Over a week ago, I was having a conversation with a coworker about fear. His perspective was that fear is all an illusion, accompanied by an oversimplified explanation for his belief. I countered with fear is an emotion and can be rational or irrational. He stood his ground, and so did I.
I found myself heading back to my desk typing in the Google browser, “Is fear an illusion.” Every result that came up advocating fear is an illusion, came from a well meaning self- help expert, but I wasn’t sure that the explanation was enough. I think it is important to point out that “fear is a vital response to physical and emotional danger which has strong roots in human evolution” (Psychology Today). Fear isn’t an illusion, but rather a physiological response to what you deem as a threat.
“Is this a rational fear?”
Fear is relative and can be perceived differently from person to person. My fear of mice comes with a traumatic experience as a child, so though it is an irrational fear, it is a fear nonetheless. Think about this. Before an exam, you may fear failing or you may simply fear losing your job on a daily basis. The question then become “Is this a rational fear?”
For the exam, the question becomes “Did I study?” and if you didn’t, it is more so your unpreparedness speaking rather than legitimate and rational fear. With respect to fear of losing your job, the question is “Am I doing a good enough job to not be fired?” Is there something that you are failing to do or that your job has neglected to do, to ensure your success? These are both fears that can be categorized as irrational, but may be very rational to the person experiencing it.
Let’s talk about the big elephant in the room. A big fear for a lot of people is fear of failure. Even the most successful people have some degree of fear of failure. I have some degree of fear of failure and it has stopped me in several instances from pursuing certain goals. But it’s not always so black and white in some situations. In attempting to be aspirational, it is easy to forget the gray areas, hence the reason for beliefs like fear is an illusion.
I may have mentioned in prior posts that I suffer from fibromyalgia, a chronic illness. I am also an avid baker. I legitimately went through the state to sign up my at- home business, so I was able to start baking cupcakes from home. I had a cupcake tasting, started an Instagram page, and was gaining some traction. Shortly after starting, I experienced a massive flare that lasted over a month. My fears and concerns about starting that business were indeed rational.
“How can I move past fear?”
I know there are there are others who may see it otherwise, but this is my primary reason for not making blanket statements about what may be very personal experiences. People’s experiences and backgrounds are indeed very real. Saying fear is an illusion is akin to saying my fibromyalgia isn’t real. By minimizing a person’s fears, you silence them and that is the opposite of what you strive for when dealing with people.
I know that in modern life, the stakes are lower. We are no longer running for or lives from mammoths, but that evolutionary response to fear—rational or irrational—is still there. Without it, humans are unable to protect ourself from legitimate threats. The fight-or-flight response is very much in tact. The question then becomes, “How can I move past fear?”
The answer is “Take action.” It is important to work on ways to not allow fear to be the dominating voice in your head. Being able to peel the layers of a situation and assess what the real issue is, rather than remaining in a state of irrational fear is the best step forward. It is okay to be fearful, but to remain in that state is truly what is to be feared.
You control your story. Don’t let fear take it away.