Getting To Know Fear

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“We consume our tomorrows fretting about our yesterdays.” -Perseus

Oh, the great poet, Perseus! How is it that this man, born in 34AD, struggled with the same feelings and emotions most of us do close to 2,000 years later? Time may have passed, landscapes have developed, and technology has evolved – but human emotion remains constant.

One of the strongest human emotions remains: fear.

Fear (noun): an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.

After much soul searching, I have discovered that a great deal of my decisions, choices, and ideas have been based on my level of fear. At the time I made those choices, I didn’t realize fear was the driver.

When I was young, I had a very short fuse. I was explosive and often easily irritated. I never stopped to examine why I felt this way. I never dug deep into my emotions – in part because I was afraid old wounds would resurface, and because it was easier to make excuses for my behavior and move on.

But about a year ago, I began the journey of examining what makes me “tick”. I started attending a weekly counseling session made up of about ten people. This is a diverse group, comprised of individuals of different genders, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, and unique upbringings. As you can imagine, this diversity enriches our weekly discussions.

A turning point for me was during an exercise we did as a group on anger. It was simple, yet it was so profound. We were each given a sheet of paper with a large triangle drawn in the middle, but the lines reaching the top of the triangle did not connect, making the shape of a volcano. On the inside of our “Anger Volcano”, we were asked to write the core feelings we have when we hide from others. The emotions inside the volcano began to slowly reach the top, where they would eventually erupt, symbolizing our expressed anger.

We were then asked to write down some of the ways we act when we “erupt”. This list might include: yelling, slamming doors, giving the silent treatment, leaving the house, etc. This was not the interesting part – the interesting part was this…

The group leader asked us to circle the top three feelings in our volcanoes, narrow them down to one, and then read it aloud to the group. Between these ten diverse and very different individuals, fear was clearly the most common emotion.

I remember thinking, “Wow! We all seem so different and yet we all have the same issues.”

Almost every angry outburst each of us experienced could be traced back to fear. Fear of losing power, fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, fear of exposing something shameful, and the list went on. It turns out that what we were really mad about was the fear that something we held as a secret would be exposed.

I had never before connected my anger with my fear. But over the days that followed, I continued to digest this concept and replay past events in my head. Interestingly enough, I was able to tie every angry outburst I could recall back to my personal fears. My fears of insecurity, fears of guilt or shame, and fears of having my power or control threatened.

This introspection allowed me to to begin dealing with – and brought healing to – some of my old wounds. I began to realize the affliction these suppressed feelings had been causing me, and I gained the tools to improve my thinking process. Although my fears have not dissipated, I can now recognize when my internal wounds are being pushed, and I can react in a more productive way.

I encourage you to take a few minutes today to write down the emotions inside of you which cause you to “erupt”. Human nature and behaviors have remained constant since the beginning of mankind. The same internal battles we face have already been fought by those who have lived before us. There are no new feelings to be felt, and that is comforting.

It’s now my life’s mission to be in tune with my feelings, my thinking, and my interactions with others. For me, this has ushered great peace and tranquility into my life. The factors which have caused me anger in the past are still present, but my reactions to them are much different. Everyday is a new beginning and a chance to live a more peaceful and purposeful life.