“What if I fall?” “Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?”
Fear is a funny thing. It’s there from the time we’re babies, afraid of strangers who pinch our cheeks, through childhood, as we have our parents check the closets for monsters before we can fall asleep. It’s there from the time we’re young adults who are afraid of rejection and failure, to the time we’re older and wiser, but are unable to shake those fears of danger or of losing someone we love. We’re afraid of snakes and spiders even though we’ve never actually come close to one that could to hurt us. We’re afraid of deep water even though we know how to swim. We’re afraid of airplanes even though we are approximately 2500 times more likely to die in a car accident. Sometimes our fears don’t make all that much sense, yet they seem to dictate so much of our lives.
Fear is is a natural human reaction that is built into us before we’re even born. It comes naturally when we are presented with danger or the idea of something that could cause harm or discomfort. It is a survival mechanism that keeps us safe and alive. Without fear, we would have all probably died, or at least lost a limb or something, a long time ago. The world would be full of careless crazy people if none of us feared anything. But as important as fear is, it is one of the things that we allow to hold us back.
We’re afraid of heights, so we never go on a roller coaster. We’re afraid of social situations so we stay in the comfort of our home. We’re afraid of intimacy and attachment, so we close ourselves off to people, and ultimately to the potential for happiness. We’re afraid of failure and rejection, so we decide that it’s best to just not even try. We’re afraid of change, so we create every possible excuse as to why we shouldn’t take a risk that could create so much of it.
I’m sure many of us have heard of the fight or flight response to fear, but in case you haven’t, I’ll fill you in quick. Our brain processes all information that we take in such as sounds, smells, sights, etc., and when something is perceived as dangerous, our body is filled with the hormone adrenaline as our fight-or-flight response is triggered. We experience a burst of energy that allows us to respond to danger effectively, by either fighting the danger or by fleeing from it to protect ourselves. This explains our ability to react quickly in stressful situations, and makes sense of those crazy stories you hear about people lifting cars off of someone who is trapped underneath.
Taking the flight route is definitely beneficial to our safety in many situations, such as when we spot a sketchy guy coming toward us from a back alley at night. Probably not a good idea to try to be a hero and fight that one off. But our body often goes into fight-or-flight mode in situations when there is no real danger involved, such as before we give a presentation, or before we share something deeply personal that makes us vulnerable. Our natural instinct is often to flee, but there are times when we must try to fight our instinctual response, because it is triggered by a fear that is holding us back. Our fear of rejection might prevent us from telling someone we have feelings for them, or from sharing our brilliant ideas with our boss. Our fear of change might prevent us from seeking new opportunities that will better us and allow us to find new sources of happiness. These are the kinds of things that we must look dead in the eye, and even when we find ourselves wanting to take flight, we must try our very best to fight. Having fear is normal. Our fears are there to protect us, but they are also there to challenge us.
Facing our fears might not always result in something positive. We might face our fear of rejection and still end up getting shot down by the person we worked up the courage to ask on a date. We might face our fear of public speaking and still make a complete fool of ourselves. We might face our fear of heights and still vomit while standing on the edge of a cliff before jumping into the waters below. But we also might score a date with our crush. We might realize we’re actually not so bad at public speaking. We might realize that standing on the edge of a cliff feels a little bit like standing on top of the world.
The important thing is to be aware of our fears. Know when they’re there to protect us, and know when they’re there simply to act as an obstacle for us to overcome. If it means something to us, it will always come with some kind of fear. But that also means that it’ll feel that much better when we face it.