A  Fear is a useful emotion – it protects us by motivating us to act to avoid danger. But even fears that are helpful for us can become a problem, and there are many common fears that aren’t helpful and that limit our lives.

B  Psychologist Tara Brach believes that we spend a lot of moments lost in what she calls ‘the tightness of fear’, worried that something bad is going to happen. Many of these bad things don’t happen, but the fear is often unconscious, so we don’t realise how much it’s affecting our thoughts, feelings and behaviour. And when we’re caught in this tightness, with fear thoughts going round in our heads, we can lose our compassion and our ability to experience joy, Tara says.

C  Many people’s deepest fear is fear of death. Psychotherapist Irvin Yalom explains that deep within us there is a conflict between our wish to continue living and our awareness that we will die. But, Yalom says, because we tend to avoid thinking about death, this fear is mostly unconscious and only comes to the surface in our nightmares and when we have experiences of being close to death. Tara Brach adds that many of our common worries, such as health and money are connected to this fear, and says that when we experience any negative emotions, fear is usually what’s underneath them, and often it’s this fear. 

D  Another common fear is fear of rejection, a fear from our evolutionary past when we needed to be accepted as part of our groups to survive. Because of this evolved need to belong, rejection can be especially painful, and our desire to avoid it creates a deep fear that affects many parts of our lives. We worry about what people think of us, and we’re afraid of being seen in a negative way, according to psychotherapist John Amodeo. He adds that our fear of rejection may also be connected to an underlying belief that we might be unlovable, and to avoid being rejected, we might only let people see our best sides, or even reject them before they have a chance to reject us.

E  Fear of failure is another fear that limits our lives and stops many of us from growing and achieving our goals. Tara Brach explains that this fear comes partly from a belief that we are not really good enough, and from the worry that there will be something coming that we can’t handle, meaning we will fail in some way. She adds that it’s also connected to concerns that if we fail, we will lose our status in social groups. As well as preventing us from stepping outside our comfort zones and growing, this fear can lead to a lot of trying control the future, and trying to prove ourselves and get approval from others, Tara says.

F  A fear that has increased in recent years is fear of missing out, commonly known as FOMO. This is the fear that you might miss an opportunity or that good things are happening somewhere else. Tchiki Davis explains that the increase in FOMO seems to be connected to social media, where people tend to show their best sides and share their best moments. And, as we can now constantly see ‘fun’ events happening elsewhere all the time, it’s easier to think that we are missing out on something good. This fear leads to a lot of checking our devices to see what other people are doing, and Tchiki adds that it reduces our enjoyment of the experiences that we are actually having.

G  Psychologist Susan Jeffers has an interesting way of thinking about fear – she believes that all our fears can be divided into three levels. On the first level are fears we have about things that happen in our lives, and underneath those, on the second level, are fears that are connected to our state of mind. Fear of public speaking, for example, is a common level-one fear, but the deeper level-two fear that’s underneath it is fear is failure. Another level-one fear is fear of intimacy, and the level-two fear underneath that is fear of rejection. But Jeffers believes that beneath those, at the third level, is just one single fear: that you can’t handle it – ‘at the bottom of every one of your fears is simply the fear that you can’t handle whatever life may bring you’, she says.

So what happens if your thinking changes to ‘I can handle it’?
More of that in the next article.

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