What is Fear?

Fear is the body’s natural response to a threat, the threat can be physical or emotional, real or even perceived. When we feel like something or someone could or will hurt us, we “feel” afraid or align with the emotion of fear.

Fear evokes a flight, fight, or freeze response in our bodies.

The flight response can look like running away, avoiding, and/or can manifest as denying the event that evoked the fear even exists. The flight response can be physical running into danger with fists ready to go, or more emotional like defensiveness. The freeze response can be hard to detect in some people, they may appear completely “normal” (whatever that means) but are really shut down inside. Freeze can also be a physical paralyzation, unable to physically move out of harm's way or a retreating inward.

To read more about how the brain responds to fear check out this article from the Smithsonian.

Fear can feel like an uneasy feeling that you can’t shake, a pit in your gut, increased heartbeat, sweaty palms, goosebumps, heightened alertness, thrilling, difficulty breathing, anxiousness, tightness in your chest, and/or confusion.

Fear can be a learned behavior. We learn from others what we should fear. If our parents are afraid of storms, we are likely to develop the same fear, just as we are likely to pass that fear onto our children.

Irrational fears are dangerous and can dictate how we live our lives. Irrational fears are fearing things that are out of your control like flying, storms, or future issues that haven’t come up (worries). Entertaining irrational fear can be detrimental to your daily life. Irrational fears take up space in your mind that you could be using for something positive. These fears can control your life and lead to unresolved stress in the body. Irrational fears are often passed down by people close to you. Identify when the fear you feel is irrational and work through the steps of letting it go.

When we are in physical danger, our fear response is a good thing (as long as we listen to it). It can act as an operating signal when something is not right, causing us to rethink our actions. When we are triggered by fear, we have the opportunity to assess the situation and decide whether our feelings are valid and whether we should proceed with caution or abort our actions altogether.

It gets trickier to understand the fear responses that we feel in regards to fear in relation to our the safety of our emotional-self.

Our fear response can be triggered when we attempt to open ourselves up to connections. This response occurs as if to tell you that you are not safe, that hurt or rejection may happen, which might very well be the case… However, the only way to connect with people and experience any level of intimacy is to move past the fear trigger and remain open to connection despite the threat of rejection. We have to learn to discern when we should listen to the fear triggers and when to move past them. Most of us have been hurt by people that were supposed to love and care for us (just as most of us has hurt the people, usually unintentionally, we love), that hurt acts as a signal post for us, reminding us of how we felt last time we were rejected, betrayed, disappointed, hurt. The signal is triggered when we feel ourselves opening up to someone, it feels unsafe (because intimacy is VERY unsafe). Our fear response is triggered causing us to retreat, pulling back, closing ourselves off again. As a result we experience loneliness, disconnection, and remain closed off to the connections we desperately desire. It is extremely dangerous for us to remain closed off, it might “feel” safe but it is not a way to experience life.

On the other hand, a fear response can be triggered when we are opening ourselves up to people who are not trustworthy. It is equally dangerous to open yourself up to everyone. Fear triggers can manifest as red-flags that should not be ignored.

When should we listen to those triggers? How will we know to ignore the fear response and open ourselves up, anyway? How will we know when to listen to the red-flags and identify real threats? Unfortunately, this part is the messy part. We have to grow in our discernment and learn how to zoom out and see the situation in a more honest way. Healing from past hurts will help you identify with triggers that you need to work through while learning how and when to open yourself up again. Trusting yourself and listening to your gut will help you identify when the triggers are red-flags and need to be listened to.

Do the work, heal from your past. Identify and acknowledge irrational fears. Learn how to navigate through fear and how to assess if the danger is real or just a trigger from a past unhealed place. Learn to recognize valid fears and healthy ways to navigate away from them. Grow in your ability to discern, love, and open yourself up.

When you feel fear ask yourself these questions.

Am I in physical danger? Am I in emotional danger? If so, what is the danger specifically? If not, then why am I feeling fear, when was the last time I felt like this, and why am I having a fear response when I am not in danger? If the answer is no, the feeling you are feeling is most likely related to an area in your life that needs healed or dealt with from your past.

If you are in physical danger, how can you safely remove yourself from the situation and what precautions do you need to take so you don’t repeat this situation again? How can you begin to identify dangers like this quicker?

If you are in emotional danger, identify the specific danger. What are you feeling? What are healthy ways to protect yourself from this danger? Have you experienced this feeling before? If so, why has this cycle repeated? What do you need to learn or heal from so you are no longer putting yourself in this kind of situation?

Is the fear irrational? If so, why do you fear the situation or event? How long have you been afraid of this thing? Can you trace it back to another person or event? Is there is validity to the fear? If so, what is it? If not, how can you let it go? Remind yourself that you are safe, that you are in control of your thoughts and shift the fear thoughts to something else.

Once you recognize fear, answer the questions above, respond appropriately, then choose to let the fear go. I close my eyes, deepen my breath, put my hand over my heart, and focus on or imagine inhaling love, filling my lungs to full capacity, and exhaling (or letting go) (releasing) all fear. I continue this exercise until the feeling has past.

Stephanie McCandless

Creator of SoulCare

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