Bob Denny: Fear can be your friend

Published: Friday, August 2, 2013 at 12:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 2, 2013 at 12:00 p.m.

Fear can be your friend!

No, no! Fear is bad! Fear can paralyze and cripple you! It brings you unhappiness! That’s what most people believe. What do you think?

It’s true: We all have fears. To be afraid is a human characteristic. We’re born with it. But it turns out that fear is a vital emotion for our very survival. It alerts us to danger, and prepares us to take actions like avoiding, escaping, or preparing to fight. So fear isn’t always a bad thing. It’s just a tool we’ve been given for self-protection and survival.

Here’s how it works for us. Life sometimes presents us challenging, or even dangerous, situations. But they’re only situations. How we see the situation, how we think about it, determines how we interpret the situation, and judge it either as bad — a problem — or as a challenge, a chance, an opportunity to learn from and to use to our advantage.

We can say that every coin has two sides. Each situation that life presents us can be seen as either a “problem,” a “challenge,” or an “opportunity.” We can choose to interpret life’s situations as either bad or good. It’s not what happens to us in our life, but what we do with those things that happen to us. It’s true that situations may be painful, or threatening, and could get in the way of the happy successful lives we could have. But it’s really up to us. We can think negatively: “It’s hopeless; I’m too afraid.” Or, we can think positively. Everything has a good side and a bad side. Seek the good in each situation.

Have you ever struggled with scary, dangerous or distasteful situations? