I recently led a symposium along with 2 of my colleagues and when I asked some people why they didn’t come, their response was, “Oh, I’m not afraid of anything. I have a close relationship with God and trust Him with anything I’m unsure about”, or some other very similar response. This was said from a few people whom I know would’ve benefited from hearing the seminar. After hearing their responses, I realized that many people aren’t even aware that Fear is what is holding them back from being successful or having a healthy relationship.
So, I’m going to let you in on some of the notes of what you missed:
Most of us know about the obvious fears that keep people from living happy lives and being free from worry. Those include fear of heights, water, being claustrophobic, fear of germs/sickness, fear of dying, or fear of spiders/insects/snakes. But, what about those fears that keep us from experiencing true intimacy, healing, and freedom?
- Fear of Rejection. We all have some degree of being afraid of not being accepted or loved for who we are. But some of us fear rejection so much, that we allow ourselves to be mistreated, manipulated, or even abused. We want someone to love us so much, that we become wrapped up in everything that person does and says. If we’re not careful, we can become so enmeshed with our own children’s dreams and desires, that we forget who we are, what we like, and how we feel for the sake of having our children love us. Often, in therapy, I’ll ask a client what they enjoy doing – not what their spouse does, and not what they do with their children, but for themselves? If they sit and think and do not know what they like to do for themselves, I know they are afraid of rejection. If this is you, you have become a slave to the love and acceptance of others and don’t even know it.
- Fear of Intimacy. Being afraid of being known grows out of our own feelings of worthlessness, feeling unlovable and not liking who we are or what we do. We create a “game face” that shows others what we think they will like, admire, love, or respect. The walls we put up may include being spiritual, an advocate for community service, or we may medicate ourselves with sex, substance abuse, pills, becoming a workaholic or engulfed in our personal fitness. When we look perfect or act like we have it all going on, then people admire from a distance and don’t try to get too close.
- Fear of Failure. Those of us in this category experience love with strings attached to our performance. We believe that we have to behave in a certain way in order to be loved. People who are afraid of failure handle it in two different ways: A) They become driven “Type A” kinds of people who try to do it all and become emotionally and physically exhausted, and have difficulties connecting to close friends or their spouses. B) Others are so afraid of failing, that they refuse to even try. They don’t apply at higher positions, further their education, or experience the fullness that life has to offer, because they’re afraid of not doing a good job or having others say they can do it better.
- Fear of Abandonment. If we are alone, we believe that no one will love us or accept us. When we are afraid of being abandoned, we will do one of two things: A) We will jump into a relationship without knowing that person, and pursue them aggressively. No matter how that person behaves or treats us, we will put up with it. We make ourselves believe that anything they do, even if it is a betrayal to who we are, is better than being left alone. We have the false belief that as long as we are in a relationship or part of a group, then we are not alone. The problem is, we feel worse about ourselves, because in the midst of everyone else having a good time, we still feel lonely. B) Other people in this category do just the opposite. They jump ship and disconnect from relationships and people when the first thing goes wrong. They believe in the saying, “I’ll hurt them, before they can hurt me.”
- Fear of Powerlessness. This one is hard for people to see in themselves. A person who is afraid of being controlled or losing power, usually has a lot of repressed anger and is told by others that they are too controlling or bossy. They become obsessed about something in order to feel like they are gaining a sense of power in a life that is actually chaotic, such as a failing marriage, abusive parents, or troubled children. This is what it looks like: an immaculately clean “model” home, he/she wears pristine outfits and dresses his/her children in the latest trends. Or, he/she goes to the gym daily and focuses heavily on or obsesses over their health & fitness. There is an irony to being preoccupied with maintaining control and protecting ourselves from further pain. The more we try to manage and control our children, our spouses, and others around us, the more disconnected we become and cause our lives to spin more out of control.
- Fear of Inadequacy. This is closely related to being afraid of failure, except we believe we will never measure up or be worthy something to anyone. We carry a lot of shame from what others have said about us, that we believe we are bad or that we are not good enough. We deal with this shame by getting tangled up in the “give up- try harder” mentality. When we’re feeling good, we’ll “try harder” by trying to prove to ourselves or others that we are worth it. When be start feeling afraid of what others are thinking or how they feel about us, we’ll “give up” and medicate ourselves with various things to feel better. People who are afraid of not being good enough for others to love are not able to experience true peace.
Until we are able to identify what our fear is, we will continue to get stuck and not feel happy or at peace. It is important to recognize what our fears are and share them with a trusted friend, with God, or with a counselor to begin your journey to a fulfilling life of abundant joy.
Photo 1: Frustrated Guy Image via Shutterstock Photo 2: A suspicious woman using a smartphone outside. Photo Credit mheim3011/iStock/Getty Images
Sandi is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist who works with individuals to gain insight into the “why” of their behavior, so they can live in freedom. She is the owner of Family Life Counseling Center in Central Florida.