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Overcoming Fears

Chapter 10: Overcoming Fears

Tools for Personal Growth

By: James J. Messina, Ph.D.

 

Facing Fear

Faceless horrors that lie waiting

In the silent darkness of night.Unsound phobias that

Exist in the furthest reaches of the mind.

Approaching shadows that threaten

To blot out all light.All are contained in the worthless

Script known as fears, a terrible script that must be re-written and

Let go of for a rewarding satisfactory life to occur.

Melissa M. Messina

What are fears?

Fears are the:

  • Irrational beliefs about how an object, event, happening, or feeling will result in negative, disastrous, life-threatening, disturbing, or unsettling consequences for you.
  • Result of giving power to your objects of irrational belief, letting them rule you rather than you ruling them.
  • Underlying motive behind many of your actions and lack of action that block your thinking, problem solving and decision making abilities.
  • Self-scripts you have either given yourself or that were given to you about how you will suffer dire consequences if you involve yourself in certain activities, behavior, or events.
  • Disabling beliefs you carry in yourself that prevent you from living a productive, healthy, and growth-enhancing life.
  • Underlying foundation of a weak self-image and self-concept; they keep you from fully asserting yourself, and that hinders your quest for self-actualization.
  • Inhibitors, emotional blocks, unconscious messages, and uncovered elements of your psychological make up. They result in your being resistant, hesitant, or unwilling to participate in nurturing, healing activities such as counseling, support groups, or therapy.
  • Beliefs about not only the known elements of life, but also of the nebulous, transient, and unknown elements of life that result in your inability to feel comfortable in ill-defined situations.
  • Comfortable ways of acting and responding. Because of their habitual and well-established nature, fears can become second nature; therefore, being extremely resistant to change or alteration.
  • Basis of your negative belief system. If you were no longer the recipient of the negative consequences that the fears predicted, you would have to take off your mask and become authentic.
  • Excuses behind which people hide to avoid change or growth. To rid yourself of your fears is to rid yourself of the lifelong reasons for avoiding personal growth.

What forms do fears take?

Fear comes in a variety of packages for people who have low self-esteem, such as the fear of:
  1. failure
  2. success
  3. new things-technology
  4. making a mistake
  5. rejection
  6. disapproval
  7. not being liked
  8. being made fun of
  9. public speaking
  10. being judged
  11. getting nervous in front of others
  12. making a fool of yourself
  13. disappointing others
  14. making problems or trouble for others
  15. feeling guilty
  16. feeling over-responsible
  17. not doing enough for others
  18. losing others
  19. “not being good enough”
  20. being unstable or crazy
  21. the unknown
  22. change
  23. making a decision
  24. taking a leadership role
  25. being held accountable
  26. places such as school, church, crowds, planes or enclosed places
  27. heights above or below ground
  28. animals: snakes, rats, mice
  29. objects, guns, knives, computers
  30. people: men or women, strangers, homosexuals
  31. events: nuclear holocaust, war, crime
  32. atmosphere: dark, shadowy, gloomy, foreboding
  33. being pressured to produce
  34. explaining your behavior
  35. family member getting ill, being lost, running away
  36. injury or pain (self or others)
  37. being alone,
  38. growing old alone
  39. death (self or others)
  40. disasters: fire, hurricane, tornado, lightening
  41. losing security and financial stability
  42. losing job or being fired
  43. authority figures
  44. being told what to do
  45. being embarrassed
  46. being exposed for the weaknesses or failures in your past
  47. repeating mistakes from the past
  48. retirement
  49. inactivity
  50. being useless or unwanted
  51. being ignored
  52. being the “real” you

What are some negative consequences of fear?

