How To Understand And Conquer Your Fears
We fear things that
may, or will, happen to us (such as dying, getting cancer, looking old, being
old, being alone) and we fear many things we have to do (such as making a public
speech, learning to drive, passing exams, making decisions, sticking up for
These fears may all appear to be very different. But they
aren't. The common theme which links these separate fears is a fear of
rejection, disapproval, failure and, rather more commonly than you might think,
a fear of success.
And the underlying fear behind all these emotions is
the simple fear of not being able to deal with things - of not being able to
cope with rejection, with disapproval, with failure or with success. It is that
- the fear of not being able to cope - which is the fundamental fear which
affects us all. We worry about things which may (or may not) happen because we
worry that we will not be able to cope with the consequences.
With Fear Is Simpler Than You Think
You almost certainly have more
than one fear. You probably have scores - even hundreds of fears. You may,
indeed, be one of the small number of people who seem to fear just about
anything and everything - in which case fear probably rules your life.
If you try to deal separately with all your different fears you will
soon be exhausted.
Take J for example.
She is in her forties and
she has scores of very specific fears - fears which exhaust her and which
dominate her life. Here are just a few of her current fears:
* She is
frightened that she is losing her looks.
* She is frightened that her hair
is going grey.
* She is frightened that she will be lonely when her children
* She is frightened that if she tries to get a job she may be a
* She is frightened that if her husband gets the new job he has
applied for she will not fit in when they move to a new neighbourhood and start
mixing with different people.
* She is frightened that her overweight
workaholic husband may have a heart attack.
All these fears leave J
constantly bewildered and confused.
But the truth is that she doesn't
really have to face - and handle - all these fears as though they are individual
threats. She doesn't have to find separate ways to handle losing her looks,
going grey, not getting a job - and all those other individual fears. And she
certainly doesn't have to worry about the way other people respond to these
All she really has to do is handle what happens to her
as a result of all these things happening.
And once she has learnt how
to handle her reaction to these many separate fears she will be able to cope
with anything that comes her way.
That will give her real freedom from
Two Ways To Conquer Fear
There are two basic ways
of tackling - and conquering - fear.
The first is to build up your inner
strength so that you are better able to cope - and so that you know that you
will be better able to cope with any fear you have to confront.
second is to identify, isolate and study your fears. Our greatest fears involve
the unknown. Know your fears and you will move a long way towards emasculating
My Twenty Point Plan For Coping With Fear
Build Up Your Self Confidence
Our susceptibility to fear is in
inverse proportion to our feeling of self-worth.
If we have little
self-regard - and consider ourselves to be worthless and of little value - we
will be enormously fearful.
On the other hand, if we are genuinely
self-confident we are less likely to be fearful. If we know that we have dealt
effectively with problems in the past we are likely to have confidence in our
ability to deal with new problems.
Clearly, therefore, the first thing
that you can do to help eradicate your susceptibility to fear is to build up
your feeling of self-worth. You need to be more self-confident. A lack of
self-confidence can be destructive and a good supply of confidence can help give
you the belief that you will be able to cope with whatever life throws at you.
(There is, by the way, an enormous difference between a genuine feeling
of self-worth and the sort of conceit and arrogance which is common among
teenagers and immature adults. Conceit and arrogance may provide a veneer of
protection but they are no substitute for genuine, well-founded
You cannot, of course, completely change your
personality overnight. You cannot wake up one morning with absolutely no
self-confidence and go to bed the same day bursting with confidence in yourself
and your abilities!
But, by learning as much as you can about your
weaknesses and your strengths, you can help yourself a great deal.
have probably acquired your feelings of inadequacy because other people have
made you feel inadequate and worthless.
In order to build up your
self-confidence you must replace negative, damaging feelings of failure,
incompetence and unworthiness with positive feelings of success.
are some practical ways in which you can boost your self-confidence and
eradicate your feelings of inadequacy:
* Sit down with a piece of paper
and a pencil and write down all the good things you can think of to say about
yourself. Imagine that you are preparing an advertising campaign for yourself.
Throw modesty out of the window and try to promote all your virtues and good
points. Imagine that you are trying to sell yourself to the world - though in
reality, of course, all you are trying to do is to sell yourself to yourself.
br> Try to think of all the good words which describe you: list all your
virtues and advantages. If you are shy and lacking in self-confidence you are
probably honest, generous, thoughtful, hard-working, punctual, careful,
considerate, moral, kind, ambitious, creative. Write down every good word that
you think you can honestly apply to yourself. And don't be falsely modest - no
one except you need ever see this list.
Read your `advertisement' every
day to improve your self-image.
