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John W. Travis, M.D. & Regina Sara Ryan
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Dealing with Fears

Fear is a nonspecific reaction to a real or imagined threat to our security - physical, intellectual, psychological, emotional, or spiritual. It serves as protection by causing us to retreat and pull back into ourselves so that we may reassess the situation and accumulate a needed supply of energy for fighting or fleeing. For example, in one timeless instant you hear an unfamiliar sound, visualize an attacker, freeze, feel weak in the knees, scan the environment for weapons and exit doors, and turn around with an upraised fist.

Fear happens when we can no longer trust something or someone, or when we anticipate the breakdown of one of our security systems. It can be a physically painful emotion because it involves contraction and constriction of the body. For those who deliberately engage in high-risk activities - such as race car drivers and hang glider pilots - fear can be accompanied by high exhilaration that can clear and free the emotional channels to allow the flow of life energy. This is one paradox of fear.

People handle their fears in a variety of ways. Sometimes they run from them by transferring out of a difficult class in school or by leaving the cemetery before the casket is actually lowered into the ground. Many children have learned to keep quiet about fears because of their parents' angry reactions. There is no monster under the bed. Now turn off that light and go to sleep!" But the fears remained and sometimes showed up in bed-wetting or sickness, which quickly brought Mother to the bedside.

As we mature, we engineer strategies for masking our fears. Some people frantically fill their homes with appliances and furniture, their closets with new clothes or shoes, their calendars with activities, or their mouths with food when what they are really searching for is a way to deal with fear. Others withdraw into fantasy, hide behind computer screens, or build walls of books and papers to protect themselves from the world of real live people who can hurt them. The paradox is that an immense amount of fear is created as we spend our lives trying to escape fear.

Once you are willing to admit to having fears, you can begin to face your monsters. Generally you find that the reality is far less scary than the fantasy. One gentle way to begin addressing fears is by taking a class that deals with expanding the scope of your relationships.

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