5 Ways to Distinguish Between Negative and Positive Fear

Why Seeking Scary Thrills Can Mean You’re Really Seeking Wonder

When we’re seeking thrills, we’re often seeking more than just something scary. What we’re really hoping for is wonder. Positive fear can lead us there.

Standing inside the ruins of an abandoned church, I leaned against a stone wall and listened to the narrator on the ghost tour I was taking in Dublin, Ireland. He told stories of the notorious body snatching that had happened years ago where we were standing in Camden Row, in the cemetery outside St. Kevin’s Church. As he told the gruesome tales to entertain us, my mind drifted away from his words and toward something much more positive: a peaceful feeling that surrounded our group like a mist. It was as if the energy of the many prayers that people prayed and God answered there over many centuries (since the 1200s) was imprinted in that place. It was something greater than me or any of us there – and it was more thrilling than the most dramatic ghost story. When we’re seeking thrills, we’re often seeking more than just something to scare us, I realized. What we’re really hoping for is wonder.

During the Halloween season, especially, people are seeking thrills through fear in many ways – from visiting haunted houses and watching horror movies to purchasing scary costumes and decorations. But beyond the entertainment value of it all, there’s a deeper human desire at work. We want to explore something greater than ourselves: what intrigues us with mystery, what stirs our souls with curiosity, what challenges us to pursue with faith. The spirituality that wonder sparks in us is the ultimate thrill.

It’s the good kind fear – the fear of God (reverence for him and awe for his work) – that leads to wonder. Here are 5 ways to distinguish between negative and positive fear. The more you approach the fear you encounter in positive ways, the more you can enjoy wonder, which will enrich your soul and help you overcome negative fear. Whenever you feel afraid, you can ask yourself:

1. Am I worried about this? Worry is the main sign that you’re dealing with negative fear. Worrying never leads to a positive outcome; it simply wastes your time and energy. If the fear you’re feeling makes you anxious, you can be sure that dwelling on that fear isn’t worthwhile. Turn your worry into a prayer instead, because prayer has the power to actually change the situation for the better. Try praying every time you become aware of a worrisome thought in your mind. Over time, that practice will become a habit that will serve you well.

2. What’s the mystery behind this? Figuring out how something scary is triggering a desire within you to learn more will reveal how it may be connected to wonder. Fear of the unknown is often at the root of feeling afraid. If you’re feeling scared because something is mysterious to you, don’t stop there. Decide to learn more about it. Probing the mystery can lead you to some wonderful discoveries that will broaden your mind and strengthen your faith.

3. Does this challenge me to take risks? Negative fear will hold you back from taking risks, while positive fear will make you uncomfortable with the status quo and push you to step out of your comfort zone. Fear is good when it challenges you to take on adventures that help you learn and grow.

4. Is this overwhelming me? Feeling so afraid that you’re overwhelmed by the magnitude of the situation means that it’s greater than you. While it may be too much for you to cope with on your own, it’s possible to deal with any type of circumstances with support from God and caring people like family and friends. Reaching out for help will diminish the fear you feel as the way forward becomes clearer and you experience love, which is stronger than fear.

5. How is this changing my perspective on myself? Is your fear tearing you down or building you up? Negative fear ends up in despair, but positive fear challenges you to overcome it by developing more confidence. Good fear – the sense of awe that comes from wonder – inspires you to discover how powerful God is and how much he can empower you in any situation you face, because he loves you.

So go ahead and enjoy the thrill of being scared. Just do so for the right reason: to experience more wonder in your life. You can’t predict what will happen when you open yourself up to wonder. But you can experience something greater than yourself when you do. That’s guaranteed to be thrilling!

Whitney Hopler works as Communications Director at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being (CWB) and has written for many media organizations, from to the Washington Post. Connect with her on Twitter and connect with CWB on Twitter and Facebook.

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