Fear can:

  • Immobilize decision making.
  • Prevent you from overcoming your insecurity, prevent you from trusting in others, and prevent you from being willing to become vulnerable in order to grow.
  • Prevent you from being willing to let go of old habits or ways of thinking in order to change.
  • Make you resistant to all offers of help from others.
  • Terrify you and make you unwilling to venture out into the world, making you a prisoner in your home.
  • Stifle your motivation to pursue an education or a career.
  • Keep you locked in self-destructive behavior.
  • Prevent you from believing in your chances to become a fully functioning, healthy individual.
  • Be the reason why you find yourself stuck in old ways of acting and believing.
  • Be the roadblock to change and growth; if not overcome fear becomes the patterned way of living an unhealthy life-style.

What new behavior is needed to overcome fear?

To overcome fear people need to:

  • Refute irrational beliefs
  • Affirm themselves
  • Let go of fear
  • Identify the fear, label it, visualize it, and deal with it as if it were an object or entity to be remolded, changed, or altered.
  • Make an honest assessment of their fear and create a consistent, systematic plan of action to overcome it.
  • Relax physically, reduce anxiety and tension, be able to call themselves into a relaxed state.
  • Establish a sense of confidence in their ability to overcome and deal with the feared objects or events.
  • Be sensitized to the stimuli of the feared object or event.
  • Let go of insecurity, develop trust in themselves and others, and permit themselves to be vulnerable to change and growth.
  • Be persistent in their efforts, recognizing that it may take a lifelong effort to eliminate some fears.
  • Stop or turn off obsessing thoughts about the feared objects or events.
  • Put it into a realistic perspective, so that it is not seen as the major focal point of their energy, efforts, and attention.
  • Allow for discomfort, pain, hurt, and the disquieting emotions of the fear recurring in greater intensity as they initially address the treatment of fear.
  • Accept their human qualities and lack of omnipotence. They will probably be confronting fear for their entire life. It is OK to know this and to accept it as a normal part of the human condition.
  • Maintain the motivation to change and grow.
  • Allow for relapses and set-backs without undue discouragement.

What beliefs do people with an active, fear-led life share?

  • No matter what I do, I'll never be able to overcome that fear.
  • Things are always going to be this way, so there is no use in trying.
  • I'll never change. It is just a waste of time to try.
  • Everyone in my family had the same fears. Why should I be different?
  • I'm so scared of these things. It is impossible to feel differently.
  • There are so many reasons why I should feel the way I do. It is useless to believe I could feel differently.
  • I am a useless specimen who deserves no better than this.
  • These fears are a part of me. I've felt this way forever. It is too much work and too difficult to let go of them.
  • I have no idea what it is I'm afraid of. I only know I feel fear, anxiety, and tension.
  • It takes too much work to overcome all of these fears, so just forget it.
  • Most of the methods used to relax fear are silly and childish. They can't possibly work.
  • I've never been able to get rid of these fears, and I can't do it now.
  • It is impossible for me to picture anything in my mind. The visualization techniques are useless for me.
  • No one can help me with this.
  • Why try? I'll only end up regretting the waste of time and energy in the end.
  • If fear is a fact of life I need to accept, why do I need to learn to overcome it? Wouldn't it be better to just accept it and go on?
  • It is impossible not to think about these fears.
  • I have no way of having a happy life with these fears.
  • If a fear regains strength it is close to impossible to get rid of it a second time.
  • Fear is an unacceptable feeling or behavior; anyone who has fear must be crazy.
Steps in confronting fears

 

Step 1:  Review the fifty-two fears listed in the second section of this chapter. In your journal, list the fears you believe are active in your life. Once you've listed the fears, rank them in order of greatest intensity, with #1 being the worst fear.

 

Step 2:  Once you have rank-ordered your fears, explore your level of motivation to confront these fears by answering the following questions in your journal:
  • How real are these fears to me?
  • How much power in my life do these fears have?
  • How do these fears explain past or current actions in my life?
  • How do these fears determine my self-image, self-concept, self-esteem?
  • How do these fears disable me?
  • How do these fears inhibit me?
  • What emotions do these fears block?
  • How long have I had these fears?
  • What have I done to overcome these fears?
  • How convinced am I of the need to confront these fears?

