“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” So claimed Franklin D. Roosevelt in his 1933 Inaugural Address. Roosevelt bolstered our nation’s courage in the face of the Great Depression and a looming world war. But his quote also became the creed in a misguided war against fear. With all due respect to FDR, there is a better way to deal with it.
Befriend Fear Because Battling it Is Ineffective
Because we believe fear is our enemy, fear management strategies promote battle metaphors. We set out to conquer it, overcome it, defeat it. It sounds courageous.
But have we been victorious?
Not according to a National Institute of Mental Health study. They found nearly 38 million adults and around 62 million adolescents suffer from a “specific phobia” in their lives. Nearly one third of the U.S. Population!
“Our society is defined by fear,” writes Barry Glassner, sociologist and author of The Culture of Fear. Glassner continues, “So it’s not surprising that three out of four Americans say they feel more fearful today than they did only a couple of decades ago.”
Fear is entrenched and gaining ground. Maybe you’ve experienced it in these fear infected days. It’s time to lay our weapons down.
Befriend Fear Because it Holds a Message for You
Fear was designed by God not as a nemesis but a warning system. The section of our brain stem called the amygdala triggers the famous fight, flight, or freeze response. Designating fear as the enemy is similar then to taking a hammer to a blaring fire alarm. Even if it’s a false alarm, we check for smoke.
So too with our fear alarm. We don’t conquer our fear and throw ourselves under the bus barreling down on us. We run!
Unfortunately, however, much of what our amygdala is alarmed over is emotional danger and not physical. This is why so many claim fear is an illusion. But emotional danger is real and ignoring it has actual consequences.
I discovered my life-long discomfort over being alone was not an illusion. Or a weird personality quirk. With my counselor, I began to explore the residue of several traumatic losses I experienced as a child, including my father’s sudden death from a heart attack. In so doing, I rooted out what my fear of being alone was pointing to. Abandonment! After befriending that fear, I’m experiencing healing there.
Befriend Fear Because of Newton’s Third Law of Motion
Newton theorized “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This applies not only to physical motion but to emotion! Or as Carl Jung wrote, “what you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.”
A benign illustration of this is when you begin shopping for—say—a Ford Mustang. Suddenly the roads are filled with them. Or more accurately, your mind has developed a neural recognition pathway for Mustangs. The brain is designed to do just this.
So when a fear niggles you awake in the middle of the night, the more force you bring against it the tighter your brain hangs on to it.
A far more effective strategy is to befriend your fear saying, “Thank you for bringing that possible danger to my attention, I’m going to pray about it and give it to God.” This naming and embracing the fear disarms it.
Befriend Fear Because True Friends Speak Hard Truth
Love is best defined as choosing another’s highest good. This is also an accurate definition of friendship. Why befriend fear? Because true friends tell us not what we want to hear but what we need to hear. As Proverbs 27:6 explains, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”
God did not give us fear as a life-long archenemy, but a friend who desires our safety, healing, and growth.
[box] The only thing we have to fear is not listening to the message our fears have for us. Unwrapping, embracing, and befriending fear rather than resisting it allows God to speak to us in a practical—albeit sometimes irritating—way. Ironically, fear tells us what we’re afraid to hear. But in the end it’s the friend who opens the gate for healing.[/box]