Acknowledging what we’re most afraid of can help us honour the pain of past hurt, as well as provide insight into the things in life that are meaningful and important to us. Often we share many of the same fears, because humans generally find meaning and purpose in many of the same things – and we fear having these things allude us or dissolve in our lifetime.
So this week, we took to our socials to ask what scares the shit out of you. Your responses were poignant, raw and honest. And for the most part (aside from the fears of stray hairs and dictators) the fears fell into one of the four categories below. So what do these fears say about us and how can facing them help us live richer, more authentic lives?
Fear of heartbreak/rejection
“Not being loved back.”
“Getting my heart broken again.”
“People not liking me.”
We are biologically hard-wired for connection – in fact, it’s what has allowed us to prosper as a species over the past 250,000 years! Our survival was once so dependent on the inclusion and support of others that, even today, experiences of rejection or abandonment trigger the fear centres of our brain that leave us feeling in real danger. Not only that, past studies have revealed that rejection and social exclusion also light up the physical pain system in our brain – so when we say “heartbreak hurts” we ain’t lying! No wonder this stuff is scary.
Often the scariest part of heartbreak and rejection is that lack of control – because ultimately we do not have power over the feelings or behaviour of others. It’s frightening to let people in, knowing full well that, in doing so, they might rip apart our fragile insides at any time if they so wished. We can cut ourselves off from others, and build a wall around our hearts – but that’s simply replacing one type of pain for another (see Fear of Loneliness). To combat this fear of heartbreak/rejection we must learn to cultivate a deep and nurturing relationship with ourselves – one that allows us to connect with our inner stores of strength and reminds us that, although heartbreak is hurtful, we are enough within ourselves to heal, rise and love again.
Fear of loneliness
“The fact that I’m still single. I don’t see myself ever meeting someone.”
“Being without any friends or family.”
Western society celebrates the mantra of self-sufficiency and independence, but the truth is that we all still desperately seek connection and inclusion and are terrified by the idea of being alone. The fear of loneliness is real, and is firmly rooted in our biology. It is a testament to how much we value the love, support and care of other people in our lives. It reminds us of the importance of exchanging real, embodied moments of connection with one another. Unfortunately, our modern societies are not always conducive to fostering this deep connectivity, as a result, leaving us with an epidemic of isolation and loneliness.
To fight this fear, we must resist the urge to numb ourselves or cut ourselves off from others (which makes loneliness a self-fulfilling prophecy). We must love fully, bravely and boldly knowing that it’s this part of life that offers us such immense meaning and purpose. Never stop telling others what they mean to you; have real, vulnerable conversations often; and learn to love yourself deeply for who you are, not just what you do. In doing so, you will never be truly alone.
Fear of failure
“Not fulfilling my true potential.”
“Not being seen.”
“You’ve only got one life – make it count” …bloody hell, I’m trying, ok! We are constantly bombarded by the pressure of living up to the hopes and dreams of ourselves and of others. Our awareness of our limited time on this Earth can make us feel like a clock is eternally ticking on our potential and on our opportunities and this can leave us with an ever-present feeling of anxiety and unease. Not to mention that society pushes some pretty rigid and unhealthy ideals when it comes to success – that we must do this, that we must be that, that me must have done x by z. Trying to keep up can be frankly exhausting.
To fight your fear of failure, you must get clear about what success really looks like to you (because it looks different to all of us). This will allow you to build your daily habits around living in alignment with this vision of success. Also, you’ve got to get comfortable that, in a life where you’re actively working towards things that really matter to you, failure is inevitable. You can’t avoid it or safeguard yourself against it. If you are living your truth and taking risks, it’s going to show up and the best thing you can do is learn how to greet it with curiosity, humility and grace when it does.
Fear of death
“Death of loved ones.”
“Having to put my dog down.”
“Dying and the way in which I’ll die.”
The mother of all fears – and, as some theories suggest, the only true reason we fear anything at all. Many psychologists consider our fear of death as an evolutionary advantage – we naturally become aware of dangerous things in order protect ourselves from them, so we can live longer with more chances to pass on our genes. Other scholars suggest that our fear of death is what underpins the majority of human action – we are so anxious to face its inevitability that we fill our lives completely as a means to ignore or evade it.
Death is one of the only things we know is for certain, and yet the uncertainty of it is what truly terrifies us. It is likely made all the more fear-inducing due to western society’s avoidance of discussing and exploring the issue – labelling it as bleak or morbid. As a result, it becomes a taboo topic, being only briefly confronted in true-crime podcasts or at your grandmother’s funeral.
To manage your fear of death, be open to discussing death and dying with others instead of leaving it lurking in the shadows. Accept that death is a natural stage of life and allow that acceptance to encourage you to take control of your life and focus on living well. Exploring spirituality and adopting rituals (which can be as simple as talking a walk every morning, or lighting a candle for a loved one) can also offer a sense of soothing and purpose.
Tell your fears to f-off by creating a life that is brimming with connection, meaning and purpose.