Denise has struggled with mental illness most of her life. She also has family members with mental illness. She speaks from experience.
Fear is a big part of our emotional life. It comes in second only to anger. In fact, much of anger is based on fear. When we don't know what it is that we are dealing with, we often become frustrated and anxious, resulting in thought patterns that snowball into serious emotional difficulty.
Asking ourselves the question, "What is your biggest fear?" helps us to identify some of the unknown factors that are floating around in our minds. Our fears are often based on the following:
- ill health = fear of death
- lack of resources = fear of poverty
- not knowing what will happen = fear of the unknown
- concern that we are not good enough = fear of failure
- wondering if others will leave us = fear of abandonment
- not knowing what others are thinking of us = fear of rejection
Identifying our biggest fear narrows our choices
Since fear can encompass many different areas of our lives, when we identify our biggest fear we narrow the field and allow ourselves to move forward in determining possible solutions.
Until the time that we identify what it is that we are afraid of, we are facing a vast ocean of information without a safe means whereby to get across. Allowing ourselves to ask the question, "What is your biggest fear" puts a limit on the information and gives it form. We are able to quantify the fear and give it borders, shape, and size. We may even envision the fear as an object or an animal. Doing so allows us to come up with a plan of action in dealing with it.
For example, one person noted:
"When visualizing fear of the unknown, an army tank comes to mind. Frozen with fear, I stand petrified as the army tank comes closer. Fortunately, it stops just as it reaches me. The top opens, and a soldier gets out and jumps to the ground. I realize that the unknown is simply other people, just like me."
Listing the thoughts associated with the fear helps to give it substance that can be manipulated
If we are having difficulty naming our biggest fear, we can make a list of all the thoughts we are facing at the moment. This list may be in the form of "What if..." questions. For example:
- What if my boss gets mad at me?
- What if I don't get along with my co-workers?
- What if I can't get this program to work correctly?
- What if I have too much to do and can't get it all done?
Once these questions are down on paper, we can look at them and ask ourselves, "What is my biggest fear?" Find the one thing that all of these statements have in common. In this case, it is the one question that gives an overall picture of our fear, "What if I get fired?" We may be concerned about our own finances, or remember times when we didn't have enough for our family. Being fired means drastic action.
Answering the question, "What if I get fired?" allows us to put a bridge across the chasm of our fear, and gives us a means whereby we can move forward. Just knowing that there is a future for ourselves gives us hope whereby we can move one foot in front of the other. Perhaps we know someone who is looking for a worker, or we decide that we could go back to school. Whatever plan we put together to deal with the biggest fear gives us a light at the end of the tunnel. We can move forward. The "What if" questions subside, and the fear dissipates.
Sometimes our fears are situation oriented. They may be filled with statements that bring up memories from the past. These are characterized by the words, "If only..." For example:
- If only I hadn't written that letter to him.
- If only I could know what he is thinking.
- If only I had enough patience, I could wait for him to call.
- If only he had listened instead of hanging up on me!
In this case, the fear is associated with a relationship. The answer to the question, "What is your biggest fear?" may be "What if he leaves me!" or fear of abandonment.
This is a very real fear for many people. They may have experiences in their past where people that they love have either left or passed away. Fear of abandonment may lead to both anxiety and depression symptoms being manifest. It may take turning of our heart toward the person temporarily in order to answer the question, "What if he leaves me!"
Relationships are dynamic, in other words, they are always changing. What may seem important one day will fade into the distance the next. Making the decision to stay with the relationship, no matter what happens, means staying in the boat at both stormy seas and calm. When feelings grow cold, or we aren't sure what the other person is feeling, we simply wait, or we take action to express positive feelings to the other person. Doing so opens the door to communication about what is happening and gives both parties additional reasons to stay with the relationship.
Understanding irrational fears
Fears are normal reactions to life situations that threaten us. Some fears, however, affect us so deeply that our fear mechanism gets stuck in fight or flight mode. When this happens, we feel fear at the slightest reminder of the event that caused the fear in the first place. Our body becomes conditioned to react in fear and even the slightest sounds, colors, and smells can trigger the fear response.
When this happens, anxiety is born. The body has a physical reaction to a stimuli that is not actually threatening, but is perceived as being so. It is as if the body is full of eyes that are always watching, hyper aware of every little thing that happens in our surroundings. In order to change the fear response, it may be necessary to be on anti-anxiety medication while the body is being re-trained to respond differently.
Irrational fears can take on many forms and affect our ability to function normally in everyday life. They keep us on pins and needles when we should be relaxing and enjoying life. When we have irrational fears, we may withdraw from society and stay away from places where there are lots of people or action. It may make going to the grocery store a terrible ordeal rather than a simple chore that must be completed.
