Fear is a powerful yet essential emotion. Without it, neither you nor I would be here. We would not have survived as a species.
Fear of the saber-toothed tiger, or of straying too close to the edge of a precipice, have served us well, keeping us safe since our time on Earth began.
If we look closely, however, we may find that so many of our current fears serve no useful purpose. They are the product of our own imagination, the legacy of a whole series of "what-ifs." All too often we allow our fears to stop us from embracing change and moving forward with our lives.
Yet if we summon our courage and move beyond our fears, we can discover some surprising things that make our lives more dynamic, energized and empowered.
Here are just five things you will discover when you take action to move to the other side of your fears.
When we feel afraid, our primary human instinct is to run from the source of our fear. But fear is such a powerful emotion, and it is not easily shunned.
Often, we not only run from fear, but we try to hide. This can be a symbolic hiding of emotion or an actual retreat from the world. In this state, we feel lethargic, unmotivated and frozen in isolation.
When we have tried and failed to deal with our fear, its energy can easily become transmuted into anxiety, depression, or anger directed towards others -- sometimes even those closest to us, the ones with whom we feel most safe.
Making the journey to the other side of fear releases a flood of energy and spark of passion that is based on a foundation of self-acceptance. Perhaps this means first looking at a childhood hurt, rejection or failure that affected our desire to participate more fully in life. Give it up, and the world becomes a brighter, more energized place.
When we were young, each one of us passed through experiences that left their impression. These experiences were viewed from the younger self's limited perspective and understanding, and were not necessarily a true reflection of what was actually taking place. They were the opinion of a child, and opinion is not fact. In other instances, our emotions were influenced by the perception of others, by their interpretation of experiences, which was passed on to us.
There are often things that happen in childhood that create a hesitancy or fear. These do not need to be major, earth-shaking events -- when we are young, even small things can appear to be very big. For some, there might even be abuse, trauma or some kind of difficult experience that establishes a pattern of fear, hurt and pain. For most people, though, it is the small things that leave a lasting impression. Left unprocessed, these childhood interpretations, though not necessarily remembered by the conscious mind, can continue to eclipse our joy in life as an adult.
If this is the case, then we may well benefit from therapy. In therapy there is a shifting of perspective that can bring about the most powerful transformation. The "filter" of anxiety and unhappiness is erased when we move to the other side of fear -- replaced with a better understanding that allows us to live so much more freely.
Anger might seem a surprising thing to celebrate rediscovering on the other side of fear. In our modern "civilized" society, anger is so frowned upon and disparaged that we are taught to deny and internalize it. After all, few other emotions have the power to fill us with such fear. We are afraid of anger in ourselves as well as in others.
As children we were told off, or else heard someone else being chastised for being angry. And so we learned to stuff it down inside, to hide and deny anger like some shameful secret to which we must never admit -- but we were not taught why it is there, how to respond to its message, or how to release it in any positive way.
When channelled correctly, anger can be a liberating, transforming emotion. It has energy and power that can spur us on to make a difference -- not only in our own lives, but in the lives of others, too.
Though our uncomfortable feelings are, well, uncomfortable, the fact is that they are there for a reason. They are the precursors of change. Each difficult emotion is a message that contains an opportunity for personal growth, an invitation to become better balanced and healthier -- provided we are wise enough to listen and to act upon that message.
Our troubling feelings are there to tell us that something needs attention. When we attempt to deny these feelings - to escape them through drugs, or drink, or distractive yet self-defeating behaviors -- we stifle our ability to put things right and to fully experience the more joyful, positive emotions that life has to offer.
We stumble on in the darkness, as if following a badly drawn map, something roughly sketched from the memory of our past travels, our past experiences -- or from hearsay gleaned from others. We depend on our map to guide us safely away from fear and discomfort, but all too often find it leading us further from the solution and deeper into confusion. Moving beyond our fears provides a more accurate, helpful roadmap, clearer vision, and changed perception.
Anxiety and fear not only influence our emotional stability, our consumption habits, and our inner balance. They produce a harmful effect on our physiology, sending waves of powerful chemicals and hormones washing through the nervous system and body like a tsunami, unbalancing and leaving mayhem in its wake.
Chronic anxiety leads to broad and harmful alterations in every single organ of our system, from our heart to our brain. While harmonious, balanced feelings result in mental, emotional and physical well-being, difficult feelings produce the emotions that upset and disrupt. These feelings have a direct impact on our health and lives, and can even influence us at the genetic and immunological levels.
My therapeutic experience demonstrates that some form of fear underpins and supports almost every issue that brings a person into therapy -- from anxiety to panic attacks, compulsive behaviors to depression, addictions to low self-esteem. But with the exception of phobias, hardly anyone comes straight out and says: "I'm here because I'm afraid."
What exactly is fear?
If we consider it for a moment, we'll see that fear is nothing more than the belief that something bad is going to happen. This emotion arises in an attempt by the mind to protect us, to warn us of danger, and to get us out of harm's way -- remember that saber-toothed tiger. The ability to discern danger and then to take steps to evade or neutralize it is hard-wired into us. In that respect, the emotion of fear is entirely healthy.
When fear exists in the absence of a real threat or danger, it is time to do something about it. It is here that good therapy -- and hypnotherapy, in particular, in my opinion -- is so helpful. With it we can push forward; we can move through our fear, to the other side where clarity, light and positivity lie patiently waiting.
Peter Field is a UK-registered psychotherapist, qualified counselor and Board Certified hypnotherapist -- www.peterfieldhypnotherapy.co.uk.
His new book The Chi of Change gives an in-depth look into the exciting world of hypnotherapy.