why we might repeat the same kind of relationships over and over again, go for the same kind of people, react the same way when relationships go bad. It stands to reason then, if we change our distorted thoughts, we’ll also change our negative feelings which will result in a halt to our undesirable behaviours, which would mean the end of our fear.
Many of us suffer from quite a few different fears, some of them overlap and others are as a result of other fears. For example, a fear of commitment could be because we have a fear of rejection, which is because we have a fear of getting hurt. It is very difficult to have a happy, successful relationship, when you have many deep-seated fears. And while no relationship is perfect and it is quite okay to have ups and downs, you do want to have happiness in your life – very difficult when we let our fears rule us and our relationships.
Some common fears which could have an adverse effect on our relationships are:
Fear of Rejection – Your self-image is too closely tied to what people think of you. When you take responsibility for your own feelings of self-worth, instead of basing your self-worth on others’ love and approval, then you can stop taking rejection personally.
Fear of Being Alone – You are so desperate not to be alone, so you hook up with the first person who shows an interest, often for the wrong reasons and very often the wrong person for you.
Fear of Failure – Nobody succeeds all the time, even apparently very successful people. It’s the fear that hurts more than the actual failure. Failure is only a problem if we let it defeat us altogether and we don’t even risk trying in case we fail.
Fear of Losing our Freedom or of Being Controlled – We are scared of not being able or allowed to do what we want, when we want. The fear often exists because we don’t know how to handle the situation of being controlled, rather than from previous experiences. As soon as you learn to set boundaries and not allow others to invade, smother or dominate us, then we’ll no longer fear losing ourselves in a relationship.
Fear of Intimacy – The actual fear here is of getting hurt or rejection. You can also be scared if you share too much of yourself with another, they’ll take advantage of you, engulf you totally that you lose yourself.
Fear of Not Being Worthy – There is a car bumper sticker that says, “God don’t make no junk.” Remember that because it’s true. If someone doesn’t think you’re worthy, that’s their problem, not yours.
Fear of Trusting Someone Else – This goes down again to a fear of being hurt or let down. Someone hurt you in the past, so this is what happens every time. Don’t generalise and give the other person a chance to prove themselves.
Fear of Not Being Attractive Enough – Remember that people who only base a relationship on looks alone are shallow and not worth knowing. When you actually bother to get to know someone and begin to like them, they become physically more attractive to you, regardless of how they looked to you at first.
Fear of Commitment – This goes down to our fear of rejection, getting hurt and losing our freedom.
Fear of Confrontation – We rather do anything else other than getting involved, so we feel bad later because we ignored our own needs or did something we regret.
Fear of Becoming Known as We Really Are – Sooner or later the true you will emerge, so why not share the true you with others at the outset, rather than waste all the time and effort building a relationship with someone who thinks they’re involved with a different person.
Fear of Pain and Disappointment – Life is full of disappointments and there’ll be many a time that you’ll experience a sense of pain and loss. However, it is always balanced with a huge variety of good things. Focus on the good things you’ve experienced in life so far.
Fear of Being a Taker as well as a Giver – Some people only feel love when they are giving and are scared that if they take, they’ll be viewed as selfish. Stop worrying about what others might think.
Fear of Judgment – People who judge others are usually covering up some undesirable qualities in themselves. They point out your mistakes to stop you from noticing theirs. It’s their problem not yours. Get over it.
Fear of Showing Love and Affection – This goes down to a fear of intimacy, fear of hurt and rejection or simply they way you were brought up at home. If your parents were not demonstrative, it’ll take a conscious effort on your part to learn to become demonstrative.
Fear of Being Loved – Once again the feeling of not being worthy and the possibility of rejection rears it’s ugly head. Also, some people believe that if they let others love them, they lose their freedom and control over their lives.
Fear of Abandonment – This is usually based on past experiences. It’s the actual fear, rather than the abandonment which is the frightening thing here. You survived before to tell the tale. Not everybody is the same and you might never get abandoned again.
Fear of Infidelity – This often causes men to avoid strong women as they perceive them more likely to attract other sexual partners. This is linked to our fear of rejection and trusting others.
Coping strategies we used when faced with our fears
AVOIDANCE which means we find ways to escape from or block out our fears. We do this by:
- Withdrawing socially
- Focusing on independence and refusing to ask others for help
- Retreating into isolation by doing things which doesn’t need another’s presence like watching television, reading, surfing the internet, painting
- Throwing ourselves into shopping, gambling, sex
- Taking on addiction like drugs, alcohol, overeating, excessive masturbation
- Denying we have a problem
- Withdrawing into a fantasy world
SURRENDERING which means we just give in to our fears and end up repeating them over and over again. This is a defeatist attitude. We do this by:
- Relying on others to do everything and meet our needs
- Becoming clingy
- Becoming a people-pleaser
- Avoiding conflict at all costs
- Becoming submissive
- Always playing the Victim
OVERCOMPENSATING which means we do the opposite of what our fears make us feel. We do this by:
- Becoming hostile and aggressive by blaming others, becoming overly critical and abusive and also defiant.
