What Are You So Afraid Of?

Scared toddler covering his faceWhile stopped on the highway during a violent rainstorm, a shadowy movement in the rear-view mirror caught my attention. It was an onrushing tractor-trailer with no room to stop. Long before that incident, I was stalked through a deserted construction site by a stranger with malicious intentions. And I’ve also heard my doctor say, “Stage 4 cancer” (don’t worry – that was 35 years ago). But none of those things are among my scariest moments. All my worst fears have been about things that haven’t happened. Many times I’m not even sure what I’m afraid of. What really is my worst case scenario? What is it that I am so afraid of?

Depending on your source, you can read that humans share three, five, eight or more basic fears. Let’s take a look at a few of them. 

Pain and suffering – “I am not safe”

Are you afraid of the dentist or a car accident or heights? Then this might be your core fear. Pain and suffering concern the physical realm. If one of our fundamental needs is for safety, then this fear represents its absence. We depend upon others to provide security and comfort from our first days on earth. When that need is met consistently, we begin to believe the world is a safe place. When that need is met inconsistently, we are left with worry and doubt.

Abandonment – “I am alone”

Have you ever been freaked out by a silent, lonely landscape or thought you couldn’t survive a break-up? All humans (and many animals) need a sense of belonging, the assurance that we are loved, that there is a community which will never kick us out. Someone who struggles with the fear of abandonment may need multiple relationships or constant reassurance in order to soothe a gnawing dread of being left alone, rejected and isolated.

Shame – “I am unlovable”

Do cocktail parties or final exams make you tremble?  Then you may struggle with a fear of failure, a fear of shame. Developing a stable awareness of our own identity is one of the major tasks of young adulthood. We need a sense that there is something unique and beautiful in our makeup, that we are lovable. Yet, we are also seemingly born with deep doubt about our worth – and sometimes those doubts get confirmed by life circumstances. It doesn’t take much to make shame bloom, bringing an exquisite pain which can be worse than anything physical. 

Other fears

Psychology texts sometimes list the dread of commitment or confinement as another basic fear, and all of them will mention the fear of death. But in my view, underneath both these fears is really one of the other fears above. A lack of freedom to make one’s own choices means that pain, rejection or humiliation can happen to us at any time, without the ability to escape. And what is death but the ultimate suffering, abandonment and failure?

Fear of the unknown

Knowledge is power. If we know what’s coming, we can prepare for it. Our mind likes to paint the awful possibilities so that we can be ready for them. That’s why all my worst fears are about things that haven’t happened and probably never will. It can help to ask yourself, “What am I so afraid of?” For example, if I’m afraid of getting in my car, driving to my friend’s graduation and hobnobbing with strangers, what is it I’m so afraid of? Is it a fear of suffering (a car accident), a fear of shame (I will make a fool of myself) or a fear of abandonment (no one will talk to me)? 

The Remedy

There is a remedy for each one of our fears. Will it mean an instant cure?  Probably not. Will it help? Certainly.

  • Am I safe? Nothing can touch me which does not first pass through the Father’s hands. I am secure in the One who is both good and sovereign. He may not spare me all suffering, but God will give me what I need to walk the road He maps out for me, including His comfort, protection and courage. (Psalm 16:8-9; Romans 8:28; Phil. 4:13). 
  • sunset in heart handsAm I loved? No human being can be the basis for my confidence, but I have been chosen by God, and nothing can ever separate me from His love. (Rom. 8:38-39; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 John 4:10).
  • Am I lovable? I have only to look at the cross to know how much I am worth. God created me for His glory, seated with Christ in the heavenly places (seeing me NOW as I will be when I am perfect), and He is making me more beautiful every day. There is no shame in Christ. (Psalm 34:5; Matt. 6:26; 1 Cor. 6:11; Songs 4:7; 1 Peter 2:9).

