What are YOU Afraid of?
Everyone has things that they are afraid of. Whether we are completely paralyzed by our fears or we’re daredevils who fear nothing, everyone has something that they are afraid of. Having fear is a normal, healthy and natural part of life because it keeps us safe, preserving our life and health.
What is not healthy however, is forgoing activities, events and experiences that we wish to have, due to our overwhelming fear. The first step in overcoming our fear is figuring out whether we are suffering from a fear or a phobia. In a nutshell, a fear is something that we are afraid of because we have had a bad experience with it and a phobia is something we are afraid of for no real reason.
A fear is something that you are afraid of because of a bad experience. For example, if you were bitten by a dog, it’s normal to be afraid of dogs. If you got into a car accident while driving at night in the rain, it’s normal to be afraid of driving at night in the rain. There’s a direct and logical connection between that which you are afraid of and your fear.
It’s OK to be afraid and to have a fear of something you have experienced. There’s no requirement in life of liking dogs or driving at night in the rain but sometimes we realize that our fear is limiting us and we sincerely wish to overcome our fear. Maybe we have always loved dogs, we realize that although animals can be unpredictable, for the most part we will be safe around our pets and the pets of our family and friends and we want to get back to acting and feeling normal around dogs. Maybe we realize that in order to continue on with life we will need to be able to competently drive at night during bad weather.
When we wish to overcome a fear of something, one way to overcome that fear is to systematically desensitize ourselves to that fear. For example, we begin by being in the same room with a leashed dog that we know well. We focus on managing our anxiety and over time we move the dog closer and closer to us. Eventually we pet the dog’s bottom while someone else holds the dog’s head. Again, managing our anxiety we begin to pet closer and closer to the dog’s head, eventually becoming comfortable with this dog.
Next, we can move to other dogs, repeating the process until we feel comfortable. Whatever the situation, the process is to desensitize against the fear by controlling the situation and managing anxiety, over time becoming less bothered by that which you are afraid of, or at least able to manage your anxiety. Phobias are a different story!
A phobia is an irrational fear of fear that has no basis in fact. You are terrified of dinosaurs, aliens and the basketball sized spiders, but you have never had personal experience with dinosaurs, aliens or basketball size spiders. A phobia is a real fear; it’s simply that you have no negative experience with whatever is causing that fear. Therefore, you really can’t desensitize yourself against whatever it is you are afraid of! Moreover, by forcing yourself to confront something that is unknown to you, you may actually increase your level of fear instead of decrease it.
The movie Nightmare on Elm Street terrified me as a teenager. I was terrified that I was going to get attacked in my dreams; but I had never experienced being attacked in my dreams and there nothing to desensitize me from. Rationally I knew that what I was afraid of couldn’t happen, but I was still terrified. Instead of desensitizing myself or telling myself I was being dumb, I had to deal with my feelings of terror on an entirely different level. I had to look deeper and see what it was about the imaginary situation that caused me terror.
In my case, it was a fear of being attacked when I was in a vulnerable state, a fear of having no control a fear of pain, a fear of growing up and not being protected by my parents, of being on my own and even a fear of dying. Now all of those are rational, real fears!
They aren’t however, things that can be desensitized from! In this case I had to build up my own confidence in other ways in order to overcome the fears that I had that were manifesting themselves into an irrational phobia about a horror movie. It was an understanding of the fears below the fears that gave me an understanding of my phobia for Freddy Krugger.
I had to come to terms with the fact that life is unpredictable and that growing up and taking care of me was something I was capable of doing. I had to develop confidence in my abilities and realize that there were indeed steps I could take to protect myself but that there were also certain things I simply had to let go of. I had to trust in the process of life and in my strength as a resilient human. Ultimately, being deathly afraid of horror movies led me to become a much stronger, wiser and accepting person.
The thing about phobias is that the root fear behind the phobia is what’s important; not the phobia itself. That root fear can manifest itself in a variety of ways. Unless you deal with those root fears they will continue to pop up in any number of ways, so you might as well get on it and start dealing with it now; you know, to save yourself some grief in the future!
Think about things that scare you. Are they rational fears or irrational phobias? What is the root fear or fears behind your phobias? What can you to build your confidence in other areas in order to compensate for these fears? What can you learn? What can you release? What can you desensitize yourself from and what do you need to accept?
There will always be things that go bump in the bump in the night. How will you deal with them, and more importantly, what are they teaching you?
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