- Becoming domineering and self-assertive
- Manipulating others
- ‘Punishing’ others by sulking, backstabbing, going out of your way to ruin things
- Attention seeking
- Trying to impress others by name-dropping or status-seeking
- Becoming a perfectionist and maintaining tight self-control and strict order
Fear and the Abusive Relationship
When someone makes you afraid to be yourself, and afraid to control yourself so that you are available to be controlled by them, then you are a victim of abuse.
Outsiders don’t understand what an abused person actually goes through. They tend to generalise, play down the situation and blame the Victim, by making comments like, “They must like being abused or they would leave.”
“You are just a person who loves too much, so you brought it on yourself.”
“You have a low self-esteem so you don’t have the guts to leave.”
“You did something to provoke the abuse.”
“You over-exaggerate or make-up the abuse. It’s really not as bad as you say.”
“If your partner has a problem controlling their anger or stress, all you have to do is learn to keep out of their way.”
“Abused people all come from poor, low class, uneducated backgrounds, so it’s their lot in life.”
The truth is, nobody enjoys being abused, be it verbally, physically or mentally, no matter what your self-esteem is like. People who are into sado-masochism are just playing games and what we might call abuse is just a part of that game. The difference in a sado-masochistic game, is that both partners are willing players. In an abusive relationship, one partner is not a willing player, and is only staying in the game out of fear.
An interesting statistic, I don’t know about abused men, but I read somewhere that 70% of domestic assaults occur after the woman tries to leave, and one-half of all battered women murdered, are murdered after they leave. So, don’t judge someone who is staying in an abusive relationship. You don’t know what fears are keeping them there.
Top ten reasons we stay in bad relationships
Seriously though, it’s all about fear. Fear rules us completely. So, if we know we’re in a bad relationship, why don’t we just leave? Well, here’s why we stay and hang on by our short and curlies.
- Fear you might put yourselves and your children in greater danger by leaving, you might have had threats
- Fear of what leaving might do to the children emotionally
- Fear you won’t be able to survive financially
- Fear of expensive court battles with lawyers and such like
- Fear of losing custody of your children
- Fear of downsizing your lifestyle and accommodation
- Fear of what family and friends will say
- Fear of the unknown – the grass may not be greener on the other side
- Fear to take the risk and make a huge life change
- Fear that you can’t live without the abuse you’ve gotten used to over time
- Fear of upheaval and moving your children away from schools, friends, etc
- Fear of retaliation and reprisals – vengeance is mine sayeth the abuser
- Fear of not having enough time to plan the whole ‘leave thing’ properly
- Fear of loneliness
- Fear the abuser will commit suicide if you leave
- Fear that maybe you’re just imagining how bad it is, and maybe it’s not really that bad and other people have it worse
- Fear that nobody will ever love you or want you again
- Fear that the problems are actually all your fault
- Fear that your partner will change for the better after you leave
- Fear that your partner won’t cope without you
- Fear that your family is not whole without a mother and a father
- Fear that you’re going against your religious beliefs – till death us do part….and all that
- Fear that you just don’t have the necessary energy to leave
- Fear that you might not have the support to get you through this tough time
- Fear that you don’t have the skills or training to get yourself a good job
- Fear that maybe you’re a bad person and don’t deserve better anyway
Conquering our Fears
To be able to conquer our fears, we need to know what they are. Once we’ve identified our fears, we need to be aware of what might happen to us should our fears be realised. Sometimes, what we think might happen to us, is all in our minds, and in reality - it would never turn out that way or be as bad as we imagined. Writing it all down helps to bring us back to reality.
So, this is what you need to do. Get yourself a big piece of paper and write down what your worst fears are - both real and imagined. Now get another sheet of paper and divide it up into four columns. In Column A write FEARS, in Column B write HOW DOES THAT MAKE ME FEEL, in Column C write WHAT DO I THINK WILL HAPPEN TO ME, and in Column D write WHAT EVIDENCE IS THERE TO SUPPORT MY THOUGHTS. Give this a try because often when you write it all down, it doesn't seem so bad, and if it is still bad, you'll find it easier to make plans and find ways to conquer your fears.
Catagelophobia- Fear of being ridiculed.
Excerpt from my self-help book, Fears, Phobias and Frozen Feet.