How to Face and Defeat Your Fears

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How to Face and Defeat Your Fears

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Late one night, I was walking alone down the middle of a moonlit street. It was quiet and still, and the houses were dark. No one was outside, and not a single car was moving. Suddenly, I heard a strange noise behind me. Looking back I saw a huge lion rushing madly toward me from about a half block away! Fear gripped me, and I began to run.

Can fear be successfully resisted and controlled? Are we capable of defeating our fears?

With my heart pounding, I sensed the beast was gaining on me. In panic I rushed through the front yard gate of an old house and vaulted up the stairs to the porch. Glancing back, I saw the lion racing through the gate! Pushing open the front door I scrambled up some stairs to the second floor. Looking down I saw the fierce creature charging up the steps. Dashing down a hallway, I found a large old trunk, dove inside it and quickly closed the lid. Seconds later it reopened. It was the lion! His mouth was wide open! And then … I woke up.

Yes, it was a terrible dream, a frightening nightmare that I experienced as a child. Not only did I occasionally endure bad dreams as a youngster, but various fears also troubled me. I was afraid that wild bears were under my bed at night. I was scared to go into the basement alone, thinking that a monster might grab me before I could get back upstairs.

Religion also added to my childhood fears. I attended a church service on Sundays with my family. I was warned that if I ever missed a service, God might send me to the blazing flames of hell when I died. Naturally I dreaded this terrifying consequence, especially after seeing artists’ renderings of a sinister red devil with his evil eyes, horned head and razor-sharp pitchfork. I certainly didn’t want anything to do with such a fearsome creature!

Everyone experiences fear

Fear! The dictionary describes it as a feeling of anxiety and agitation caused by the presence or nearness of a real or imagined danger, evil or pain. It is the raw emotion of dread, terror, fright and panic. When it strikes, it may feel like a raging beast or a roaring lion has gained hold of our emotions causing us to react differently than we normally would. Fear, if uncontrolled, can drown out reason, facts and faith.

What is the source of this highly potent spirit of fear? Can fear be successfully resisted and controlled? Are we capable of defeating our fears?

Perhaps during your youth you had bad dreams and endured other fears as I did. Maybe you were afraid of a particular animal, of the dark or thunderstorms or had other apprehensions. The fact is both children and adults are affected by fears in dozens of different ways. Fear is often learned during childhood such as with the imaginary trepidations I experienced. Whether genuine or fantasized, it is common to fear various entities, situations and circumstances.

Medical science has cataloged many types of fears and phobias. A prevalent fear is acrophobia, the fear of heights. If a person is claustrophobic, he is fearful of closed spaces. The fear of dogs is cynophobia, and gatophobia is the fear of cats. Some fears may seem amusing, such as arachibutyrophobia, which is the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of one’s mouth. Nevertheless, such fears are very real to those who endure them.

Other fears include the dread of public speaking, the fear of crowds or of being alone. The fear of rejection is common. So is the fear of failure. Some individuals are terrified of disease, while others are frightened by the thought of death. Many other anxieties afflict and upset people throughout the world.

Numerous books and seminars are available today that promise to help individuals overcome their fears and terrors. However, are some of our fears justified? The fact is that some fears are indeed healthy, proper and necessary. Healthy fear is simply the desire for self-preservation. Without it, people would not take appropriate caution against perils or injury.

Healthy fear vs. harmful fear

For example, healthy fear was demonstrated in the 1962 Academy Award-winning motion picture, To Kill a Mockingbird. In one scene a violent, rabid dog was roaming a residential neighborhood causing frightened people to huddle in their homes for protection.

Atticus Finch, played by actor Gregory Peck, chose to deal with the threat. Standing alone outside, he took his rifle and shot and killed the dog, thus ending the menace. Legitimate, healthy fear was present, yet it was accompanied by a critical element—the willingness to take appropriate steps to confront it. Atticus Finch faced his fear head on. His justifiable fear was not covered up, ignored or dismissed. Unless healthy fear is tackled, it can be distorted into harmful, destructive fear.

What is harmful fear? It is the result of not taking measures to deal with a potentially fearsome situation. The outcome of not engaging our fears is upset, anxiety, nervousness and worry. Healthy fear mutates into harmful fear when we allow alarm and panic—rather than knowledge, logic and godly faith—to govern our thinking and actions.

Confronting our fears

Confronting, managing and mastering our fears is essential to living a happy, successful life. Experts in psychology offer helpful advice on dealing with fear. Stanley J. Rachman, a psychologist and professor emeritus of the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia, is the author of the book Fear and Courage (1990). He wrote, “When a situation becomes predictable, the fear diminishes.”