* If you constantly see yourself as a
failure, try to substitute your negative thinking with some positive images. Try
to see yourself as a success.
* Make a list of all your assets. I don't
mean a crude list of the money you have and the things you own - though by all
means do that if it will help you feel better - but a list of all the
intangibles in your life; your partner, your children, your integrity, your
friends, your interests, your knowledge, your accomplishments and your good
memories. Those are the real valuables in your life. Write down all the things
for which you are grateful. Look at your list if you ever fear that your life is
a failure. You may be surprised to find how many things there are that you can
be proud about. These are your blessings.
When writing an advertisement
extolling your virtues and listing all your good points look down this list and
pick out the words which apply to you:
* Write down your top ten memories - the magical times in your
life when you felt at your happiest and calmest. Keep the list somewhere safe
and look at it regularly. When you've finished one list of wonderful experiences
make another. Constantly keep your lists up-dated - adding new special memories
to your Top Ten lists as they occur.
2. Identify And Isolate Your
Identify your fears. Make a list of them. Once you know
exactly what you are frightened of you should find out as much as you can about
We worry most (and fear most) the unknown so by researching
your fears you are emasculating them.
Ask yourself the following
questions about each of the fears you can isolate:
* How serious a threat
* What is the worst that can happen?
* How likely is it that the
worst will happen?
* What can I do to minimise the threat?
aren't so obvious and aren't always easy to identify or isolate.
have a problem which you want to identify try asking yourself `Why?'. That one
word is the key to understanding (and overcoming) fear.
So, for example,
if you feel `angry' and suspect that your anger may be caused by underlying fear
ask yourself: `Why?' And keep asking `why?' until you get some
Identifying A Basic Fear
Q. You are
suffering from agoraphobia - a fear of going out; a fear which is often defined
as a fear of open spaces. Why are you frightened of open spaces? What's so
frightening about a field?
A. (After thinking for a couple of minutes). It's
not actually the open spaces that frighten me. I don't like going out because
there are usually people in open spaces. Strangers.
Q. So your basic fear is
a fear of people?
A. Yes. People I don't know.
Q. Why are you frightened
of people you don't know?
A. Because I feel inadequate.
Because I have very low self-esteem.
A. When I was a child my
parents and my teachers always sneered at me. They always put me down.
A. I don't know. I suppose because I was shy, sensitive, nervous. I had
three very boisterous brothers. I was easy prey I suppose.
That's just the way I am.
Q. What's wrong with being shy, sensitive and
A. I don't know. I've never really thought about it. Nothing I
Q. You're just a rather shy person?
A. Yes. I suppose so.
being shy is neither good nor bad?
A. No. I guess not.
Q. So what do you
think triggered your current problem - the so-called agoraphobia?
started when we moved house.
Q. To a new area?
Q. Lots of
A. Yes. And a smarter, posher area than I'd ever lived in
Q. I rather suspect that if you build up your self-confidence then
your fear of people (and your alleged fear of open spaces) will disappear.
I can see the logic in that. Thank you.
3. Confront The
Bottom Line And Take Control Of Your Life
If you are a fearful person
you probably often worry about disastrous things happening to you; you may
become almost irretrievably pessimistic. Fear of the unknown is a powerful
driving force. But you can defuse this particular fear by always asking
yourself: `What is the worst thing that can happen in this situation?' You will
frequently be surprised to find that the `worst' really isn't all that bad. And
once you know the worst you can make plans accordingly. (And remember that
someone has been there and has created power and goodness out of
Fear is likely to keep you busy doing a job you don't like because
you're frightened of what might happen if you leave. Fears keep people in
relationships which have no future. Fear destroys courage and initiative. Fear
of the unknown is one of society's ways of keeping you under control.
can conquer this fear by making a determined effort to use your imagination to
help you discover what can happen. The truth is that the worst that is likely to
happen is usually nowhere as bad as you might fear.
A woman I know
suffered a lot with her nerves. Most of her problems were a result of the job
she did. she found the work unpleasant and stressful. She didn't like the man
she worked for. But she had worked at the same place for fifteen years and she
was frightened of what would happen if she lost her job.
She assumed that
if she lost her job she would starve to death. She had never really thought what
would happen. But she always assumed that she needed her boss far more than he
needed her. That was, of course, partly his fault. He wanted her to feel that
way. He was able to use her fear to get her to work for long hours at a dull job
for low pay.
She was a classic victim of the society in which we all
live. And she was a chronic sufferer from toxic stress.
One day I managed
to persuade her to sit down and carefully examine her greatest fear; what would
happen if she lost her job. She was vulnerable because society had
taught her to be frightened of the unknown and because society had encouraged
her to believe that she should dedicate herself to her job without thinking of
She felt frightened at the prospect of surviving alone and she
felt guilty at the thought of abandoning her job.
