Letting Go of Fear

Fear. It is called by many names and has many manifestations: Anxiety, insecurity, worry, panic, terror. How does one feel fear? One feels it in one’s body. It could be shallow breathing, sweaty palms, rapid heartbeat. It could feel like one is “frozen” or paralyzed or a feeling of “no way out.” Its intensity could be mild or severe.

But what is actually occurring in one’s psyche when one feels fear? Very simply, it is living in the imagination of doom and gloom. Some call it, “catastrophic expectations” that is, it is imagining the worse possible outcome of an event or situation. When one “worries” about something one is imagining something that is not actually occurring but could occur. Of course, in any situation, there are numerous possibilities that could occur when one thinks of a future event but the “worrier” only thinks of one. Doom and gloom or catastrophe.

Another aspect of fear is living in a memory of the past. This is what occurs in people with post-traumatic stress but we can all relate to the dynamic. It is like being frozen in time. One experiences a traumatic event such as rape or a war-related incident but the individual was never able to process the terror of that experience. The memory of the experience recurs on the private stage of one’s mind, and one reacts to the memory of the event as if it was still happening. For many of us, memories of past events may still occupy our minds but we wouldn’t necessarily call it a “trauma.” Something happened, somewhere, at some time, that we still don’t feel at peace with. This is called an “unfinished situation.”

Another imagination that one could get caught up in is worrying about what others think. This is a primary characteristic of people who experience “social anxiety.” Of course, we don’t worry if someone might think highly of us or praise us or be glad to be around us. It is more often a worry about another’s judgment. And whatever judgment we imagine, we come to realize it is nothing more than a judgment that we hold about ourselves.

One of the paradoxes of fear is that we think we must be afraid to somehow protect ourselves. After all, if I’m not afraid maybe something terrible would happen and I won’t be prepared. So I better predict a future of doom and gloom or I might be caught off-guard. So I better not let go of fear, I might make myself vulnerable.

When one lives in the moment, there is no fear.

How does one overcome fear? It is simple but not always easy. It is letting go of the pictures that one is creating in one’s mind and returning to the here and now. It is learning to face these images and process the emotions associated with them. That process is one and the same as “facing your fears.” It is looking at these pictures and dissolving the concomitant emotions.

One of the underlying postulates of human existence is that I am the creator of my experience. I have created my experience just as it is but forgot that I created it and thus it appears that I am the victim of my experience. When it comes to unpleasant emotions, it feels as if these emotions are outside of my control. They just “happen.” Knowing myself as the creator of my experience is one and the same as taking responsibility for my experience. I am responsible for my emotions and thus I have a say-so in how I experience those emotions. 

Knowing that I am responsible for my emotions, I realize I have the power to create any picture or image that I desire. But whether I create a positive or a negative outcome for any event, I am always approaching the unknown. And that becomes the overriding solution to letting go of fear…

It is trusting the unknown.

The unknown is unknowable until it is known. And the only thing I really know is what is here now.  If I want to know how the future is going to turn out, it already has. This is what it looks like. Today is nothing more than yesterday’s tomorrow and here we are! Letting go of fear is learning to step into the unknown and allow things to unfold exactly the way they do simply because they will anyway.

The first step in letting go of fear is to acknowledge that I am afraid:

“I am afraid”

The next step is to acknowledge what I am afraid of and what I am afraid of happening. For example…

“I’m afraid of talking in front of people.”

  • “I’m afraid I’ll get lost for words”
  • “I’m afraid I’ll screw up”
  • “I’m afraid people will get bored”
  • etc.

When I say these words, I am creating pictures in my mind and responding to these pictures as if they were real. I am visualizing these things occurring. In short, I am scaring myself.

Fear is not just a noun; it is also a verb. Taking responsibility for my fear is recognizing that I am doing this all to myself. Taking responsibility amounts to turning the fear into a verb. How am I creating fear? The simple answer is…

“I’m scaring myself”

And then list all the ways I am scaring myself. I’m scaring myself by imagining things. Using the example above, I would say…

  • “I’m scaring myself by picturing people being bored”
  • “I’m scaring myself by picturing myself screwing up”
  • “I’m scaring myself by imagining getting lost for words.”

The idea is to see these images clearly on the private stage of your mind, to “face” these pictures.

Once I see that I am scaring myself with catastrophic images, I am now in a position to let go. I can choose to let go of these images only because they are not real. They are fantasies. Yet, as simple as it sounds to let go, I begin to realize how attached I am to fear. When I can unravel all of the justifications for holding onto fear (there is no justification), I can choose to let it go. I can replace the fears with trust in the outcome.

“Fear is not just a noun; it is also a verb. Taking responsibility for my fear is recognizing that I am doing this all to myself.”