Do you have a little voice in your head that says: “You’re not good enough. You’re going to fail. Why do you even try?”
Most of us have an internal piece of ourselves, a self-critic, that repeats and exaggerates our doubts and fears. Sometimes we let these fears rule us in an effort to protect ourselves from even more unpleasant feelings or experiences. But you don’t have to be imprisoned by your fears; it’s possible to overcome them.
Fear has a purpose
Fear wants to keep us safe.
But sometimes we don’t need to be protected. Sometimes we overestimate the risk and underestimate our own resilience. Fear grows when we focus on the negative. Overthinking or ruminating about all the possible bad outcomes, problems, or potential pain increases our fears and anxieties.
Sometimes fear just serves to hold us back. It keeps us “playing it small;” it keeps us from taking risks and doing things that we want to do; it keeps us stuck in relationships or jobs that no longer work for us. Fear tries to spare us from being laughed at or embarrassed, left alone, or heartbroken.
What are you afraid of?
Many of our most common fears boil down to:
- Fear of failure
- Fear of change
- Fear of painful emotions
- Fear of abandonment or rejection
Overcoming fear is a process. It begins with awareness and includes a willingness to change your thoughts and behaviors.
These nine tips can help you overcome fear.
- Be aware when fear is running the show. Awareness is always the most important part of change; without it you won’t do anything differently.
- Identify how fear is holding you back. What is motivating you to overcome your fears? How will your life be better if you can overcome your fears?
- What are the beliefs that drive your fears? For example, if you believe that quitting your job or leaving a bad marriage means you’re a failure, you may stay stuck in these unhappy situations long past the point of reasonably trying to make them work. Or if a belief that you’re “less than” drives your fear of abandonment, you may continue to date people who mistreat you rather than choose to be single. Working with a therapist can be very helpful to uncover the roots of your fears.
- Don’t get stuck in black-and-white thinking. Life isn’t as simple as success or failure, smart or stupid. Try not to put these labels on yourself.
- Avoid focusing on the outcome. Outcomes don’t define you. You may be afraid that the outcome isn’t going to be what we want, so you give into fear and don’t take chances. But the outcome is often out of your control, regardless. You can follow a diet to the T, but that doesn’t guarantee that you’ll lose 10 pounds (the outcome you’re expecting). Instead focus on what’s in your control – your actions and thoughts.
- Another possibility is that the worst has already happened and that’s why you fear it. I had a teenage client who refused to apply to college, which is fine (I don’t think college is the end all, be all), but I was a bit baffled because he had a 3.6 GPA. He could identify that he was afraid of rejection and that it his fear of not getting into college was illogical given his grades. With some digging, we were able to uncover that his Dad, with whom he no longer had a relationship, used to go on tirades and shame him by saying things like: “You’re so stupid. Why do you bother? You’re Grandpa didn’t amount to nothin’. I didn’t amount to nothin’. Why do you think you’re any better?” The worst had already happened for this young man – his father had rejected him – and he continued to live in fear of others rejecting him.
- Give yourself a reality test. How likely is the bad outcome to happen? In general, people tend to overestimate the likelihood of bad things happening and ruminate about worst-case scenarios rather than taking a more balanced look at things.
- Are you more resilient than you think? Is it possible that you can cope even if your fear comes true? Have you gotten through other difficult or painful experiences?
- If you’re anxious, try a calming strategy such as progressive relaxation or grounding. And if you’ve been diagnosed with or suspect you may have PTSD or an anxiety disorder, please consult with a qualified mental health professional.
Fear serves a purpose. You don’t want to ignore it, but you do want to critically analyze it to see if your fear is warranted. If it isn’t, start taking baby steps to overcome your fears by doing things that make you slightly uncomfortable. Bit by bit, it’s possible to overcome fears and experience new possibilities.
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