Anxiety and fear are a big part of our lives. They have the power to shape our attitudes, behaviors, body language, attention, perception, beliefs, reasoning, sensations—even our dreams.Sometimes anxieties and fears concern issues and situations we rarely encounter. For instance, suppose you live in the downtown area of a large city and your biggest fear is being attacked and injured by a wolf. Because you believe wolves always live in the forest, you are rarely worried about encountering wolves in the city. This means your fear of wolves is rarely activated where you live; your object of fear is out there in the forest and you are here in the city.
If instead of fearing wild animals, you worry about coming in contact with a certain individual from your past (e.g., a high school bully), then you are more likely to experience fear and anxiety on a particular day because running into this person in the city is certainly more possible than encountering a wolf. Still, the likelihood is quite low.
What if you fear not a particular person but all people? Perhaps you believe anybody could hurt you—through their words, body language, and behaviors (e.g., spreading rumors, discrimination, physical aggression). In that case, you will be afraid and anxious nearly all the time.
Why would someone feel that way about all people? Possibly due to past mistreatment by parents or romantic partners, or as a result of prevalent societal bias related to one’s age, weight, height, skin color, intelligence, gender, nationality, religion, etc. Another possibility involves having strong anxious or paranoid personality tendencies, and as a result misperceiving and misunderstanding others’ intentions and behaviors.
You might think the case of someone feeling anxious around everyone is as bad as it gets, but perhaps there is another possibility that is even worse: Fearing oneself.
Even if we avoid everyone, we can not avoid ourselves. Worse than fearing wild animals, bullies, and other people may be the fear of our own feelings, thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors.
Consider someone who gets a panic attack whenever he or she experiences a strong negative emotion like terrible fear or anger. Of course, when this occurs in a particular situation (e.g., at a party), then the person has the option of fleeing the party (and avoiding future parties). But what if it happens at home….or everywhere? Where can one go in order to escape the terrible distress?
Similarly, someone who constantly fears that one day he or she will commit a harmful act may find no refuge, even when alone.
Knowing and accepting yourself
In a way, many of our fears regarding objects or situations out there are linked with our inner fears, so getting to know and eventually accept ourselves might reduce such fears.
This means those who fear their own rage, hopelessness, sexual desires, “neediness,” etc, may need to get to know themselves in a deeper and more objective way, and try to accept whatever they find about themselves after this exploration.
Indeed, we are not capable of running away from ourselves for long. Be it playing computer games all day long, excessive drinking, taking street drugs…these techniques will eventually fail. A return to the self is inevitable. It is necessary; it is the reality.
Questions to ask yourself regarding your fears and anxieties
Fear and anxiety affect many aspects of our lives. Though too much fear and anxiety may be disabling, the right level of fear and anxiety helps us survive and prepare to face life’s challenges.
When you feel frightened and anxious, take a minute to ask yourself:
1. Am I really feeling fear/anxiety or do I feel a different emotion?
2. Are my feelings related to an object/situation, people, or myself?
3. What specific aspects of this situation should I try to accept (as opposed to change)?
4. What course of action is rational?
5. What skills or knowledge do I need to pursue this course of action?
6. How do I encourage myself to do what I need to do?