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Self-Scapes of Fear










How do you see yourself and your world?  The way you view both affects the way you live your life.  You may be quite secure about who you are and your safety in the world. Or not.  Let’s call the basic way you look at yourself and the world on an everyday basis your self-scape.  It’s like your emotional landscape. Do you wake up in the morning and see a full, lush emotional world?  Do you focus on the people who support you?  Or do you tend to see a barren world?  Or perhaps even a landscape full of aggression and hostility, with people ready to destroy you when actually you are safe, it just doesn’t feel that way?

If you are in a situation that is physically dangerous, your situation is different.  Your self-scape of fear is based on reality. A distorted self-scape is when someone feels undue fear of daily life events that most people experience.

Self-Scapes of Fear

Some emotionally sensitive people seem locked into an edge-of-panic state most of the time.  You are highly fearful and on-guard. Every interaction seems threatening or scary.  This is a painful place to be and you may have not even considered that you locked into this place of fear without any true reason to be. Maybe it feels like disaster is ready to happen at any moment yet there are no facts to support that. Reasons for living in fear of the world vary, but include your history, your thoughts, and your basis for your value as a person.

You may not be aware that you have an almost constant sense of being unsafe. Yet this edge-of -panic state means it’s difficult for you to think clearly when you’re with other people. You don’t feel safe–in fact, you are constantly poised for fight or flight. You just need the slightest provocation to send you into basic survival mode. Then you attack, run away, or experience a kind of paralysis, unable to speak up or to flee. Others may view this as being a drama queen or overreacting. For you, the threat in the moment is real.

Reasons for Self-Scapes of Fear

One of the ways your thoughts may create constant fear is when you think “what if” in a catastrophizing way.  This means that you imagine the worse possible outcomes in an emotionally upsetting way. For example, when you have an interesting and fun first date, you’re thinking about how he will break your heart and steal all your money.  With those thoughts you become so scared that you may behave in ways that wreck the relationship before it has even started.  Your fears stopped you from finding out if the relationship could have been fabulous.

For some of you, your fears come from being highly dependent on the approval of others.  The fragile bit of self-worth you have is based on the opinions of others, sometimes even people you don’t know that well.  Perhaps your entire self-view is based on the last interaction you had. That’s why rejection is so very painful–your view of your value as a person depends on how you think others judge you.  A friend doesn’t return a text? That can be devastating if you see that as meaning you have no worth  and are flawed and unacceptable as a person.

Perhaps in the past you’ve experienced some upsetting situations–maybe a break up that was so painful you didn’t think you could survive or a friend turned on you in a particularly vicious way so that every day you feared another verbal or emotional attack. Those situations can be scarring, and at the same time those experiences are not the norm. Living each day as if such a situation is likely to recur is not helpful.

Creating a Self-Scape of Safety

1.  Keep yourself in the moment.  Your thoughts can drive our behavior and your emotional experiences. Yet your thoughts are not necessarily based on facts. When you keep your thoughts in the present and focus on what is real right now, you are more likely to see the world accurately. You are more likely to have a self-scape that helps you build the life you want to live.

2.  Ask yourself specifically what the danger is and consider the intensity of the danger.  No one likes to feel afraid and the natural response is to avoid fear whenever possible.  Thinking about what scares you is not pleasant.  People who have a self-scape of fear may not consider what it is they are afraid of or the degree of fear they actually have.  You may react with panic to the first signs of fear.  Practice identifying what is scaring you. For example, maybe you are afraid of going to a dinner party given by a friend.  When you consider what about going to dinner scares you, maybe you realize you are worried that you won’t be able to reciprocate the invitation or you’re scared that no one will talk with you. How intense is the danger for each of those?  While quite uncomfortable, the actual danger to you is not that high. You could survive either of those issues.

3.  Recognize fear of emotions.  For some, the fear is not specific to the situation. Your fear is about experiencing emotions at all. So you’re afraid of going to a good-bye celebration because you are afraid of feeling sad.  You’re afraid when you wake up in the morning because the day may bring unpleasant emotions. Accepting that emotions are a natural part of life and that emotions will pass (they truly won’t stay forever) is a challenge.  Keeping a diary in which you describe emotions and how long they lasted may help.  Not fighting the emotions and letting yourself experience them will lead to less panic as you will learn that you are safe even when you are experiencing difficult emotions. It’s usually the fighting or avoiding of emotions that brings harm, usually through destructive activities such a drinking to much or otherwise numbing yourself.

Think of what you would do today if you weren’t afraid.  Then ask yourself if the danger is real.  Maybe today you’ll start to change your self-scape from one of fear to safety.  The more you are able to do that (it isn’t easy) the calmer you will feel calmer most of the time and the more you will be living the life you want to live.



Self-Scapes of Fear

Karyn Hall, PhD

Karyn Hall, Ph.D. is the owner/director of the Dialectical Behavior Therapy Center in Houston, a DBT-Linehan Board of Certification, Certified Clinician, a RO DBT Approved Supervisor and Trainer and owner of, an online educational program. She is a trainer/consultant as well as a therapist and certified coach, author of The Emotionally Sensitive Person, SAVVY, Mindfulness Exercises for DBT Therapists, and co-author of The Power of Validation. Her podcast, The Emotionally Sensitive Person, is available on iTunes.

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APA Reference
Hall, K. (2014). Self-Scapes of Fear. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 10, 2020, from


Last updated: 10 Aug 2014
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