Fear. Fear is such an interesting and horribly stupid asshole of a feeling. Originally set in place by nature as a way to keep up cautious enough to not die by stupidity in the wild, fear certainly has its uses. It makes us ask ourselves, “Is this a good idea? What kind of risk am I taking here?” Fear helped us to survive in a universe of chaos and uncertainty.
Today, we live in a culture where our basic needs–for food, water, and shelter–have essentially been taken care of, and our minds have been given freedom to wander into thought processes that are a bit more frivolous, more contemplative and self-aware. And now, fear, which is meant to keep us alive, exists instead as a survival tactic not for our physical forms, but for our ego, to keep it alive and well. Our self-awareness now takes precedence because it gives us a seemingly more meaningful purpose to exist, one that isn’t just good ol’-fashioned baby makin’. Without self-awareness, we are once again at the mercy of the universe to push us in a direction, instead of allowing us the critical thought necessary to decide for ourselves. Our egos are one of our most dynamic traits, and because of its great importance, fear serves to make sure we can do absolutely everything we can to preserve it.
Physical fears aren’t so bad to overcome–spiders (eeeeee….), deep and fast rivers, bottomless cliffs, harsh winters, famine–we can see these fears. We can fight the enemy that we can see, but the fears that prevail, those that threaten the ego, are doing an inside job. The worst fears are those that we can’t see, that we can’t quite put our fingers on. The ones that we can’t pinpoint as real, no matter how real they feel, and so they run rampantly through our minds and thoughts.
But at what cost do we preserve our precious egos from harm?
How many choices has the average person made in the interest of preserving their ego, only to be left with regrets and an empty feeling of “What could have been?” How many chances do we miss out on…job promotions, making friends, doing that new hobby…falling in love…out of fear of rejection, failure–fear that we were wrong? Is fear still helping us survive emotionally, or is it really not acting in our best interests after all?
Most importantly, this realization that I’ve been there, just like you probably have, begs the question…how do we conquer it?
I’ll be the first to say that, even as the highly anxious, worrisome, occasionally self-deprecating and insecure person that I am, I believe it’s possible to turn off the fear.
For instance, let’s look at my relationship track record as an example. I have an immense fear of failure because I was raised as an only child by parents with high expectations that I would achieve. I have a fear of rejection that’s left over from countless rejections by my peers (especially boys) while I was in grade school.
Now, I’ve been in only a handful of long-term relationships, but they all have the same characteristic of being totally wrong for me. They have all failed. In the past, I’ve been known to fall in love with a person’s potential instead of the real person that they are, and I idealize them, build them up in my mind, creating expectations that are completely unrealistic because they are meant for a relationship with the person I imagined in my head, and not the real thing. They have ended in different ways, but they have all ended.
Even so, I still try…I’ve always tried, even when I didn’t understand the problem. I still engage in trying to find that one relationship that’ll be different, that one person that I’ll fall in love with because of exactly who they are. Despite various rejections, despite enduring soul-crushing apathy, arguments, and being told I was wrong so many times that I really began to wonder if there was something fundamentally wrong with me, and despite having been told by someone that I thought I’d spend the rest of my life with (even though they were highly toxic) that they simply hadn’t been in love with me for half our relationship, I somehow remain optimistic. How is this possible?
In part, it’s because we’re far more resilient than our fear allows us to believe that we are. Fear amplifies our insecurities to make them seem insurmountable; it takes “I would be very hurt to know this person doesn’t love me” and turns it into “I don’t know what I’ll do if this person doesn’t love me.” It takes “I’ve seen this not ending well before, so I should be careful” and morphs it into “This will never, ever work.” In this, fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy…we tell ourselves we’ll never get that promotion, so that we can build ourselves a little emotional shield that prepares us for the “inevitable” rejection and disappointment that we will be met with by going for it, until it comes to the point that we don’t try at all. Even though we have overcome similar failures just fine in the past, fear amplifies our fear of failure to make it seem like, in the moment, we will never, ever recover if worse comes to worst. I mean come on, be real with yourself for a second: what is the worst thing that will actually happen if you fail?
What will actually happen is that you’ll pick yourself up, take the experience as a learning lesson, and you’ll try again later with a new strategy. Because in addition to being resilient, we’re also highly adaptable! Fear is only one of many biological tactics that our minds employ in order to guarantee the survival of our species.
Perhaps we were wrong. Perhaps we didn’t have all the answers, and we messed up. And that’s okay, because we have the resilience to overcome the (at the time) devastating blow to our ego, and we have the adaptability to change both our strategy and our circumstances.
Perhaps the secret is to silence our ego. It does, after all, have a way of making itself seem more important than it really is. Put things into perspective for yourself: what is, logically, the worst real potential negative outcome of this? Does it outweigh the potential real positive outcome? Will it actually destroy you?
Is it possible that taking that emotional plunge will be absolutely worth it?
But sometimes, fear is so powerful that it completely takes over the rational part of us that’s capable of making that logical comparison, and it can destroy us. It goes on overdrive like an autoimmune disorder wreaking havoc on our minds, trying so desperately to protect us from perceived threats that it causes us to hurt in ways that we have only ourselves to thank for. Hello anxiety, old friend! Why don’t you go fuck yourself? ._.
Anxiety, driven by fear, tells us that no, you can’t overcome whatever this potential negative consequence is. You can’t be logical (or even better, you are SO being logical right now!). Your worst fears are already coming true right before your eyes, and there is absolutely nothing you can do to change it. You’ve already irreparably fucked up the opportunity in question–and no wonder, because you suck. You aren’t good enough for this job/person/opportunity–you can’t even remember to take the trash out on a somewhat regular basis or transform your kitchen sink from the giant ceramic pit of hell that it currently is into an actual functioning household utility. Why would you ever have even THOUGHT that you knew what you were doing enough to actually make this work? What were you thinking?
It’s important for people like me, and maybe like you, to remember that these thoughts aren’t based on any real things–but your fear of them is still real. One of my greatest fears is that I’ll never be enough as I am for someone to really love me (which might explain why I fall in love with people’s potential instead of for who they really are…huh). This fear is so real that it’s held me back more than I care to admit, keeping me from opening up to someone or telling someone how I feel…because rejection is scary as fuck. Because dedicating your time and effort into someone because you want nothing more than to do so, and then having it be a total waste of time, is scary as fuck. Because being told that someone needs you “just as a friend” and is afraid they “don’t love you as much as you love me” is the worst thing ever.
But this still only has as much power to make decisions in my life as I give it. This fear attacks my ego, but not my actual self. Quiet ego, quiet fear whose whisper can’t even be heard above the call of the universe to act outside of my self-awareness and tie myself to what’s happening around me.
This is something I’m still learning about, and something that I have been desperately trying to control in my life, because one thing is for certain: I don’t want to be afraid anymore. Also I haven’t died yet, so…I mean there’s that. xD