So what is fear? Well, first of all, let me share a very important secret with you. Fear is not the enemy; we are. Fear is actually our friend. Fear is a powerful force that is simply providing us with an opportunity to see something that we need to resolve within ourselves in order to experience more of our potential.
You've probably heard that fear is an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real. In truth, fear is an illusion. It's something we create from within us. I mean, if I said to you, "I want you to go out and get me a 10-pound bag of fear," where would you go? When I ask audiences this, they often give me answers like my husband, my wife, my boss, Space Mountain, flying, or one of the many other experiences that people find fearful. Of course the reality is that we give events—experiences that happened in our past or could potentially happen in our future—a meaning that creates a biochemical reaction inside of our bodies that generates a feeling we call fear.
When we face our fears and overcome them, we realize that fear really is an illusion. We create fear through our thoughts and emotions about something that either happened in our past or something that might happen in our future. Unfortunately, when faced with the opportunity to face their fears, many people use the acronym, forget everything, and run. Each time people miss an opportunity to face one of their fears, they give fear even more power over them. They start to lose confidence, and the fear becomes more difficult to face. Each time they turn away from fear, they lose a little more of their sense of certainty about who they really are and the unlimited potential that lies within them. They create doubt in their own mind about their capabilities, and they start to feel inadequate.
This feeling of inadequacy affects all areas of their lives: their relationship with themselves, their self-respect, their relationships with friends and family. Relationships at work and their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health are all negatively impacted. This in turn begins to create disease in their bodies and their lives.
The purpose of fear is not to make us feel inadequate, but to show us that we are powerful beyond measure. When we allow fear to control us, we feel suppressed, constricted. When that happens, we start to generate thoughts and emotions that cause us to experience feelings such as anger, jealousy, resentment, and depression. When people feel bad about themselves, they often take it out on the people closest to them, putting them down to make themselves feel better, or they suppress their feelings and become like a time bomb that can go off at any moment.
Recently someone joined our organization, and it quickly became apparent that this person had a real challenge communicating his feelings to others. He also became very upset when other people shared their feelings with him. If someone was feeling hurt and upset, this person felt uncomfortable when the other person shared those feelings. And if someone was upset with him, he became defensive, shut down, and withdrew. He either left the office or became very distant. It was obvious that this person had some beliefs about expressing feelings that needed to change, not only if he was going to continue to be part of our organization, but, more importantly, if he was going to find any quality of happiness in life.
So I sat down with this person and took him through a powerful process that helps people recognize destructive patterns of behavior. At one point he said to me, "Steven, I have worked for some very cold people in companies." So I helped this person to see that he had adopted a bogus belief that showing or expressing feelings was wrong and how through believing that, he had created those exact circumstances in his life.
This person believed that it was wrong to show feelings, so he shut them down. He judged anyone else who showed emotion to be wrong. In order for him to understand what that meant, he had to experience the living reality of that belief, a very cold world without feelings. We become and experience what we believe.
When people do these things, they actually feel worse about themselves, and the cycle repeats itself. These negative feelings actually create acid in our body, which corrodes our internal organs and destroys our cells and tissue, which in turn depletes our energy. Ultimately, this destroys our body until we create potentially terminal diseases like cancer, heart conditions, etc. As time goes by, these people feel worse and worse. Their confidence in themselves deteriorates, and they settle for a life of unhappiness because they feel helpless to do anything about it.
Fear itself, as we've already said, is not the problem; it's how we respond to fear that really matters. Fear is simply a powerful feeling that is calling our attention to something. Fear heightens our awareness and brings our full attention into the now moment so that we can call upon all our mental, physical, and emotional resources to deal with whatever we are faced with.
When we are honest about our fear, clear about our intention, prepared to act with courage, and breathe through the process, we are often taken over by a power far greater than ourselves that seems to intercede on our behalf. When people use fear as a way to connect with that power, they produce extraordinary results.