The Inner Game Of Fear—Part 1

by Doc Orman, M.D.

The inner game of fear part 1Halloween is right around the corner, so it’s a perfect time to talk about fear

Wherever you go this time of year, you can always find a haunted house, a terrorizing hayride, or some other frightful venue to enjoy.  Or, if you really want to feel scared, but you don’t want to leave the comfort of your own home, just turn on your TV set and watch a few political ads.

Fright and fear are what Halloween (and elections) are all about.  But how do we understand this common human emotion?  Do we know where it really comes from?  Are we able to keep it from dominating our lives, especially when we don’t want it to ?

These are some of the topics I’ll be discussing in my three blog posts this week.

What Makes You Feel Afraid?

What typically makes you feel anxious or afraid?  Other than people dressed up in monster costumes in late October, what things trigger fear reactions in you:

  • Going out in public?
  • Taking an important test or exam?
  • Going to see the doctor or dentist?
  • Having to give a speech?
  • Flying on an airplane?
  • Driving on freeways or over a major bridge?
  • Having confrontations with other people?
  • Thinking about your future?

These, of course, are just a sampling of fear triggers, but what do they all have in common? When you think about what fear is, or where it comes from, what are the thoughts that first come to your mind?

Fear Is Always Future Based

One thing we can say about anxiety, fright, panic, worry, and other fear-related emotions is that they are all future-based.  In contrast to emotions like anger or guilt, which often arise from things that happened in the past, fear-related emotions are always based on future projections.  In other words, they arise in response to things which haven’t actually happened yet!

This is a very important point, which most people fail to appreciate.  No matter what you are afraid of…it probably hasn’t happened yet.  While it may be very likely to happen, or it could easily happen, the key distinction here is that when you’re feeling most afraid, the thing you are afraid of hasn’t taken place just yet.

If someone points a gun at you, for example, and appears ready to shoot it, you might certainly feel afraid.  But notice that your fear response comes BEFORE the gun is actually fired.  So your fear is based upon an anticipation of potential harm, not the reality of harm itself (the gun could jam or the shooter could miss).

And even if you did get shot, another fear would immediately appear—the fear of dying or sustaining permanent loss of function—but these fears also are future-based as well (you might not die and you might not suffer any permanent damage).

The problem is our emotions happen so fast, and they sometimes can feel so intense and all-consuming, that we lose sight of the fact that what we are most fearful about hasn’t really occurred.

Why Is This Important?

The emotion of fear (and its many related feelings such as anxiety, panic, fright, worry, etc.) is critically important to understand, because it sheds clear and undeniable light on how all of our emotions are actually generated. 

If you understand how fear occurs for human beings, you’ll also understand how anger, guilt, frustration, sadness, and other common emotions arise. And the more you understand how this basic emotion-generating process works for all human beings, the more opportunities you will have to master you emotions, and also the more heart-felt compassion you will have for those who are experiencing strong emotions as well.

In my next two posts this week, I will explain how fear arises in more detail.  I will also explain why I call this “the inner game of fear.”

Quotes About Fear

Here are a few of my favorite quotes about fear, which I found at:

“I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” ― Woody Allen

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” ― Marianne Williamson, Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”

“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.” ― John Lennon

“Fear’s useless. Either something bad happens or it doesn’t: If it doesn’t, you’ve wasted time being afraid, and if it does, you’ve wasted time that you could have spent sharpening your weapons.” ― Sarah Rees Brennan, The Demon’s Lexicon

“Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.” ― Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays

“Gratitude looks to the Past and love to the Present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Yorlenis November 20, 2012 at 5:10 PM

I think everyone fears being alone. I mean, elelciaspy if one stays in a relationship for a long time, they fear that they’ve become too old and can’t find another spouse and might not be able to for the duration of their lives. It could also be out of habit. I know a couple who refuses to break up even though their dying to out of habit. They pardon the other because it’s been pestering them for so long they just ignore it. There are probably many more reasons other that loneliness.


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