In my experience over many years of trying to help people who are chronically anxious and afraid, I have seen many similarities in their fears. I’ve also struggled with these fears and I have compassion for my fellow sufferers. But it’s good to put a name to them and to FIGHT them and CRUSH them even though it takes time to really KILL them.
The most common fear is, 1. FEAR OF REJECTION. This usually becomes an issue for people who were threatened with or felt that they were in danger of a withdrawal of love, approval, affection, praise, or even food and shelter if they did something that their parent or caregiver did not like. The adult in their life was probably simply acting out the way they were raised or taught and didn’t mean to hurt the child, but the child’s sensitive emotions were caught in a cycle of fear leading to either anxiously trying to keep the love and approval or outright giving up as a self-defense mechanism. For example: Billy’s dad is always criticizing how, when, what and with who Billy does things. Billy does not understand what his dad wants from him and becomes fearful and eventually decides it’s impossible to please dad. Billy generalizes this fear to other people in his life whose opinion and approval he values, such as friends and teachers and maybe even strangers. If things go especially wrong, he may even become paranoid that no one likes him and he is a total failure. This is tragic! And all because of a lack of proper communication with a sensitive spirit at a young age.
However, Billy can learn to change his emotional reactions, self-abasing thoughts, and push himself into new, healthy ways of thinking about himself and other people that are not so black and white. He can realize that SOME people DO like him , even if others do not, and that it’s okay if some people do not want to be his friend or even hate him. It’s not his problem. He can move on and still accept himself.
The second , usually co-existing fear is 2. FEAR OF FAILURE. This doesn’t require much explanation. A person is so afraid of making a mistake and being ridiculed or experiencing the emotions that come along with making a mistake when someone is overly anxious about such things, it can feel painful and awful and paralyzing, that the person will not try to do anything he is not sure he can do. I believe it is the internal feelings of guilt and shame that they avoid even more than the possible ridicule of others. Even if no one laughs or says a word, they will tear themselves down , sometimes using truly self-destructive methods. I have seen people who seem to actually do this on purpose, makes mistakes and then self-abuse, but that’s a topic for another day.
How can you overcome fear of failure? The first step is to admit it, recognize that you have this fear, call it out, set it on the table and look at it. Ask yourself why do you care so much? It’s irrational and you know it . Begin to separate it from your identity. You don’t have to hold on to that way of thinking about yourself, that idea that if you make mistakes you are a terrible person and that everyone is judging you and talking about you and hates you. The truth is that after you graduate from high school, not too many people really care about what you do. Your parents might and that can be a problem for many people. It’s important to separate your self-worth from what your parents and others think of you. You have value. Your value is not dependent on other’s approval. Your value is not dependent on you being perfect. Fight those irrational thoughts! Replace them with true thoughts such as “Everyone makes mistakes. I am just like other people. I am not different or bad. Other people like me. ”
It’s hard to choose the last one, but I will pick 3. Fear of Conflict. Many people live their lives in fear of this! They will choose their words and actions very carefully to keep the peace even if it means not being true to themselves. Children who grow up in angry or overly critical or chaotic atmospheres can become so fearful and sensitive to the slightest disapproval or disagreement that they are constantly avoiding and seeking to prevent these things from happening. “Angry dad” is a stereotypical joke that is not funny. Children and wives/husbands should not have to walk on eggshells and limit themselves to only speaking about safe topics to avoid touching off dad’s/mom’s short fuse. This is a form of abuse in my opinion. Unfortunately, once the child is grown up this habit can remain strong even if they are no longer living in this environment. The fear of anger and chaos remains because it was never addressed. It can also lead to the person using those same tactics of control through anger, which is just as bad or worse.
This fear is closely connected with the other two and must be addressed in order to become a healthy, conscious, self-aware person who is capable of loving others and communicating honestly. The technique is to identify whether there is actual danger or not and learn to self-talk yourself through the irrational fear of someone else’s emotions. If you are living with a person who is truly willing to hurt you if you step out of line (in their opinion), you should leave. But oftentimes, I find that verbal bullies are really wimps and will back down if you defend yourself calmly and regularly. Show no fear! Be willing to engage in a disagreement if necessary, but don’t argue with fools. If someone tries to scare you with loud voices or threats, evaluate whether you think they will actually back it up or is it just a little dog barking? People like that usually have a weakness. Find it and use it if necessary, but for your own sake, don’t stay in that atmosphere longer than you have to. Go where you can have peace and open communication and freely discuss ideas without being shut down. Your life is worth it.
In conclusion , fear of rejection, fear of failure and fear of conflict can totally paralyze a person and leave them stuck for years. But with awareness of your fears and willingness to change YOURSELF, you can regain your power. If you need professional help, get it. But don’t stay stuck.
Your thoughts and opinions about this article are welcome! Please check out my other blogs about anxiety and life.