 

Step 3:  Once you have explored your motivation for confronting your fears, convince yourself of the need to address these fears. In your journal answer these questions:

  • How do your fears influence your decision-making process?
  • How do your fears encourage and exacerbate your sense of insecurity?
  • How do your fears keep you from making a change in your life?
  • How do your fears influence your response to offers of help from others?
  • How have your fears kept you chained down and locked in?
  • How have your fears influenced your educational, career, and work pursuits?
  • How have your fears contributed to your self-destructiveness?
  • How have your fears affected your belief in a healthy future for you?
  • How have your fears kept you from growing as a person?
  • How have your fears contributed to an unhealthy life-style for you?
Step 4:  Now that you are motivated to confront your fears, address the following issues in your journal: (These issues need to be addressed before you can proceed to Step 5.)
  • What new behavior do I need to develop in order to confront my fears?
  • What beliefs block my desires and attempts at confronting my fears?
  • How willing am I to try out new behavior?
  • How willing am I to use some of the tools available to overcome fears?
  • What new beliefs do I need to confront my fears?

 

Step 5:  Once you are committed to confronting your fears, use tools found in this series to identify strategies in confronting each fear. For each of your fears, list the Tools for Coping tools you can use to overcome it.
The Tools for Coping Tool Box
  • Handling Irrational Beliefs
  • Self-affirmation
  • Handling Guilt
  • Building Trust
  • Handling Insecurity
  • Letting Go
  • Stress Reduction
  • Spirituality
  • On Becoming a Risk Taker
  • Accepting Change

Once you have identified the tools for each fear, use them, addressing your highest-ranked fear first.

 

Step 6:  As you systematically address each of your fears you may need to use “thought stopping" as a technique to cease your obsessing or dwelling on the fear, feared objects, or events. If it is needed, follow these directions:
Directions for Thought Stopping
  • Step 1: Use the relaxation training and breathing exercises in Tools for Personal Growth (Chapter 17) to get yourself relaxed. It is important to be relaxed to stop a recurring thought.
  • Step 2: With a recorder, record the word stop on alternating 1, 2, and 3 minute intervals for a 30-minute recording. Call yourself into a relaxed state before using the ``Stop'' tape. Then, think of your fear, feared object, or event. Every time you hear stop; stop the thought. Return to the thought again and only stop the thought when you hear stop. Do this for 30 minutes every night for two weeks or until you are able to stop the thought every time you hear stop.
  • Step 3: After you are trained to stop thoughts by using the Stop recording, you are ready to stop your thoughts by yelling stop out loud. For 30 minutes think of your fear, feared object, or event and yell stop to stop the thought. Once you stop the thought go back to thinking about the thoughts for awhile, then yell stop again. Do this over and over again for 30 minutes each night for two weeks or until you are able to stop the thought every time you yell stop.
  • Step 4: After you have trained yourself to stop thoughts by yelling stop, you are ready to train your thoughts to stop by whispering stop. For 30 minutes repeat the process of dwelling on your fears, feared object, or event, but this time whisper stop to stop your thoughts. Do this for 30 minutes nightly for two weeks or until you are able to stop the thought every time you whisper stop.
  • Step 5: After you have trained yourself to stop thoughts by whispering stop, you are ready to train your thoughts to stop by thinking the word stop. For 30 minutes repeat the process of dwelling on your fears, feared object, or event, but this time think stop to stop your thoughts. Do this for 30 minutes nightly for two weeks or until you are able to consistently stop the thoughts by thinking the word stop.
  • Step 6: Use thinking the word stop to stop thoughts of your fear, feared object, or event from then on. It is a technique that will halt your dwelling on the fearful thought in the future.

 

If the fears recur regularly, return to direction the first step in Step 6 and begin again.

 

Step 7:  The use of thought stopping and the other Tools for Coping tools should help you overcome your fears, or at least reduce their impact on your life. You will need to be vigilant in confronting your fears. If, however, you lose faith and become discouraged, return to Step 1 and begin again.