In other words, the more precise and rational the information we obtain, the better our fears can be managed. For example, Dr. Rachman describes how using video presentations can help prepare children for surgery. He explained, “They show an actual child being treated in an actual hospital, and that helps a great deal.” Fear can be erased or at least lessened by clear knowledge of circumstances and then logically applying the information to control the outcome.

The fact is all people experience fear. Even the great personalities of the Bible expressed and endured fearfulness.

Also, it is valuable to be associated with people who demonstrate courage in the face of fear. Dr. Rachman wrote: “People can pick up or model courageous or fearless behavior. Watching somebody else behave bravely in a situation that’s worrying you will definitely help.”

When we face a demanding and potentially fear-inducing event, discussing our concerns with others can help alleviate distress, even if the conditions cannot be altered. Being open about our feelings with someone who will not be judgmental or critical can be valuable. Dr. Rachman said, “Suppressing fear is not a very effective technique.”

Of course, if severe fear or worry is persistent—lasting much of each day for a few weeks—experts advise seeking professional help to determine if treatment could be beneficial. Some possible resources to find additional information, support groups and self-help programs are National Institute of Mental Health , The Anxiety Disorders Association of America,  and The Ross Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders Inc.

God offers powerful help to resist our fears

Resisting fear is possible, yet in doing so, there is another vital element we ought to employ. Fear should be confronted with the help of God. Our Creator does not want us to endure harmful, destructive fear. As a result, He offers power, support and encouragement in combating our fears.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7 2 Timothy 1:7For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
American King James Version×
). The “spirit of fear” does not originate from God but arises in the human mind, influenced by Satan the devil. The word “sound” is related to the term sober-minded (Titus 1:8 Titus 1:8But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate;
American King James Version×
), meaning that with God’s aid we can perform rationally and calmly in a potentially frightening situation. We are instructed to “be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith” (1 Peter 5:8-9 1 Peter 5:8-9 8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour: 9 Whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brothers that are in the world.
American King James Version×
).

Uncontrolled fear causes confusion and turmoil (Matthew 8:24-26 Matthew 8:24-26 24 And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, so that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep. 25 And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish. 26 And he said to them, Why are you fearful, O you of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.
American King James Version×
). If we do not resist Satan’s manipulative influence and strive to deal with our fears in genuine godly faith, our spiritual destruction can occur (1 Timothy 1:19 1 Timothy 1:19Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck:
American King James Version×
). We can be fully confident, however, that we can win our battles against fear because God’s ways are ideal. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18 1 John 4:18There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has torment. He that fears is not made perfect in love.
American King James Version×
).

Jesus Christ understands our fears

Some people feel lost and alone in their fears or may be embarrassed when they display anxiety. The fact is all people experience fear. Even the great personalities of the Bible expressed and endured fearfulness. The apostle Paul articulated some of his personal fears to the brethren at Corinth. “It was trouble at every turn, wrangling all round me, fears in my own mind” (2 Corinthians 7:5 2 Corinthians 7:5For, when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fights, within were fears.
American King James Version×
, Moffat version).

Even Jesus Christ, when He walked on earth, discovered what human fear was like and therefore acutely understands our fears and worries. So, when we are anxious and fearful, we can instantly call on His powerful help. “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16 Hebrews 4:15-16 15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
American King James Version×
).

Unlike sometimes fickle human beings, God will never let us down. He can give us the spiritual, mental and emotional strength we need to face our fears. “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6 Deuteronomy 31:6Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD your God, he it is that does go with you; he will not fail you, nor forsake you.
American King James Version×
).

Furthermore, the apostle Paul admonishes us to “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6 Philippians 4:6Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
American King James Version×
). What will happen as a result of our diligent prayers? “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7 Philippians 4:7And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
American King James Version×
).

The fear God wants us to have

God desires that we be utterly free of all harmful, destructive fears. Even so, there is a type of fear He actually wants us to have. Proverbs 1:7 Proverbs 1:7The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
American King James Version×
explains that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” The word translated “fear” in this verse does not mean terror. The Hebrew root word means “a profound respect and awe.” God does not want us to be terrified of Him. Instead, He wants us to honor Him as our loving Father. Our Creator desires our worship and our obedience to His commandments so we can be blessed with genuine peace of mind and happiness (Deuteronomy 5:29 Deuteronomy 5:29O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!
American King James Version×
).

Although everyone experiences fear, combating it takes knowledge, reason and genuine, godly faith. With God’s steadfast guidance, strength and encouragement, we can face and defeat our fears.