Fear is a Kind of Bondage

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What Fear is and How it Goes Awry

According to the principles of naturopathic medicine, symptoms are the body’s best way of coping with its environment, both internal and external.  That’s why the appropriate way to deal with symptoms is not to suppress them, but to listen to them.  They’re telling you something is wrong.  Your job is to find out what that something is and deal with it.

Emotions can be considered symptoms, too.  Fear, for instance, has a purpose: it’s there to signal impending danger and to warn us to be careful.  But it can be blown out of proportion to the actual danger.  This is in part because the prefrontal cortex of the human brain is designed to simulate an experience before it happens.  This keeps us from having to learn every lesson by hard knocks… but if we choose to imagine every possible negative scenario, no matter how unlikely, then our fear response can be very much exaggerated.  A few examples of how this can happen:

  • Overgeneralization: we take a single negative event and assume that event will become a pattern.  (For instance, after a breakup, we conclude, “No one will ever want me.  I’ll be alone forever.”)  This can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, affecting our choices and the opportunities to which we avail ourselves.  (If you think no one will ever want you, how much confidence to you think you’re going to give off?)
  • Labeling: we take a single negative action and generalize it to the person who committed it — ourselves or someone else.  (For instance, after getting fired, we conclude, “I’m a failure.”  Or, your spouse does something to hurt you and you conclude, “He is a selfish person.”)  This, too, can become a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you treat someone as selfish, is he more or less likely to be kind to you in the future?  If you tell yourself you’re a failure, what are the chances you’ll take any risks that might lead to success?
  • Worst-Case-Scenario Thinking: Pessimists usually say that life has taught them to be that way.  They think they are protecting themselves from disappointment by expecting the worst, no matter how unlikely it might be.  In reality, though, they are flooding their bodies with fight-or flight stress hormones (which, over time, can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, insomnia, sexual dysfunction, anxiety, constipation, diarrhea, immune dysfunction, depression, and even cancer).  All this, when more often than not, the things we fear don’t even happen!

Fear is a kind of bondage.  It is essentially meditation upon something negative (instead of upon something positive), which eventually leads to the belief that a negative event will come to pass.

Faith: The Opposite of Fear

There isn’t really any way to address this issue without getting a little bit spiritual.  The Bible defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).  There’s a reason why it is called substance and evidence.  Hope is not the same thing as faith; hope is simply a wish or desire, while faith is the belief that that wish will come to pass.  You’ve got to have a reason for faith (while you need none for hope).  Faith is the substantive evidence of something that does not yet have physical form (emphasis on the word, yet.)

What is fear, then?  It’s the substance of things dreaded.  (Notice that many of the toxic thought patterns above can be self-fulfilling – and not by any mystical process, but by clear causation!)

There is a great deal of power in what you think – not because of metaphysics, but because thoughts become words, and words become actions, and actions bear consequences in our lives, whether good or bad.  (Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”)  The process is indifferent – it works in both directions.  Choose wisely!

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