While 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.
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)?
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).
- Am 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.
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