Bob Denny: Why not face up to your fears?

Published: Monday, August 1, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, July 25, 2011 at 11:24 p.m.

Fear is bad! Fear can paralyze and cripple you! It brings you unhappiness! These are pretty common beliefs.

It’s true that we all have fears. People are born with the ability to fear. It turns out that fear is an important emotion for our very survival. It alerts us to danger, and prepares us to take actions like avoidance, escape or preparation to fight.

But fear isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just a tool we’ve been given to prepare us for action needed for self-protection and survival.

Life presents us with situations. It’s how we see the situation, how we think about it, that determines how we understand the situation, and see it either as bad—a problem—or as a challenge, a chance, an opportunity to learn from and to use to our advantage.

Every coin has two sides. We can see each situation life presents us as either a “problem,” a “challenge” or an “opportunity.” We have the choice to interpret life’s situations as either bad or good. It’s not necessarily what happens to us in our life, but how we deal with those things that happen to us.

It’s true that situations may be painful or damaging, and may get in the way of the happy successful lives we could reach for. But it’s really up to us how we interpret situations.

We can look at them with a negative attitude: “It’s hopeless; I’m too afraid and unhappy.” Or, we can adopt a positive attitude. Everything has a good side and a bad side. It’s just how we choose to judge it.

Have you ever struggled to avoid something, like going to a social event? You didn’t feel like reaching out, or socializing with people you may not have much in common with or don’t know. You may have decided to stay home and avoid the situation.

We may avoid reaching out to others because of fear: Fear of taking a step, to try out a new skill. It could be a fear of risking failure or rejection.

A first step is to recognize your fear. Notice and question any negative feelings you may have, and decide not to let negativity stop you. It’s your choice. You could take the risk, and learn and grow from the situation.

Thinking positively requires effort. Most of us are “realistic,” and watch out for the blow that may never come. But with a little effort, we can find the good side of a bad situation.

If you lose your job, it might be a blessing in disguise. There might be a better job waiting for you, or you may be free to pursue the career of your dreams. If a close relationship fails, you grieve the loss. Someone you’re meant to meet may show up.

Let’s say you’re a senior on a fixed income and in hard times your pension is in jeopardy, or Social Security payments don’t go up for a couple of years when inflation goes up each year. You could choose cheaper alternatives, like giving up cable television for spending time at the outstanding senior center in town. Face your fears. Are you willing to replace negativity with reaching out and trying new things?

Think about your current life and its situations. What might you be afraid of? Fears ignored only get worse and may lock you up and restrict your life.

Decide to face your fears, and use them to learn and grow. Don’t take foolish risks, but don’t give in to fear and let it control you.

Assess your resources and strengths. Think positively. Take charge of your own life. (If you don’t, there may be those who are happy to take charge of it for you.)

Plan to work through your fears, rather than giving in. Make the most of what you’ve got to work with. Become that outstanding person you can be. Reach for that great life that’s there for the taking.

Bob Denny is a licensed mental health therapist, and teaches psychology at Florida Gateway College. Comments and ideas are welcome on email at

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