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The Process of Facing Fears

People often think of fears as something to avoid. And to be fair, similar situations of discomfort may warrant the same reaction of fear.

A fear is established from a process of our own mind making it a fearful situation. While our mind is taught to think of it in the fearful way that we learn it, ego demands aversion. Because the ego wants to stay safe, the usual protocol quickly becomes to find any excuse to avoid such a fearful situation. However, there is an alternative route.

Undoing this built-in, survival-like pattern is a process of reaching deeper into the psyche to appeal an automatic pattern. This is usually a challenging effort because it attempts to override an innate urge that has, more or less, dominated human behavior since it was established.

A long time ago, someone or something taught us that a particular stimulus was to be avoided because of its negative effect it would have on us. Stories of ghost reenact this fact securely: ghosts are typically portrayed as scary to children and children grow up to reinforce this learned belief to their young. So, before the latest generation encounters a ghost, their neural pathways already associate the sighting with fear. But truly, what is there to fear?

Other situations may be instinctive: like meeting a lion. In the wild, it is natural to be scared because it presents an opportunity for death, as humanity has learned over early generations. The power a lion holds within their ability to kill prey registers in our mind the perception of oneself becoming prey. The mind has thus connected the thought of a lion to the recognition of death, resulting in the feeling of fear.

In my psychology classes, I learned of a term called "automatic thought." An automatic thought happens quickly, automatically, and without examination. There is a brief time between the stimulus (i.e., lion) and our decision to react, that rushes by so quickly that we don't even recognize this moment. If we slow down the moment of fear in a controlled situation, we will begin to see automatic thoughts for a longer period of time. 

For example, I'm afraid of public speaking. Am I truly fearful? Is there a death or valid reason for fear to be involved? What am I truly afraid of? I examine the thought and slow down my reaction. In my mind, I see myself on stage, staring into the audience, not sure of what to say or fear of saying something wrong. That is where I find fear building within me: I'm unsure of what to say or worry something I say is wrong. I find that the fear truly comes from the next step: the audience judging me. This is not a fearful thought; however, it is an uncomfortable thought which I would rather not face. The aversion of the uncomfortable has thus been acquainted with fear in this instance. I recognize that my automatic thought in this scenario is "the audience judging me." Because it is automatic, my mind quickly skims past this thought and it remains barely present. This is the specific moment that I usually don't think of when my "fear" of public speaking is stimulated. Therefore, it is the automatic thought.

After the automatic thought has been identified, the next step is to come face-to-face with the uncomfortable or threatening aspect. Facing this in an unemotional, objective way might be helpful, but facing the scary moment aware of your emotions is the important key.

Examining the between-thought moment helps to focus the mind on what is truly going on. Slowing down the process can create new perspective and shed light on the stumbling problem to begin with. Taking these steps through this process of facing fears develops and grows a sincere integrity for dismantling fear. Unleashing and freeing these connections allows one to develop new perspective: that is, develop a new perspective in which fear is not the prominent feature and whence a more authentic understanding of the situation reveals the truth.

Forgiveness and self-assurance are also part of this equation: in taking the step forward, away from fear, we forgive ourselves for our "faulty" thoughts and are able to reassure ourselves that the actual problem lies not in fear, but in the automatic thought, which sometimes isn't scary at all. Self-forgiveness opens the doorway within the spirit to direct oneself and achieve a mission that is filled with abundance.

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