But the more she
thought about it the more she realised that the unknown she feared wasn't really
all that terrifying. She realised that she had numerous well sought after
skills. By looking in the `appointments' section of the local newspaper she
discovered that there were plenty of firms advertising for people like her. She
realised that her experience and knowledge more than outweighed her age as far
as other potential employers were concerned.
She found the bottom
line. And she realised that it wasn't as frightening as she had
She applied for another, better paid job that looked more fun.
She got it.
And she handed in her notice.
Her boss, suddenly
realising that he needed her, offered to increase her salary by over one third.
He offered her better holidays and an annual bonus.
But she wasn't
interested. She didn't want to work for him. She left. And she did so with a
light heart as she realised that he needed her far more than she needed
If you have any terrible fear which haunts you try to confront it.
and try to define the bottom line. Try to work out what is the worst that can
You will probably surprise yourself. Once you know the bottom
line you'll find that you can relax far more than when you are worrying about
There are very few problems or threats in your life that
will actually stop your world going round. The bottom line is hardly ever as bad
as you think it's going to be.
4. Cherish and Nurture Your
Modern cities and apartment buildings can be savage,
lonely places. Too often you will find the world to be cruel, harsh and
But every true friendship you acquire will help you defeat
fear. Real friends will help you face illness with strength and will enable you
to confront adversity with hope. Friendship can provide you with a vaccination
When you have friends you can carry true love and
affection and caring with you. Friendship will illuminate the darkest moments of
your life and brighten the blackest of nights.
You will not, of course,
make true friendships easily or quickly. Real, true friendships only develop
with time and patience.
But once you have found a real friend cherish him
or her and always keep for him or her a place in your heart where your
friendship can constantly re-build its strength.
Remember that in this
world real wealth is measured in friendships rather than in material
5. Don't Be Afraid Of Failure
for having tried and failed is usually short-term and soon forgotten. The regret
for never having tried will stay with you for ever.
Visualisation To Help Defeat Your Fear
Most top sportsmen use
visualisation techniques to help them do better. Golfers imagine the ball going
just where they want it to go immediately before playing a
Thousands of patients have successfully used visualisation to help
them too. (See my books, Bodypower and Mindpower.)
use visualisation to help you combat fear. Simply imagine yourself coping with
whatever it is that you are afraid of.
7. Don't Worry About Being
No one who really loves you or cares about you will laugh
at you maliciously. Laughter isn't always nasty or vindictive.
Don't Be Afraid To Say: `I Don't Know'.
Admitting that you don't know
something is a sign of strength not weakness. No one can possibly know
everything. The powerful, the wise and the great are always prepared to admit
that there are boundaries to their knowledge. Only the weak, the uncertain and
the stupid are silly and conceited enough to pretend that they know everything.
Liberate yourself from the feeling that you ought to know everything and you
will liberate yourself from many fears.
9. Learn To Be More
People who have a low self-esteem tend to spend much of
their lives worrying about and thinking about other people. If you are a guilt
sufferer you probably need to spend more time thinking about what you want.
10. Spend As Much Time As You Can With Positive People.
Emphasising the value of positivity may sound like a cliche but the
value to be derived from `positive thinking' is real and crucial - and easily
Don't spend too much time with people who are always
criticising you, putting you down or looking on the gloomy side of life.
Make an effort to make new friends out of people you admire. What's the
worst that can happen? A rejection. What's the best that can happen? A great new
Spend time with people who support and encourage you. Why put up
with people who put you down? Keep away from them. Don't bother to share your
life with them unless, of course, they change. Write positive quotes in your
diary. Keep a `commonplace book' in which you record wonderful moments and
inspirational quotes. My book, Daily Inspirations contains 365 quotes
which will, I hope, make you think and feel inspired.
books and tapes. If your daily newspaper always makes you feel worse, stop
reading it. Keep up with what is going on in the world by reading a once-a-week
news magazine. Limit the amount of negative TV you watch.
if you send out positive thoughts, you will get positive thoughts back.
Physical Proof That Positive Thinking Works
friend to stand up. Tell them to hold out both arms saying `I am strong and in
charge'. Tell them to say this ten times. Then try and push their arms down.
You won't be able to.
Then get them to do the same thing while
saying: `I am weak and powerless'. They should say it ten times.
push their arms down. It will be easy.
Simple proof that positive
thinking has a positive effect.
Feed yourself negative thoughts and what
you are frightened of may happen.
