“Fear” is a Four-Letter Word


It’s an ugly word that brings up a host of unpleasant thoughts.

It’s also a fact of life, and no matter what anyone tells you, we all have experienced it at some level.

Not only that, but it’s necessary for survival.

Problem is, for some people, what should be one component of the psychological response to the world becomes the dominant feature of their mindset, and it pervades every aspect of life, from decision-making right down to action.

It’s not enough to tell people, “Oh, you have nothing to be afraid of”. Unfortunately, our culture has become saturated with fear—inspiring it through “big” news stories, encouraging it by highlighting “research” or statistics that, looked at out of context, leave us all completely confused as to the real probability of risk. We’ve become so conditioned by this culture of fear that it’s caused fundamental changes in how we teach and raise our children, how we care for our aging parents, and how we organize our own lives around avoidance and protection.

Most of us are unaware we do these things most of the time. But consider this: When was the last time you went on a trip and didn’t take a cell phone? In the last year, have you let your kids stay out a whole day without knowing exactly where they’d be, who they were playing with, or when they’d be home? How often do you read or watch something and get a queasy, uneasy feeling and think to yourself, “Oh, I’d better do something just in case that happens to me”?

Face it. Probably every one of us has uncomfortable answers to those questions. After all, the questions themselves are uncomfortable. We don’t like to admit we’re scared, much less that we’ve been scared into being scared without even realizing it was happening. It makes us feel like we’re not in control of our own mind. Scary, huh?

Most people, most of the time, manage to keep their fear pretty balanced. But sometimes, it can get a little out of hand.

What’s fear? There are many answers, as many as there are different people faced with a myriad of situations that evoke emotional and psychological responses.

But at its most basic level, fear is “FOCUSED EFFORTS TO AVOID REALITY”.

Even if the “reality” is only in the person’s mind and is highly unlikely to actually occur, it doesn’t matter. “Reality” is what we all perceive when we look out at the world from our own unique perspective. If we see something in a particular way, we’ll keep seeing that way until something shifts our perspective.

So, we spend energy coming up with strategies to avoid or alter the reality we perceive. These are also as varied as we are. For some, the response is to do nothing and hope things will change. For others, it’s more natural to take action and put things in motion that will cause change. And by “change” I don’t necessarily mean that things become different. “Change” can also mean that the “reality” that was causing the fear subsides because of inaction.

It’s kind of like if you leave an ice cube out on a counter, first it will melt (becoming liquid instead of solid), and then the water will evaporate (the liquide becoming gas), so that eventually, there is no visible record that the ice cube was ever there at all, even though its components are still present in different form.

How we respond to fear within ourselves is only one aspect of this puzzle. But since we’re always interacting with other people, how we respond to their fear is an important part of life.

As a healer, I’ve seen plenty of people who are so consumed by fear that they become stuck where they are. No matter how hard they struggle, they can’t seem to get out from under their own psychological influence. Fear elevates all kinds of physical conditions, increases pain and tension, prevents people from finding true, deep rest even if they’re asleep, and can make all kinds of decisions, both large and small, seem like impossible obstacles that are impossible to surmount.

If I set a timetable in my mind for when I expect people to work through their fear and get on with the business at hand, I’d be very unhappy with the results and wouldn’t be at all effective. Of course, there are certainly time-sensitve situations in which there is absolutely no choice but to act immediately, regardless of fear. But at some point, that fear will have to be acknowledged dealt with, even after the action was taken.

No matter how much compassion I have, I can’t know completely what another person’s experience and “reality” are. So, I can’t dictate to them how to respond to that reality. I can only listen, make suggestions if these are asked for, and, based on the other person’s response, continue to interact with them accordingly.

For me, as a healer, the proper response to fear is “FINDING THE EMPATHY TO APPROACH WITH RESPECT”.

Even if I see that a particular action is best for someone, I can’t force them to take that action. I also can’t force them to think in a certain way or see things the same way I do. Whether it’s a life-threatening illness, a mental-health issue, approaching death, or routine surgery, the details don’t matter so much as the commitment to treat each individual with respect regardless of my opinions about their decisions, actions, or lack thereof.

What often happens, if we respond to others’ fear with this underlying respect and a willingness to listen, is that they begin to open to themselves and look at their own responses to reality, including fear. No matter what they do, simply feeling “heard” and, at some level, “understood” and “accepted” are strong medicine. In today’s time-crunched, cost-based health care environment, these are precious commodities.

Acceptance from outside often encourages acceptance within the self. “Acceptance” doesn’t translate as: “Everything about me is wonderful!”. No, it’s true meaning is something more along the lines of: “Here is everything about me, and it is all who I am”.

At some point, a person dealing with fear yet presented with a non-judgmental response, will come to another response—still fear, but now, instead of avoiding reality, “FEELING ENCOURAGED TO ACT WITH RESOLVE”.

“Resolve” is not a constant, unwavering thing. Often, we can “decide” to do something Sunday night, only to be back in indecision and inaction Monday afternoon. Some people have the capacity to “choose, then act” with very little time in between. Others need to “choose … reconsider … choose … question … choose … act”. The decision-making process might be longer, but the end results for both people are the same.

Seeing all the different paths to decision and action and viewing each with respect and as an example that can teach us valuable lessons for our own lives or give us insights into our healing work—this is the ideal response to fear. I may not understand why something frightens you, but I want to hear your explanation of it. At those moments, you become my teacher.

Explore posts in the same categories: healing arts, psychology, Reiki

2 Comments on ““Fear” is a Four-Letter Word”

  1. Anne Schalker Says:

    This is an outstanding article on “Fear” which I can easily relate to. Fear often generates consequences of the unknown which in turn recaptures fear. “Finding the empathy to approach with respect,” brilliantly stated by the author, is the most effective way to guide and direct a fearful person.

    Anne Schalker

  2. halfnotes Says:


    Thanks for the comment. There are plenty of acronyms flying around these days, but when you’re trying to deal with something as big as fear, whether in yourself or someone else, they can be helpful tools to keep the focus in the proper place.

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