Note: In last week’s blog No Immunity to Anger, I pointed out how fear was my number one obstacle in letting go of anger during my recovery years ago. In this article I will discuss what fear is, types of fear in the Bible, common facts about fear, how fear manifests itself in different individuals, and how to cope with fear in healthy ways.
Written by Pamela K. Orgeron, M.A., Ed.S., BCCC, ACLC, Author
What is Fear?
Fear, as defined by Dictionary.com, refers to “a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid.” (Definition 1) When fears become excessive and irrational they are referred to as phobias. This type of fear goes way “beyond the exercise of ordinary caution that alerts us, for example, to look both ways before we cross the street. In phobias, the fear is in the mind of the beholder and not in the circumstance itself.” (Henley, 1987, p. 28)
“Phobias involve the experience of persistent fear that is excessive and unreasonable,” says Wilson, who is author of the book Don’t Panic. “Phobias are cued when a person approaches a particular situation or object, or even anticipates the approach of it, and they understand the fear they will experience as a result of that situation will be unreasonable and excessive.”
The key to distinguishing a fear from a phobia is that that while most people get the jitters if a spider crawls on their arm, people suffering from arachnophobia — the fear of spiders — are physically and/or psychologically impaired by it.
“To be defined as a phobia, the fear must cause some level of impairment,” says Wilson. “I had a woman come in who was afraid of spiders, and it got to the point where she wouldn’t go out at night because she couldn’t see where they were.” (Hatfield, 2004, Fear vs. Phobia, ¶s 1-3)
Fear in the Bible
What does the Bible say about fear? In the Scriptures, you will find two kinds of fear. The first type really is not fear, but implies a reverent respect for the Lord. This type of fear is exemplified through Proverbs 9:10 (NKJV): “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” The main focus of this article will not be on this type of fear but will focus more on the second type of fear found in Scriptures.
The second kind of fear referenced in the Scriptures “is the “spirit of fear” mentioned in 2 Timothy 1:7: ‘For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind’ (NKJV). A spirit of fearfulness and timidity does not come from God.” (Got Questions Ministries, 2018, ¶3)
Types of Fear
Albrecht (2012) created a fear hierarchy to depict the different types of fears. Albrecht believes there are only five basic fears under which all other fears fall. According to Albrecht, the five basic fears are extinction (fear of death), mutilation, loss of autonomy, separation, and ego death. To exemplify how all fears fit into this hierarchy, Albrecht reported
fear of heights or falling is basically the fear of extinction (possibly accompanied by significant mutilation, but that’s sort of secondary). Fear of failure? Read it as fear of ego-death. Fear of rejection? That’s fear of separation, and probably also fear of ego-death. The terror many people have at the idea of having to speak in public is basically fear of ego-death. Fear of intimacy, or “fear of commitment,” is basically fear of losing one’s autonomy. (¶9)
Common Facts about Fear
Theo Tsaousides, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist, speaker, and author, identifies seven truths about fear that anyone who wants to deal with fear should know (Tsaousides, 2015). These truths include:
- Fear is normal and healthy.
- Fear exists on a continuum.
- Fears may be instinctive, learned, or taught.
- Our imaginations also can create fear. Thus, fear “can arise in the absence of something scary. In fact, because our brains are so efficient, we begin to fear a range of stimuli that are not scary (conditioned fear) or not even present (anticipatory anxiety).” (Point 4, ¶1)
- Fear can create more fear. When one is groomed for fear, harmless incidents can create fear. For example, while “watching a documentary about venomous spiders, a tickle on your neck (caused by, say, a loose thread in your sweater) will startle you and make you jump out of your seat in terror.” (Point 5, ¶1).
- Fear results in one of 4 behavior types. According to Walker (2014), the intricate nervous system can allow a person fearing danger to respond in four distinct ways: “fight/flight/freeze/fawn” (p. 12). These four responses can be exemplified in the following situations:
* fight—a person beats someone up when feeling threatened by that person.
* flight—a person flees the scene when frightened.
* freeze—a child dissociates when being beaten by a parent.
*fawn—a person becomes codependent (“people pleasing”) in response to an abuser.
- The greater the threat, the more likely change will occur. “This is why people are much more likely to change their eating habits after a serious health scare (e.g., a heart attack) than after just reading statistics about the deleterious effect of a diet based on fried foods.” (Point 7, ¶1)
The Manifestation of Fear
Fear manifests itself in different ways in different people. Stephanie Dalfonzo, an anxiety expert and author of the book entitled Goodbye Anxiety, Hello Freedom: How to Build Resilience and Overcome Anxiety (Bowker Identifier Services, 2018), identified “9 ways fear manifests in your life” (Dalfonzo, n.d.). These include:
- “Impostor Syndrome”—this is where a person puts on a mask, a false face, “around the fear of being ‘found out’ – . . . . The interesting thing is it affects incredibly successful people just as much as ‘regular’ folks.” (¶ 4)
- “Back Pain”—Dalfonzo reported that Dr. John Sarno, MD in his new book Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection ” promises the elimination of back pain without drugs, surgery, or exercise. How is this possible? By getting to the root cause! He says that ALL back pain is rooted in emotions.” With all due respect, based on my personal experience I disagree with Dr. Sarno’s statement that the source of all back pain is emotional. I have experienced back pain that was rooted in fear and anger years ago. However, currently, I have five bulging discs and a narrowing of the cervical spine. Trust me! The root cause of my back pain now is not emotional or psychological in nature.
