Everyone has fears. Those who make the highly dubious claim that they are not or never have been afraid are either lying to you, or they are simply deluding themselves or a combination of both. According to Dr. Carla Marie Manly, we generally have three core fears in addition to our own trove and personal stash of trauma and scary experiences. Our overall anxiety tends to be subsumed to these three core fears that are part and parcel of the human condition: Fear of failure, fear of abandonment or loss, and fear of not being good enough.
Each of these fears can take individual shapes and forms depending on and fluctuating with our personal life experiences. These fears are rarely rational or realistic fears and do not necessarily pose a veritable risk or danger, such as not being able to pay bills or being under actual physical threat. Instead, they are closely tied and connected to the worries and doubts we carry within ourselves alongside our own perceived place and representation of the world.
The first core fear is the fear of failure, namely of making mistakes. We do not want to be branded as incompetent or look like a fool in front of our superiors, colleagues and loved ones. This stems from an inherent fear of not being successful in our endeavors as well as in life. As a result, we avoid any types of risks and may have a reputation of being sticklers or perfectionists, when, in reality, we are afraid that our work or project may contain errors that we shall get attacked or blamed for. We may choose to stick to any behavior or routine that is deemed safe and firmly grounded within our comfort zone and that is not prone nor amenable to errors.
The second fear is essentially the fear of rejection, of not being worthy and lovable, and hence the potential threat of being abandoned or of losing someone we cherish and love. We may be afraid of seeing our partner leave us or we may find it hard to accept that one day our loved ones will have to die. This can lead to overprotective and escapist behaviors and rituals, but we tend to rationalize this to ourselves. For instance, we may not approach or ask someone out because we supposedly know in advance that they will turn us down. Why bother is the familiar defeatist catchphrase of this type of rationalization.
The third fear, which may fuel the previous ones, could be the belief or rather predominant self doubt that we are simply not good enough, that we lack the emotional and professional capacities to succeed in our careers and / or personal relationships. This nagging feeling may exist overtly, or it might be buried deep within our psyche; notwithstanding, it will have devastating effects on our lives. We often try to please people or hang on to friends and lovers who do not treat us well fueled by the conscious or unconscious belief that we are not worthy. We think we do not deserve their attention and care; we may even accept or take blame for their apparent mistreatment of ourselves and remain stuck in toxic and harmful relationships.
All these three core fears can be deduced to the general fear of being unloved and alone in life. As humans we have been ingrained with looking for social connections, so these relationships are essential to our core being, existence as well as the definition of ourselves. Whether we choose to acknowledge or face our anxiety does not change the fact that each of one us has at least three core fears. If we do not do anything about the situation, that is if we choose to ignore or turn a blind eye towards them, they will fester in our unconscious and rob of us of energy and overall well-being. Since we are trapped and spinning in a vicious cycle, the end result could well be a self-fulfilling prophecy, namely that of ending up and being alone and unloved.
But what to do about these fears? How to deal with the underlying anxiety? In this case, psychologists differ in methods and methodology and often approach it from different angles. One of the most common approaches involves cognitive behavioral psychology as well as positive psychology. This often involves acknowledging the harmful effects of negative thinking and behavior and replacing them with a more positive outlook and perspective. Yet regardless of the underlying theory, psychologists have one thing in common: The need to face and deal with those fears since ignoring or fighting them will only make matters much worse. In other words, we need to stop being afraid of fear itself.
Psychologist Alicia H. Clark in her resourceful and well-documented book, hack your anxiety: How to Make Anxiety Work for You in Life, Love, and All That You Do, suggests that one should understand and interpret one’s fears as an initial alert or alarm signal that something is wrong, missing or malfunctioning in our lives; then one ought to attend, and, moreover, act upon that message to change one’s ways. In certain cases, one could even put one’s anxiety to good use: For example, the previously mentioned fear of making mistakes can in turn enhance one’s attention to detail and improve one’s overall work performance. Or self doubt can push one to enroll in a course or training session to hone one’s skills and become better at one’s job.
However, the problem with such advice is that the underlying issue or fear is not directly addressed; it is rather diverted or channeled into something that is deemed socially and culturally more appropriate leading to a result that is generally considered useful and productive by those same standards. Unfortunately, instead of eliminating or extracting the source of fear, one is told to build and create with and around it. Albeit in altered and modified form, essentially the fear will remain intact lurking behind a more accepted and tolerated facade.
On the other hand, the psycho-dynamic approach, also known as depth psychology, can provide eventual relief of your fears because psychoanalysis aims to unearth and dig up previous trauma, and it consciously attempts to bring healing to the afflicted person. As a psychotherapist, Dr. Manly uses a more personalized and holistic approach that is a blend of different traditions including cognitive psychology, but it is also prominently imbued with Jungian touches and flavor. In her outstanding book Joy from Fear: Create the Life of Your Dreams by Making Fear Your Friend, she contends that fear could indeed be useful as a signpost, yet you need to realize and keep in mind that most of your fears are harmful and destructive in nature.
It is only with nonjudgmental and gentle attention, mindfulness, and continuous practice that you can transform your anxiety into a more constructive voice and message. Although Dr. Manly calls it constructive fear, I would simply say that it is insight or realization. We need to get to the bottom of our fears, and it starts with, first and foremost, the realization that most of our emotional issues and troubles stem from childhood and unconscious desires, impulses, or experiences that somehow or other find their way, seep or spill into our daily life.
Before we replace or change our thoughts and feelings, we need to uncover those traumas. Once we shed light onto our underlying fountain of anxiety and develop a clearer understanding of it, we can carefully dissect and break it up and then are able to process and dissolve those harmful and destructive thought patters. The new and wholesome pattern that evolves out of these remains and ashes is indeed our own extracted, distilled and deeply personal vision that is separate and shielded from the influence of others and of modern culture and media. Put differently, this represents the opportunity to shed the puny aspects of our selves fueled and driven by blind destructive fear and instead to come into contact with our higher self, the voice of reason and spirituality.
To give a more concrete example, all the fears mentioned above are products of destructive fear. We tend to be critical of ourselves, in many ways, imitating, incorporating and internalizing the critical voices handed over to us by our parents, caregivers and teachers. This causes unseen and unnoticed strains on our relationships with ourselves and others, and before we know it, we have fallen into a perspective that is a mere copy of our parents and has little if anything to do with our actual and personal viewpoint.
The voice of constructive fear will tell us not to fall into this trap and will encourage us to step out of our parental shadows and burdens. These are among the vital steps of the Jungian individuation process towards becoming our own hero and reaching the higher aspects contained and hidden within ourselves. Destructive fear, and to a large extent society as its extending arm, does not approve of or condone this transformation. Society prefers adherence and conformity, while parents demand obedience, and these are the clashes we all need to deal with, resolve and overcome in order to become more authentic versions of ourselves.
Yet through practice, and Dr. Manly provides many useful examples and exercises to this effect, we can uncover our unique being and our higher self. Evidently and undoubtedly, this takes substantial effort; it will be uncomfortable, and it might even uncover a path leading to a completely new and different direction. But in the end, it leads the way not only to more satisfaction and happiness, but, more importantly, to a life more fully lived and experienced.
This is where the Joy from Fear comes in, not as a fleeting moment or experience of happiness but rather as a steady and firmly grounded life-affirming outlook on life. This is the journey that Dr. Manly invites you on the first pages of the book, and when the book was read, I felt slightly sad that this insightful journey had come to an end. At the same time, the insights and knowledge gained both theoretically but more importantly felt and experienced through your own personal filter and views, are literally beyond words.