There are several ways to respond to fear, but the least effective, most troublesome way to respond to fear is to belittle it.
We constantly see people belittle fear— both their own fears, and other peoples’ fears.
Fear is an emotion we rarely like to feel, at least in uncontrolled settings. (In controlled settings, such as horror movies and roller coasters, many people paradoxically seek fear out.)
We associate fear with unpleasant physical and emotional sensations. When we’re not in control of the experience producing the fear, we’ll do almost anything we can to avoid feeling it.
Our aversion to fear often leads us to be dismissive and condescending of this emotion.
When we’re afraid, we tell ourselves to stop being silly— that there’s nothing to REALLY be afraid of.
If you Google “fear quotes,” you’ll find dozens and dozens of quotes denying and disowning fear.
When someone else articulates a fear that we don’t identify or empathize with, it’s often our impulse to mock and belittle that fear. “Aw, poor baby,” some people will dismissively respond to someone expressing fear about something we don’t think “should” be that big a deal.
Why are we so disrespectful of fear?
Fear, in itself, isn’t a bad thing.
In fact, fear, in itself, serves a pretty important function in our lives. We wouldn’t be able to function well without a certain amount of fear.
The trick is to not let the unpleasant physical and emotional sensations that accompany fear overwhelm us…and it is vitally important that we not belittle fear.
Respecting fear— giving fear its due— doesn’t have to mean cowering to it or letting it “win.”
The good news is, when we learn to respect fear, to give it its due, and to experience the physical and emotional sensations that accompany fear without freaking out…then we often lose our overwhelming aversion to fear.
Fear becomes less of a big deal. Less something that needs to be avoided at all costs.
When we learn to tolerate the physical and emotional sensations that accompany fear by utilizing our coping skills and tools, fear becomes just another emotional state that has useful information for us— no more, no less.
What coping skills and tools are useful in the face of fear?
One of the most important skills we can develop (in general, but also in handling fear specifically) is focus management. It is vitally important that we learn to direct the “feature” playing on the movie screen of our mind— the pictures we see, the dialogue we hear, the music that accompanies the show.
Controlling our focus gets much easier with practice. When we learn to listen, really listen, to the voices in our heads, we realize we can actually have input into what those voices are saying.
When we learn to pay attention to what images are flashing through our heads, we realize we can actually change those images by imagining a channel changer and visualizing those images changing with a simple “click, click.”
When we learn to pay attention to the “score” of the “movie” playing in our heads, we realize that we can actually be our own psychological deejay and switch up the soundtrack. You know how easy it is to get a song “stuck” in your head? You can intentionally get a song “stuck” in your head of your choosing…with a little practice.
Focus management is helpful because it both distracts us from the unpleasantness of fear, and it also helps us maintain perspective on the information fear is attempting to make us aware of.
When we feel fear, it’s easy to think the world is ending…unless we’re practiced in managing our focus. When we manage our focus appropriately, we can catch and control that “THE WORLD IS ENDING!” panic, before it really gets rolling.
The most important thing to remember, however, is that fear is not something to be minimized or belittled.
When you belittle your own fear, you don’t reduce it. In fact, you kind of empower your fear to come roaring back with a vengeance to prove you wrong.
When you belittle someone else’s fear you’re mocking them for having a normal human reaction.
Give fear its due— your own and other peoples’.
Only then can you begin constructively handling fear.
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