What is fear?

by | FearLess

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ ” Eleanor Roosevelt 

What is fear? Have you thought about it? Google it and you will find countless quotes, and explanations.

Did you know that every person will experience fear in some form during their lifetime, ranging from fear of rejection, fear of pursuing a dream, or even the thought that you cannot be free from its grip? Regardless of who you are or what you want to do, fear will try to trap you. It also has many faces; it never looks the same in two people’s lives. 

Fear? Foreign or familiar?

Shark in fishbowl

Fear can be a foreign feeling or a familiar sensation that develops when you or someone you love is or feels threatened. It can arise when certain circumstances, conditions or persons cause us to feel intimidated or afraid. 

Fear can grow through a real or perceived threat to our sense of well- being. It appears to be genuine to our minds, and thus our bodies respond accordingly. Some natural fears in us are there for our good and self- preservation. It could be the warning in our minds that cautions us against running across a busy road or running outside during a lightning storm. 

But there is also a crippling fear that arises because of a valid threat or perceived threat to our sense of safety or well-being. These fears, if not dealt with appropriately, can affect our lives, relationships and life decisions. 

Fear can be strategic

It can form a strategy in our minds through reinforcing thought patterns. For example, if fear of failure is an influential factor in my life, then I could have the following thoughts. “If I don’t try something new, then I can’t fail.” 

Its strategy is to hinder and restrict one’s thoughts and actions. One such example is a story from an older woman who enjoys nature, but because she is afraid of potential dangers, she doesn’t go outside. By her own admission, she remains locked up in her apartment, alone. She feels despondent and angry but says that she is too scared to even drive to where she wants to go. 

Fear likes the words, ‘what if . . .

Courage to dream again

The paradox of modern fear is that it often isn’t grounded in reality but in our minds. We repeat the mantra of ‘what if . . .’ It would appear that these two words lead our thoughts into a cycle of fear-inducing reactions. For example, what if I went for a run and was attacked by a mugger? What if I fail? What if I don’t make the sports team? To avoid that embarrassment, potential failure or even shame, we end up not even attempting the very thing that could lead us into a full-coloured life and great joy. What is your ‘what if’? How has it robbed you of experiencing the joys of life? 

One of the first ports of call for healing comes from naming the battles we face regularly and their impact in our lives and that of our family. Fear likes to live in the shadows. When we emerge out of the darkness and into the light, healing can begin.

Healing from fear takes time. This understanding, along with the fact that fear lies to us, is expressed in an excerpt from a blog post written a mere three months after an armed robbery in my home in Cape Town. 

False evidence appearing real (blog post October 2015) 

I recently had a first-hand experience of false evidence appearing real. Just after the armed robbery, I experienced an irrational fear response. It affected my breathing, with my heart racing, and body shaking from its influence. 

Every night, just as we were about to fall asleep and we switched the lights off, I could feel fear wrapping its coils around my mind and after that my body.
Neil would pray for me and talk me back to a place of calmness, but then, a little while later, I would be tormented by this irrational fear. They say fear is ‘False Evidence Appearing Real’. I learned that fear paralyzes you, and it makes you incapable of reasoning. Over time, I realized that fear tries to enslave you, and as I looked around me, I saw many, many people riddled with fear. 

These are the effects of fear that I have either experienced or seen manifest around me: 

  • Fear is an illusion. Danger is real, but fear is an illusion that then manifests in different ways in our minds, emotions and bodies.
  • Fear stops you from living, and by that, I mean really living. It inhibits you from taking a risk, from laughing and giving yourself to something or someone.
  • Fear can make you sick. Lack of sleep suppresses your immune system and your mind’s ability to function at its peak level.
  • Fear can rule your life and isolate you from those that love you. You shut down and not allow them into specific areas or to support you as you should.
  • Fear is a liar and feeds your thoughts that you should act too. I guess that’s one of the biggest lies we believe. Many people live as if on a stage, pretending to be ok when deep inside, they are hurting. Let’s start a ‘be real revolution’. It will free you.

Danger and fear are different

Did you know that there is a difference between danger and fear? Sometimes knowing the difference between the two could be a lifesaver. 

The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines danger as the possibility that you will be hurt or killed; that something unpleasant or harmful will hap- pen. Danger is a person or thing likely to cause you an injury, pain, harm or loss. 

Whereas fear is an unpleasant, often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger. The critical difference is that danger is the possibility of injury or harm, and fear is a state of being or an emotion. They are not the same. 

It is dangerous to walk on the edge of a cliff or hike during a lightning storm. Or, as a female, walking alone in an isolated area is potentially dangerous. I love running but have to be careful where I run and most of the time make certain that I don’t exercise alone. When you’re in a precarious (dangerous) situation, you can either give in to fear or respond rationally. Fear is often a response to a situation we think we are in, could be in or actually are in at that moment. The danger is real, but giving in to fear is a choice that you make (either consciously or subconsciously). 

I realized this shortly after the armed robbery. The danger had passed, but fear still gripped my life. We added extra safety features around our home and were more vigilant. Unfortunately, that didn’t help me. Fear was having a full-on party in my mind; it was busy moving in and setting up shop. 

If you’d like to know how I overcame fear, then read about it in my book Courage in the Fire: Overcoming a fear-driven life.


Mandi launch

Buy Courage in the Fire now!


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