- “Financial Fear”—Financial fears evidence in a number of ways. Dalfonzo offered the examples of “being afraid to ask for a raise, in being afraid that you will end up as a bag lady on the corner with your doggy and kitty…. ” (¶8)
- “Stomach Issues”—”Take a moment and think about it – when you were in a really fearful situation, where did you feel it? A majority of the time I ask clients where do they feel the fear in the body, they say ‘my gut’.” (¶9)
- “Weight”—I don’t believe fear is the root of all weight problems. However, I can identify with this manifestation of fear. I remember when I used to carry extra weight due to having a fear of being intimate with men after having been raped and molested at an early age.
- “Smoking”—While working to help smokers quit smoking, Dalfonzo found, “It was never about the cigarettes! It always boiled down to finding out what the root cause was and healing it. We dealt with old fears that had been buried deep.” (¶13)
- “Addictions”—“Fear drives our addictions! We’ve now become a society addicted to our social media devices – we are desperately afraid of ‘missing out’. No matter what the ‘drug of choice’, many times addicts are very fearful people.” (¶15)
- “Relationship Issues”—Here’s another manifestation of anger I can relate to very well. With a low self-esteem in my younger days, I always felt insecure and feared no man would ever want me. Thus, in dating relationships I would always do something, either consciously or subconsciously, to push male prospects away before they had the chance to reject me.
- “Insomnia”—Who hasn’t laid awake at night fearing what might happen? You know the “what if” questions. I know I have, as a part of the catastrophizing that is a symptom of my lifelong struggle with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Coping with Fear
In life, fear can be either a friend or a foe. I can remember many instances when fear was my friend. On one occasion while visiting one of my aunts as a child, fear was a friend when I was outside and a pack of rabid dogs approached. I had never seen or heard of a “mad dog” but when my companion said, “Run, they’re wild, mad!”, the fear in me prompted my legs to move, to run as fast as I could to get in the house. In this situation, fear was a lifesaver, a friend!!
Fear appeals are another way that I believe fear can be a friend. “Fear appeals are persuasive messages that attempt to arouse fear
by emphasizing the potential danger and harm that will befall
individuals if they do not adopt the messages’ recommendations.” (Tannenbaum et. al., 2015, p. 1178) An example of a fear appeal would be a health organization running a campaign to get people to stop smoking by stressing the risks of cancer and other health issues that can result from smoking. When such campaigns result in an individual stopping smoking, I would definitely consider the invoked fear from the message to be a friend to the person who stopped smoking (and to me and others with breathing problems!).
I wish I could say that fear always ended up being my friend but that would be a lie. While growing up, an unconscious fear of being raped again was the underlying root of a problem I had with disordered eating. My unhealthy eating was detrimental to me in a number of ways, such as having less energy and not being at my optimum health or wellness. Then fear was my enemy.
How does one cope with or overcome fear? First, to overcome fear one must be able to identify and accept the source of fear. Ask, is the fear rational? Am I justified in being afraid? Is the fear a product of my imagination? Of course, there are situations where one doesn’t or shouldn’t take time to think through his or her fear but should just run or get away, as I did when faced with a pack of rabid dogs. This is my reaction when a wasp or bee gets in my path. Allergic to wasps, I run the opposite direction anytime I see any kind of bee. In such situations, my fear subsides once I am no longer in danger of being bitten, stung, or whatever.
Fears come and go in most cases. However, when a fear creates disruptions in one’s family, job, or other areas of life to become a phobia, I recommend that the fearful person seek professional help to evaluate whether Generalized Anxiety Disorder or another mental diagnosis is at the root of the fear.
Above seeking professional assistance, I recommend giving your fears to God. I thank God for those fears He has given me to protect me, such as the fear of getting a ticket or having a car accident if I don’t obey traffic laws. Other fears? Well, my best advice, pray and allow the Holy Spirit to overcome any pain or other unresolved issues the fear may be masking. It worked for me! I know He can deliver you too!!
1 Peter 5:7 (NKJV): casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.
Familiar Quotes about Fear
Dalfonzo, S. (n.d.). Afraid? 9 Ways fear manifests in your life. Retrieved June 13, 2018 from https://stephaniedalfonzo.com/afraid-9-ways-fear-manifests-life/
Got Questions Ministries (2018). What does the Bible say about fear? Retrieved June 12, 2018 from https://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-fear.html
Hatfield, H. (2004). The Fear Factor: Phobias. Retrieved June 12, 2018 from https://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/features/fear-factor-phobias#1
Henley, A. (1987). Phobias: The Crippling Fears. Secaucus, NJ: Lyle Stuart Inc.. Available for purchase at https://www.amazon.com/Phobias-Crippling-Fears-Arthur-Henley/dp/0818404256
Sarno, J. E. (2018). Healing back pain: The mind-body connection. New York, NY: Grand Central Life & Style. Available for purchase at https://www.amazon.com/Healing-Back-Pain-Mind-Body-Connection/dp/153871261X/ref=dp_ob_title_bk
Tannenbaum, M. B., Hepler, J., Zimmerman, R. S., Saul, L., Jacobs, S., Wilson, K. et.al. (2015). Appealing to fear: A meta-analysis of fear appeal effectiveness and theories. Psychological Bulletin, 141(6), 1178-1204. Retrieved June 12, 2018 from http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/bul-a0039729.pdf
Tsaousides, T. (2015). 7 Things you need to know about fear. Psychology Today. Retrieved June 12, 2018 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/smashing-the-brainblocks/201511/7-things-you-need-know-about-fear
Walker, P. (2013). Complex PTSD: From surviving to thriving—A guide and map for recovering from childhood trauma. USA: CreateSpace Independent Publishing. Available for purchase at https://www.amazon.com/Complex-PTSD-Surviving-RECOVERING-CHILDHOOD/dp/1492871842
Wilson, R. (2009). Don’t panic: Taking control of anxiety attacks (3rd ed.). New York, NY: HarperCollins. Available for purchase at https://www.amazon.com/Dont-Panic-Third-Control-Anxiety/dp/0061582441