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When dysfunctional fear immobilizes you

How to discern functional fear from dysfunctional fear and gain clarity on your true authentic desires

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Merriam Webster defines fear as “an unpleasant, often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger,” and “an anxious concern or reason for alarm.”

According to psychiatrists who treat fear and study its neurobiology, a significant factor in how we experience fear has to do with the context. When our “thinking” brain gives feedback to our “emotional” brain, perceiving ourselves as being in a safe space, we can quickly shift the way we experience that high arousal state. We can transition from a state of fear to one of enjoyment or excitement.

For example, when you watch a scary movie and see a ghost chasing after someone, you know it isn’t a threat to anyone’s safety. You can quickly relabel the experience as not being real. Conversely, if you were sleeping in your house one night and suddenly awoke to an intruder with a gun standing over your bed, both your emotional and thinking areas of the brain would be in agreement that the situation is dangerous. It’s time to run or fight.

Assumptions
Many of our perceived fears are just heightened states of assumptions. An assumption is a speculation, which is accepted as accurate or sure to happen without proof.

In essence, assumptions are prefabricated ideas about reality. Assumptions are firmly held opinions/beliefs (consciously or unconsciously) formed by our inner selves. We may carry assumptions over from past experiences. Our assumptions limit our thoughts and expectations about future adventures.

When we are in new situations or circumstances, it is customary to make assumptions about what we think may happen. Yet when those assumptions prevent us from taking action toward what we truly want, then the fear as assumption may confine us to inaction or avoidance altogether.

Some fear may be useful in that fear causes us to use discernment. This fear is called functional fear. Functional fear provides us with the opportunity to show concern, assess situations, and determine the best course of action to move forward, if at all.

Other fears are dysfunctional and leave us feeling disempowered and unable to take action. Dysfunctional fears can be specific phobias, generalized anxieties, and non-specific worries, which tend to take on an addictive component. In dysfunctional fear, concern happens automatically without any logical evidence to support the response.

When I initially thought about traveling and attempting to work my way around the world in 2018, my first assumption was, “No way. I am afraid such an endeavor would be impossible.”—a dysfunctional fear. I assumed the venture would require tremendous planning, financial output, and risk. Proper planning, resource allocation, and security measures alleviated this dysfunctional fear.

Not all fear is misinformation. Sometimes fear is intuition – a knowing without knowing how we know. For example, we may get an intuitive hit not to take a particular route to work, only to learn later that there was a multi-car pileup delaying traffic for hours.

Often fear can be an indication there is something we desire that we are avoiding. Instead of embracing our dreams, we listen to our fears and cling to irrational beliefs and limiting thought patterns.

Heart-Mind Synthesis, a process shared in my Joy Mapping teachings, is an excellent method for discerning functional fear from dysfunctional fear and gaining clarity on true authentic desires.

The author, diving in Raja Ampat (photo courtesy of SiK)

Voice of the Heart
In my experience, there is a significant difference between the voice of the limited mind and the voice that speaks from the boundless heart. The limited mind’s voice is characterized by assumptions around why something can’t happen, what can go wrong, and why effort may be futile.

The voice of the limited mind will tend to use logic to cloak fear in disguise. The mind often speaks a language of predictability based on what has transpired in the past. If prior experiences were disappointing, the limited mind assumes future experiences will unfold in the same disappointing way.

Conversely, the voice of the boundless heart is characterized by curiosity, intuition, trust, openness, and a willingness to explore new experiences. The voice of the heart speaks a language of possibilities based on a knowing that anything can happen.

The integrative voice of heart-mind synthesis leverages the vast potentials of the heart and the laser-like focus of the mind to choose a course of action and experience that brings us in alignment with our true authentic self and our inner Joy.

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