When I am in close relationship with the King of Everything who has already proven His undying love for me, then I can never be outside His redemptive plan, I can never truly be alone and I cannot judge myself unworthy when He has pronounced me holy. 

What is it that you are so afraid of? After you nail it down, apply the remedy.

Related Material

Fear of Death, Abandonment and Failure by the Stenzel Clinic

What We Worry About, The Huffington Post

You Are Loved, Father’s Love Letter

No Shame in Christ, John Piper

Journal Your Anxiety, guided journaling

Baby Steps

Dear Christian Counselor,

How do we gain confidence?

Bob Wiley (pseudonym)

Dear Bob,

The short answer is: step by step. Confidence is the result of small victories strung together until you believe you can overcome the next challenge. It can be built into us as children, it can even come as the result of one great triumph, but in most cases it is grown gradually over time by doing the things we fear and seeing God’s faithfulness in our weakness.

what about bobThis is a project you can intentionally undertake. Start by finishing this sentence: “I would like to have confidence that I ____________________.” Next, make a list of five to ten smaller steps leading up to that goal. For example, if you want to have confidence that you can be a marine biologist, you might start by reading a book about fish or by keeping a goldfish in a bowl. (“Baby steps, Bob.”)

The second piece of the puzzle is developing good coping mechanisms to help you along the way. It’s not about getting rid of your fear first; it’s about doing life despite your fear.  What are the healthy things which renew your spirit and courage both before and after you take on the next challenge? Think along the lines of phoning a friend, taking a hot bath, using properly prescribed medication, listening to music, deep-breathing, or spending time in prayer. I usually ask my clients to make a list of ten good things which comfort, restore or inspire them. Then as you start to mount the steps on your “confidence ladder,” use your healthy coping skills to combat the natural setbacks or fears you are trying to overcome. I would strongly advise enlisting the support and prayer of a good friend on this journey. May God give you the vision and the courage to become everything He has dreamed for you.

So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Heb. 13:6)

Worry and Fear

anxietyDear Christian Counselor,

How do you stop worrying and fear?


Dear Jitterbug,

If I had the answer to that one, I’d be a rich, rich woman! People have published whole books on the topic, and we recommend a few of them in our Resources section, along with several useful, free handouts, but I think there are four classic answers that can help:

1) Tell yourself the truth. Some people experience extreme symptoms of panic as if there was a tiger in the room. But in reality, there probably is no tiger. Tell yourself the truth about the things you fear, and tell yourself the truth about God’s loving care for you even in trouble and danger. I have a friend who clenches her right fist whenever she feels anxious to remind herself of this: Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand (Ps. 73:23).

2) Live in the present. Worry and fear concern the past (“If only”) and the future (“what if”). Teach yourself to live in the now (Matt. 6:34). Breathe deeply and concentrate on some part of your body that isn’t caught up in the anxiety – like your elbow or your kneecap. Look out the window and catalog what you see there. Pop a mint into your mouth and spend 5 minutes experiencing it. These kinds of exercises break the cycle of worry for a few minutes – which is a good thing for your heart, your spirit and your body.

3) Take a pill. I’ll bet you didn’t expect that, but anxiety is a physical as well as a mental problem. Medication should be used as a tool to help you face and conquer fears which might get the better of you without it. God has given mankind the wisdom to develop healing remedies, and, taken correctly, they can help you live a full and useful life for the Lord. Some people find they can stop their medication after a time, but others need it always. There is no shame in that (1 Tim. 5:23).

4) You don’t stop fear. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground (Luke 22:44). If Jesus couldn’t live without experiencing anxiety, then neither can you. The suggestions above may help you minimize it, but everyone experiences some fear. You may not be able to stop the worry entirely, but you can stop worrying about the worry. Accept your anxious tendencies rather than shaming yourself or panicking about them. Tell yourself, “I’m just going to be anxious for a while, and that’s OK. I’ll be a faithful anxious person right now.” That honors God. That’s worship.