“Can you help me, I just don’t know what to believe any more?”
Christian Counselling Calgary: Fearless, or anxious about fear?
Do any Google search for resources focused on managing your fears, and you will easily net over five billion results. Look at the marketing materials of virtually all Calgary counselling services, and you will see a correspondingly heavy marketing push in the same direction.
Christian Counselling Services often market the same, but with a distinctly religious bent that clearly implies that the presence of fear equals an absence of faith – that you should repent of.
Christian Counselling Calgary: Why are we so afraid of fear?
This phenomenon is hardly limited to the therapeutic community. Watch so many famous movies, and you will hear a similar theme: Going as far back as the Karate Kid movie, we hear the co-lead somberly intoning his sage wisdom: “Is okay to lose to opponent. Must not lose to fear.” Winding ahead to the most recent remake of Dune, we hear the quasi-religious mantra:
“Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings obliteration. I will face my fear, and I will permit it to pass over me and through me.”
Turning to the generally dubious wisdom of politics and politicians: During his twenty-minute long inaugural address, Rosevelt’s epic paraphrase of Thoreau stands as one of the most memorable denouncements of an emotion ever given:
“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
Nearly all of our popular culture agrees: Fear is wrong, and you should be ashamed of feeling it.
Yet, no one bothers to ask the critical questions:
- What is fear anyway?
- Is fear really so bad?
- What does it cost us to avoid feeling fear?
So, what is fear anyway?
Fear is a primal emotion that is triggered when we perceive a threat. Fear is a simple but effective tool of the brain. It has been evolving since the dawn of human existence – and it is there for a reason. Fear is responsible for keeping us safe in our day-to-day lives. It serves as a warning mechanism to alert us to danger and is highly object-oriented.
In other words, fear always has a definable and measurable object such as an aggressive dog or an oncoming car towards which our fears are directed. It is our mind’s way of focusing itself and cancelling other distractions. It can motivate us to take defensive or offensive action towards or away from that object and learn from our experiences so that, hopefully, we are less likely to experience the same threat in the future.
Fear is a powerful tool, a means of gathering our resources to meet a challenge and a brilliantly integrated system that ensures we both remain safe and learn to avoid danger in the future.
Fear, in the most simple of terms, is a gift.
Nowhere has this more clearly been driven home than in some of the Calgary counselling services we have provided to military personnel. Especially with some of the more specialized armed forces members, we see highly developed skills at embracing fear as a trusted friend. They focus on harnessing it to create a razor-sharp focus and drawing upon the resources it creates to ensure they come home to their families after a deployment.
But, while fear is good, it’s very different from anxiety!
Fear is not anxiety. Anxiety is a member of a group of disorders called “Mood disorders.” (Note that we do not refer to them as “Emotional disorders.”) While fear and anxiety may feel similar, anxiety is always a free-floating state. It is generally the result of repressed emotions and is essentially unattached to any lasting or measurable object.
All anxiety is rooted in faux clairvoyance, believing that my worries foretell the future. That little voice inside you tells you that things you do not understand or control are dangerous. That change is an evil and terrifying thing, and you are sure to end up harmed, shamed, rejected, alone or otherwise hurt by whatever you are anxious about. Like any good fortune teller, these internal stories are object-free, vague and undefined enough that you can make up your own utterly convincing story and then delude yourself into believing it.
And while we ignore fear, we definitely listen to anxiety!
Anxiety has a way of finding support for itself. On a personal level, this is called “Confirmation Bias.” It describes a tendency to seek out sources of information that prove to us that what we already believe is true. However, a far more nightmarish version of this involves the communities we form for ourselves both in real life or social media. It’s called “Divorcing your own voice and receiving it back as thunder.” Consciously or unconsciously, we surround ourselves with people who echo back to us what we already think – proving to ourselves that everyone feels as we do.
But they don’t.
In many Christian marriage counselling sessions we offer where one member of the couple is considering divorce, we often see that the person has surrounded themselves with friends who have already ended their marriages. These friends serve as a means of validating their decisions, calming their anxieties (“You don’t have to live like this anymore.”) and distracting from the very real danger/fears (“Don’t worry, the kids will be okay.”) their decisions will result in. It’s generally only once it’s too late that reality finally pierces the fog of self-delusion.
But is fear really so bad?
A more accurate way of restating the title of this article is: We are anxious about feeling fear, and we avoid anxiety at any cost – thus never admitting that we are afraid.
The problem is, we should be afraid of dangerous things!
- It’s normal to be anxious about meeting your love needs when your marriage is not going well, but your anxiety doesn’t predict the future. While it is sometimes necessary, ending your marriage is a shockingly destructive act that can reverberate for generations. You should be (and admit you are) afraid of it – and perhaps consider Christian marriage counselling.
- It’s normal to be anxious about vaccinations – especially newer ones like COVID-19 – and imagine all of the bad things that could occur as a result. But, your fantasies do not predict the future. COVID-19 is a deadly disease that has killed hundreds of thousands in North America. It is objectively dangerous; you should fear it and get vaccinated to prevent it.
- It’s normal to feel anxiety when your children act out. But that anxiety does not prove they are actually headed for juvenile detention nor legitimates a, “Spare the rod, spoil the child,” based approach. Shame, fear and guilt based control of children are objectively dangerous, and it’s far better to consider Christian family counselling instead.
But most of us are ruled by anxiety-driven avoidance instead of living by the power that embracing real fear can bring.
Avoiding our fears comes with a steep price tag!
When we deny our fears and embrace our anxieties, our lives become guided by our imaginings about what we do not understand. Because our worries are about everything and nothing simultaneously, they lack any measurable object. As a result, they remain forever unmeasurable and infinitely scarier to us than what we should actually be afraid of.
So, we become armchair psychologists – pontificating about the improbability of change in our partners. We become amateur virologists and epidemiologists – deluding ourselves into believing we understand the implications of global events. We act like family counsellors and spout the nonsense parenting tips some fundamentalist minister dreamed up. The result is the inability to see the world around us and a cascade of uninformed and often catastrophic decisions.
Or, we could just admit: “I’m really afraid and have no idea what to do.”
The problem is, that’s embarrassing – and why it’s so much easier to pretend we’re clairvoyant instead.
But, clairvoyants always crumble when forced into specifics. You’re not clairvoyant – none of us are. Unless you can tell me, down to the last nickel, how much money I have in my wallet at this moment, you, I and everyone else on this ball of rock have no other choice but to deal with facts.
And dealing in facts makes you powerful!
Believe it or not, it’s okay to admit confusion and feel fear. Neither will kill you and, if you let it, fear will cause your mind to grow sharp. Those fears have the power to teach us about ourselves and our worlds – bringing us a rich treasure trove of facts, information and meaningful data on which you can make well-founded and beneficial decisions. Far from making you anxious, facing and feeling your fears will calm your anxieties and enable you to take real and meaningful action to better your life and make you safer than you already are!
I am a Christian Counsellor and Registered Psychologist living in Calgary, Alberta. I’ve been doing this since 1997 and have worked with thousands of people. I offer a variety of techniques to help you work through your anxiety and embrace your fears so that you can approach life with courage. I work with people from all walks of life, but have a particular interest in couples and intimate relationships. I have helped countless clients overcome their phobias and anxious thoughts and constantly find new ways to help people with their challenges.
Reach out today: Christian Counselling Calgary. Because real change starts when we step back from the self-inflicted ignorance of emotional avoidance that leaves us so willing to inflict incredible damage upon ourselves, our society and the societies of others!