For me, fear is a rather abstract idea. I mean, it is distinct in the sense that I understand what it is. I feel it often and I know how to identify it. But at the same time, it doesn’t seem to have any one definite source and it is often not even based in reality. Sometimes it is extremely difficult to understand the why behind my fears.
The abstract nature of fear makes it a very complex issue to address in my life. Physical addictions, though not easily overcome, seem much more concrete to me. Quitting smoking, giving up alcohol, even eradicating my eating disorder, were all processes that required me to discontinue certain physical behaviours. The steps to recovery were tangible and observable. Throw away the cigarettes. Pour the alcohol down the drain. Eat food. Don’t throw it up. These were certainly not easy things to do, but at least they were straightforward concepts to grasp.
It’s not like that with fear, because fear is abstract. It comes in many shapes and sizes, and sometimes it sneaks up on you without any reason or forewarning. A threat doesn’t even actually have to exists in reality in order to induce fear in me. Even the perception of a threat, or the thought of a threat, can generate fear.
How do you fight a monster that isn’t actually right there in front of you? How do go to war with an enemy that you can’t see, touch, or comprehend?
Not knowing the answers to these questions has allowed fear to gain so much ground in my life over the past 30 years. It’s as though I have resigned to the notion that it can’t really be defeated. I mean, if you don’t know where the enemy camp is stationed, you can’t attack them there. And if they constantly remain hidden, executing sneak attacks around every corner, they will clearly maintain the advantage. You’ll never get ahead.
To overthrow an enemy, you have to attack its weak spot. But how do you find the weak spot of an abstract concept? As far as I can tell, it is a battle that takes place almost entirely in the mind. You have to get smart, and you have to be quick. You have to remain astute and aware at all times. You have to learn to recognize the warning signs—to sense the enemy approaching, even when it is still a long way off. And you have to be equipped with weapons that will work when the time comes to fight.
When it comes to fighting irrational fear, I have found that truth is the best weapon. When fear tries to pull you out of the realm of reason and into an abstract world where absurdity reigns, you must counterattack by planting your feet firmly in reality and refusing to fall prey to the enemy’s deceitful tactics.
But it doesn’t end there. A good defense isn’t actually enough. You have to be ready to go on the offensive against fear. If you truly want to win the war, you will have to be willing to forge ahead into enemy territory—to the places you never dreamed of going—and fight it on its own turf.
This will look different for you than it looks for me. But for both of us it will require a willingness to identify our fears, and a conscious effort to face them head-on. I’ve realized that if I am ever going to overcome my terrifying obsession with snakes, I am going to have to start desensitizing myself to the atrocious creatures. I will have to look at pictures and videos of them, visit them at the zoo, and one day maybe even touch one… maybe even hold one. The thought of it seems impossible to me now. But it will remain an impossibility for me if I refuse to counterattack.
Fear is abstract, but it is not insurmountable. I have heard countless stories in my life about people who have faced debilitating fear and have come out victorious. Even I have a few success stories of my own. Let’s be sure to encourage each other often with our stories. The battle is exhausting, but hearing one another’s stories of triumph is inspiring. It will motivate us to keep fighting when we want to give up.
If you have a success story about overcoming fear, I want to hear it! Please share it in a comment below, or visit my contact page to send me a message directly! I would love to share your story on my blog to encourage myself and others! Remember, we’re all in this together. And together, we can become braver than before.