In my 35+ years talking to people professionally, I have discovered that most people’s fears are not rational, i.e., not based on facts. Most fear results in nothing more than avoidance just for the sake of avoidance. “If I avoid this situation, I’ll feel better.” This may be true, but avoidances can pile up, and life can become a series of irrational fears; a life not fully lived, just holding on to the bare minimum of survival.
Rational fear, based in fact and truth, is of course life serving and life protecting. One rationally avoids things in order to achieve what life has to offer. You avoid an oncoming car in order to survive. You avoid excessive fats and nicotine in order to live a happy and long life. Rational fears are what keep us alive.
But irrational fears often lead to magical thinking. A woman will marry a man because she believes he can and should protect her – from everything. Once married, she realizes that she still has to live her life, and that only she is responsible for her happiness. As a result, she becomes bitter and disappointed. The false premise that led her to marry the man was based in fear. She thought it would reduce her fears, but reality has a way of making these things clear – one way or another.
I see people do all kinds of things to reduce irrational fear. They drink, they abuse drugs, they gamble, they spend or do other things compulsively. I once knew somebody who avoided wind chimes because she was afraid of the wind! Fears like these have the soothing effect of reducing fear, but it begs the question: How valid are the fears? How necessary is it to reduce them when they don’t make sense to begin with? The alternative to indulging in irrational fears is to embrace all that life has to offer – with all the attendant risks and consequences. Life is one long series of challenges with victories along the way and new challenges around every corner.
So how can you determine if your fears are rational or irrational? Simple: With introspection. My book, “Bad Therapy, Good Therapy and How to Tell the Difference” (available at www.DrHurd.com, by the way), outlines step-by-step methods of being brutally honest with yourself about what you’re feeling, including ways to challenge your feelings when they’re wrong. All this empowers you to live your life fully and take on challenges in spite of your fears.
The most common mistake I see people make is to avoid things for no other reason than unfounded fear. It’s sort of like wanting material things but not being willing to pay for them. Well, everything has a cost, and the act of obtaining something desirable almost always involves confronting some fear. Instead of building up a backlog of unmet challenges and unfulfilled dreams that collapse under the “quick fix” of fear, why not embrace the thing that you fear and take it on? People often rise to the challenge to deliberately and regularly venture out of their comfort zones, in a rational and thought-out manner, of course. This is a good strategy. Leaving the comfort zone is a good recipe for defying irrational fears in order to grow and learn.
Fear is too often motivated by the search for an impossible and unnecessary “security.” Security, in this context, usually means the absence of pain, risk or pressure. Life is not designed that way! There’s no getting around the fact that life’s values require continuous pursuit and continuous maintenance with the very real possibility of failure. But it’s that very failure that allows us to try again with new data and a better plan. Stop looking for someone or something to “take care” of you. Nothing and no one can change reality. Rather than being afraid of life, embrace it!
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