Making Fear Your Friend
Fear is more than just a mechanism we evolved to keep us alive. Fear can also be a useful tool to help us face life’s challenges.
When I sat down to write this article, I had a totally different idea of what I wanted to do with it. I planned to write from a more detached perspective, but now, as I’m writing, I find myself thinking about fear in deeply personal terms.
There are aspects of my life I talk very little about—not because I’m afraid of how I’ll be perceived, but more because I see those parts of me as being less important to the overall picture of the man I am today. However, I would be remiss I didn’t acknowledge that the things I see as being less important are things that also make me uncomfortable.
The irony is that while I’m now very open about most things I’ve been through and currently go through, I still have residual fears that haunt me.
Fear was a big part of my life starting my teens and then going through much of my adult life. Back when I was in my early to mid-20’s, I was undergoing what at the time was known as reparative therapy (more commonly known as conversion therapy today). It was one of the darkest times of my life. I was questioning everything about myself, and it didn’t help that I was exposed to a constant message that I was somehow a broken human being that could only be worthy of Divine love by changing my sexual orientation.
I struggled to reconcile an innate knowing that there was nothing wrong with me with the fear being cut off from my family for all eternity. I was so afraid of spending eternity isolated from the people I loved I was willing to do anything to be with them—including sacrificing my own identity and my own happiness.
I did so because the narrative that real joy was something reserved for the afterlife was a powerful one. I willingly became a human sacrifice on everyone else’s altar of happiness, thinking that it meant I could experience true joy “someday.” And while I was sacrificing my own happiness so other people could feel better, I was privately contemplating suicide. I thought about it every day, in fact.
Fortunately, I never followed through.
I was afraid.
I was afraid of how my death would affect my family and I was afraid of going to hell. My life was governed by fear. All of my decisions at the time were fear-based, and while fear caused me significant emotional and psychological distress, it also kept me alive.
If you look at fear from a strictly evolutionary point of view, it did exactly what it was supposed to do.
Great news for me… but I was also miserable for a long time.
The paralyzing fear that kept me from saying yes to myself—but that also kept me from taking my own life—was the catalyst that enabled me to learn more about how our emotions work and how to embrace all my experiences without resentment.
It was a more than 20-year journey—and that journey is far from complete—but I have a different relationship with fear. Where I once looked at fear with dread, I now welcome its periodic appearance. I’m able to see fear as the spark that leads to creative action. I can use fear as a guide to tell me I’m on the path that serves me best.
Mind you, I choose not to say “the right path,” because there is no “right” path. All paths serve us. We merely walk the path that serves us best right now.
Along the way, I’ve had some insights. Among them are:
Fear is natural part of the human experience. This one is rather obvious, but I list it as an insight because we sometimes forget that we will always experience fear. I can rattle on for a long time about how our brains evolved to use fear as a mechanism to keep us alive, but I won’t. What I will say is that when we learn to see fear as a guide rather than an obstacle, we can thrive and live truly joyous lives.
There will always be perceived threats to our well-being. The human brain’s first impulse is to equate “different” with “threatening.” This was an important insight for me, because I realized it lies at the core of how we treat our fellow human beings. We no longer live in hunter-gatherer societies of isolated groups that rarely encounter each other. There are 7.58 billion humans on earth right now, and that number is growing.
We’ve become an interconnected, highly mobile society, and as such, we will always encounter someone who is different than us. Our initial reaction to ideas, behaviors, or appearances we’ve never encountered is at the minimum to be cautious, or at the extreme, to be fearful. Knowing that fear is an understandable biological response, I’ve learned that if we can understand the origin of our fear and to be okay with our initial reactions, we can turn fear into an ally.
Fear can lead to creative solutions. I would be disingenuous not to acknowledge that fear of familiar circumstances can be even more powerful than fear of something new. There are communities and societies around the world where people have to hide because the danger of physical harm is very real. However, that fear of real physical harm often ignites a level of creativity that still enables us to speak up and be heard in ways that can change society’s attitudes.
We don’t have to be afraid of fear. Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” I used to believe that, but not so much anymore. I have gotten used to seeing fear as a tool to guide my thoughts and actions and find creative solutions, so I now believe that I have nothing to fear, period.
Fear has served us well as an evolutionary tool. It has kept us alive as a species, but it can also help us thrive when we learn to use it as a guide and an ally. Keep that in mind next time you feel a twinge of discomfort.
About the Author
Appio Hunter is an author, speaker, spiritual guide, and a guy dedicated to raising our collective EQ. He uses his seminars and workshops to facilitate conversations about authenticity, alignment, awareness, and the experience of community, connection, and joy. Appio is also a weekly columnist with The Good Men Project and co-host of the Real Men Feel Show along with his good friend Andy Grant.