Children who have irrational fears may become so attached to their parents that they cannot function away from them. These children have frequent meltdowns, where they cry uncontrollably, and need physical hugs to settle down. Weighted vests and belts are sometimes used to give them an added sense of security.
It is wise to obtain medical assistance when irrational fears keep us from functioning appropriately. Psychologists are trained in both thinking and behavioral issues, and can help us to identify appropriate responses to replace those that keep us fearful. They can also help our medical providers to find those medications that will help us in the process of recovery.
Realizing that there will be good days and bad helps us deal with our fears
Once we realize that we have good days and bad days, we are able to better manage the fears that we have. Things will happen that we do not understand and know how to deal with. This is okay, and does not mean that we are bad people, or that we do not have the ability needed to deal with life.
Rather, it simply tells us that we don't have total control in every situation, and we do not need to. It is okay to go with the flow, and allow ourselves to feel the fear. Doing so helps us strive to be better people, and to make life better for others. Without these feelings, we would become lazy and indolent, leaving tasks that we should be doing to others.
A healthy amount of fear keeps us on our toes, trying to do our best, and becoming better in the process. When the scale tips to an unhealthy amount of fear, we need to examine our thought patterns and see what is happening. Are we focusing on "What if?" or "If only" thinking?
Fear is the opposite of faith
As we step forward into the unknown, facing our fears, we are exercising our faith. Having faith in our own abilities, in life in general, and in the powers that are bigger than the human family, gives us power to move and make choices for our better future.
Having a belief that life is good, and that day follows night, that light follows darkness, gives us a reason to hope. Without hope, we are in despair, and despair leads to depression, anxiety, and misery. Life is good. If we can hold on to that hope, no matter what happens, we can know that good things will come in our future.
Yes, there will be good days and bad. Yes, there will be situations where we do not know what to do, where we are afraid for our future. Yes, there will be times when we do not know where our comfort or peace will come from. Yes, there will be times when we get on our knees and plead for the help of heaven to shine down on us. Then, and only then, can we know that faith is the way to go. We won't go wrong if we go forward with faith.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Denise W Anderson
Denise W Anderson (author) from Bismarck, North Dakota on April 13, 2015:
Moral Man, I received your second comment, but have not allowed it to be displayed publicly. Although life is currently full of uncertainty, anxiety, and fear for you, it is possible for things to change. Many of the hubs I have written talk about these very issues. As you read them, look for things that you can do that will help you in your daily struggles of life. Feel free to comment, but keep comments centered on the content of the hub, and no longer than this response.
Denise W Anderson (author) from Bismarck, North Dakota on April 05, 2015:
Fear can lead to dangerous thought patterns, Moral Man. When we dwell on fear, it fills us with darkness and dread. God is bound by natural laws. He only has the power to help us if we turn to him and ask for his assistance. He is where he is because he knows how the natural laws work, and is able to use them for our benefit. When the world was created, it was set up to work according to the natural laws that already exist, and that includes agency, or the power of choice. God cannot take that power away from man. When you seek for the good in the world, you will increase your faith, or your ability to believe that God can help you.
Moral Man on April 05, 2015:
I fear alot of things as its a cruel, dangerous world. Crimes, pollution, traffic accidents, hurricanes, tsunamis, centipedes, snakes, jellyfish, mosquitoes, ticks, spiders, poisons, dangerous machinery, drowning, suffocation, being buried alive, and diseases such as cancer, stroke, aneurysm, heart disease, malaria, ebola, kidney stone, tooth decay, alzheimer's disease,etc. Theres danger nearly everywhere.
An even bigger fear I have is that of ending up in hell after I die. Christian Fundamentalists believe that alot more people will end up in hell than in heaven for one reason or another. Being burned in fire forever is one of the tortures in hell and not the only one as if being burned in fire forever wasnt horrible enough. Its monstrous, inhuman cruelty worse than any horror movie. Is God cruel or insane?
I also fear the Devil or Satan and demons. Demonic possession is one of the subjects in horror movies and horror novels. I see evil nearly everywhere.
Denise W Anderson (author) from Bismarck, North Dakota on July 27, 2012:
You are so right, MsDora. In fact, fear is the opposite of faith. As we strengthen our faith, our fear will dissipate. Thanks for reading and commenting.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on July 27, 2012:
If we would only remember that God is greater than our fears, but so often we can't think of anything other than the fear. Thanks for your positive, practical counsel. Voted Up and Useful!