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Archive for January, 2009

Facing “Fear, Itself.”

Facing “Fear, Itself!”

©2009 Lauralyn Bellamy, MA, MDiv, cert. Dream Coach® 


“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

– Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inaugural address,

March 4, 1933


1.     Fear is real.

2.     Fear is a necessary instrument in our behavioral toolkit.

3.     Fear serves a valid purpose in our lives.

4.     Fear is a messenger bearing vital information.

5.     Fear is to be heeded, thanked and dismissed.

6.     Misunderstood, fear can injure, distort and generally

make a bad situation worse.


The good news lies in learning how we were designed to respond to the fact of fear when it arises in our lives – individually and collectively – so that the outcome is beneficial.


As the current recession deepens and its impact is directly experienced by more of us, it is critically important that we change the way we think of and react to fear. Think of this article as a condensed emergency manual on how to effectively engage fearful economic situations.


1. Fear is real.


The fact that our brains are hard-wired to generate the physiological and psychological responses categorized as fear suggests it has a purpose in promoting and safeguarding human life. Everything about the design and function of the human being is organized according to the primary law: survival; and the secondary law – minimize pain and maximize pleasure.


If you are experiencing a fear response it is because, on some level, some part of your brain has determined that your survival is imperiled or you are at risk of pain, or in pain.


Trying to ignore it, dismiss it out of hand, or defy it may work in the short run; but there will be a cost to our health and happiness in the long run (if one is permitted to enjoy a long run).


2. Fear is a necessary instrument in our behavioral toolkit.


As originally designed, fear is meant to trigger a behavioral response in us. It is the “starter pistol” that sets us off in one of two races: fight or flight. Either way, it is intended to produce an appropriate and effective ACTION in us: do we engage the threatening situation or remove ourselves from it?


3. Fear serves a valid purpose in our lives.


Not only does fear serve the universal imperative to survive; it serves as a powerful and creative teacher in our individual and collective understanding of our strengths and weaknesses. As a teacher, fear creates learning opportunities for us to identify and develop our strengths for resolving the threat or crisis that are rewarding.


Fear as a teacher is intent upon guiding us into the most comprehensive understanding and development of who each of us is in all our individual permutations, and as a people participating in a collective action or members covenanting to serve the Commonwealth.


Properly understood, fear is meant to bring out the best in us.


4.Fear is a messenger bearing vital information.


The part of the brain in charge of dispensing fear to catch our attention is the oldest part in its evolution, the Limbic System; I call it the reptilian brain, As such, it is the most sensitive instrument for scanning our total environment at a speed and attention to detail that makes the rational part of our brain look sluggish and dull. Long before a circumstance or person registers as a threat on our consciousness-radar, fear is activating alerts in our bodies, dreams, daydreams and moods.


When we notice a “knot” in our stomachs, a “tightening” in our throats, skin rashes, chills, headaches, nightmares, seemingly arbitrary moodiness, anxious thoughts popping in from seemingly nowhere – that’s our reptilian brain on a mission!


At this point, our conscious brain should begin a collaboration to properly identify, assess and formulate an effective and appropriate reaction.


5. Fear is to be heeded, thanked and dismissed.


Fear is merely the messenger bringing raw data with some historical background information.  Whatever news it brings, all of it should be catalogued for review and action or disposal.


After that, it can either be invited to go back to sentry duty or be a passive observer of the process engaging the rest of our brains: the systematic, rational, analytical in dialogue with the intuitive, creative, risk-taking, expressive parts.


If fear intrudes during this part, treat it as a middle-level project manager pointing out potential weaknesses or risks to be addressed.


6. Misunderstood, fear can injure, distort and generally

    make a bad situation worse.


And, of course, that is what our culture has been doing with fear for the last 100+ years. Fear has been treated as a disease that requires medicating, or an illusion that calls for behavioral strategies distracting our attention away from it.

“Whenever I feel afraid, I hold my head erect and whistle a happy tune so no one will suspect I’m afraid…

“The result of this deception is very strange to tell! For when I fool the people I fear, I fool myself as well!”

– From “The King and I” by Rogers & Hammerstein


  We are taught: Fear is our enemy and we should fear it. 

  The best way to respond to fear is simply ignore it or master it.


  It is obvious that in our culture, most of us haven’t mastered the best way.

  Instead, we rely upon liquor, food, mood-altering drugs, shopping and other

  instruments of addiction to  “chill out” and “numb ourselves” in search of

  Oblivion, a hiding place from fear.


  Yet, there is good news abiding within our current economic recession!


  We have an opportunity:

·        To recognize fear, itself, as a catalyst for changing our behavior;

·        Learning from the decisions, actions (and inactions) that brought us to

            this point; and,

  • Choosing new ways to live and govern ourselves that bring forth the

            best in us;

  • To leave a legacy for future generations of Americans of which we

            can be proud.

  • To be innovative and creative in collaborating with one another to change our response to what is fearful.
  • To regard the experience of fear as a signal to take beneficial action.


We have nothing to fear and everything to learn!


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