11. Take Responsibility For
Don't be a victim. You can be in control. Never blame
someone else. Blame yourself. What is done is done. Blaming won't help so don't
waste your life constantly blaming others for things that have (or have not)
We are encouraged not to take responsibility for our lives
(it's always someone else's fault) but taking responsibility is the only true
way. Take responsibility for your own life and you will reduce the fear you have
Thanks largely to `ambulance chasing lawyers' we live in a
society where everyone wants to blame someone else for every small piece of
But constantly expecting others to take responsibility for
your life can create fears.
Consider, for example, the woman who sued her
local council (and won over a million pounds) when her sleep-walking son fell
out of a window. She claimed that the council was responsible because they had
failed to put adequate catches on the bedroom windows in her council house. She
said that she had been complaining about the inadequate catches for a long
Why, I wonder, didn't the woman replace the inadequate window
catches herself? (She could, if she had wanted to, have sent the bill to the
Surely this would have saved her much fear. And it would have
presumably stopped her sleep-walking son falling and injuring himself.
12. Don't Create Fear And Anxiety Through The Words You Use
We grow up learning that we are in constant danger. We learn to be
frightened from a very young age. (`Take care', we say to one another. `Be
careful,' say our mothers.)
Try not to use the words `take care' as a
Every time you say those words you are encouraging the person
who hears them (as well as yourself) to feel the fear.
Not The Only One Who Is Afraid Remember that everyone else is afraid
too. Everyone. I don't care how tough they seem to be. In the darkness and
silence of the night everyone is afraid. It is the human way.
Remember `Mark Tapley' In `Martin Chuzzlewit'.
Mark Tapley, in
Charles Dickens' book, Martin Chuzzlewit is one of my favourite literary
characters. Tapley is constantly searching for situations where he can take
credit for being cheerful and full of hope. He turns his back on a contented
life living in a country pub with a good-looking woman who is a marvellous cook
because he feels that no man can take any credit for being happy in such
circumstances. Instead he accompanies young Martin Chuzzlewit on a trip to
15. Beware Of Allowing Your Fear To Turn Into
Those aggressive thugs who patrol the streets in packs are
aggressive because they are frightened. They are trying to cover up their fear
and their inadequacy by pretending to be tough and fearless.
Just Do It
Everyone is afraid when confronting something new. Fear
leads to helplessness and paralysis. To defeat that, and to take back the power
over your life, you must take action.
Fear will never go away. It will
always be there. The only way to defeat the fear is to go out and do it
(whatever it is that you are afraid of). When you do it you will feel better and
more capable. Going through the fear - and realising that you can come out
safely on the other side - is, in the long-term, far less frightening than
staying fearful and helpless. Living with the fear of being helpless is far
worse than doing or confronting whatever it is that you are afraid of. When you
know that you can handle whatever comes your way, you can take risks and you can
get far more out of life. Decide what you want and go for it. List your choices
and make one. Then live with it.
17. Don't Over Dramatise - Don't
Use Negative Language.
We all do it sometimes. A shirt button comes
off and we become angry and upset. We miss a train and we behave as though
everyone we love has died. A pimple appears and we slump into despair. We set
the video recorder and immortalise an East European netball match instead of the
Bogart movie we desperately wanted to watch. Try not to over dramatise. Every
time you do this you are filling your life with new (and unnecessary)
Don't say: `It's all a struggle.' Instead, say: `It's an
Regard problems as opportunities.
Don't be weak and
passive. Be strong and active.
Don't dignify trivia. Don't dramatise all your
18. Don't Listen To Your Home Grown
There is a part in our brains which exists solely to create
worries. It is this part of the brain which makes us create an almost endless
variety of (often imaginative) fears for ourselves.
If you ignore that
part of your mind that constantly worries you, and which creates suspicions and
paranoia, it will shrink and weaken.
19. Extend Your
We all live within boundaries and inevitably we fear the
things which exist outside those boundaries. We worry about the unknown because
we worry that we won't be able to cope with it.
So extend your
boundaries. Takes risks that improve your self-image. Two things will happen.
First, you will increase your confidence. Second, you will reduce the number
things which frighten you.
Empower yourself (and reduce your fears) by
doing things you don't normally do. If you are nervous about eating out in
expensive places go to a posh hotel for tea. Then do it again. Smash down your
self-erected barriers by buying an item of ridiculously expensive underwear. Or
try a new sport.
20. Remember The Bottom Line
impatient. Learning to deal with fear will take you a lifetime. You will never
stop learning. But start now, take one step at a time and your journey through
life will be easier and less fearful.
And remember that everything can
be taken away from you except your right to choose your beliefs and your way
through your life.
Copyright Vernon Coleman