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How Healthy Are Your Fears?

We all have our fears. It’s what we do with them that makes our lives work out for the better or the worse. A big key to success in life is deciding what to believe we are afraid of. But you may ask, do we really have a choice about what we fear in life? Yes we do.

In any given situation, we have a choice to decide what force or possible outcome in that situation we are going to focus our fearful attention on. The last power we should let anyone take from us is our power to focus our attention.

Is your mind your servant, or is it your boss? Can your soul tell your mind what to believe in and what to fear? Or do you let your body and emotions tell your mind what to trust and what to fear? Optimism and common sense teach us to be careful what we choose to fear, because it may become our master.

For example, in a fearful situation, I could focus on the harm someone could do to my wallet, my body, or my reputation. But wouldn’t I do better to focus my fears on what I could do in this situation to harm my self-respect, and to damage the faith that others I value the most have put in me?

Sure, some frightened people think they have no choice what to be afraid of. Whatever their mind worries about, they just accept as the focus of their fears. They trust their hearts even when their hearts are scared to death. They trust their bodies even when they’re frozen in fear.

Other people try to convince themselves and others that they have no fears. Thinking like soldiers, they were influenced by the greatest generation, who heard and believed FDR before WWII when he said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” So they’re just afraid to be afraid. They’ve never heard of a healthy fear, and maybe you haven’t either.

Healthy fears are ones that make us and those around us more at peace with the world as it is. Maybe you don’t believe a fear can bring you peace. One key is to be afraid of things you can control, instead of things you can’t. Another key is to be afraid of losing touch with what’s good, instead of getting in touch with what’s bad. Think about these examples:

Healthy fears inspire action, not passivity. The fears of failure and rejection are not as healthy as the fears of never trying, or never loving at all. Better to be afraid of repeating old mistakes than to fear trying something new. Fears that we talk out with someone trustworthy are better for us than fears we act out alone. Better to work through a fear than give into one. The fear that I won’t give it my best beats the fear that in someone else’s eyes I won’t be the best.

Fears that lead us out of dependencies and addictions are better for us than those that lead us into them. Fears that make us stand up for ourselves are better than those that make us fall down for others. If I am working for things that leave the world a better place, and the other guys involved aren’t, worrying that I’ll let them walk all over me is healthier than worrying I’ll hurt their feelings.

Fears that make us love are better than those that make us hate. When I fear that another man will love my wife better than I do, it makes me love her more. If I feared she’ll be seduced into loving another man more than she loves me, it would shut me down. Cancer can make us afraid of death, or what’s better, afraid of dying without really having lived and loved.

Fears that build hope bless the world more than those that build despair. Better to fear that we will let someone discourage us than to worry that someone will prove unworthy of our trust and break our heart. But how do you avoid the fear of a broken heart? Try believing it’s just the hard shell around our heart that’s getting broken, and that a broken open heart is good.

Choosing or crafting healthier fears involves putting a new framework into your perceptions. It’s framing your fears differently to change your focus. For more tips on reframing your fears, check out www.living-mindfully.com/columns/ReframingFear0908.pdf

I’m afraid of growing old like I think most people do, becoming more passive, withdrawn, bitter, negative, worried about things that that might go wrong, and focused in on my aches, pains and lost functions. This fear makes me do just the opposite, stay young at heart, and focus on solutions more than problems. Of all my fears, that’s one of my favorites.

Which of your fears are bringing out the best in you? What new ones might you need to bring on board to replace the ones that are getting you down?

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About Dr. Paul Schmidt, PhD

Dr. Paul Schmidt, PhD is a psychologist life coach with offices in Louisville and Shelbyville, KY, 502 633 2860.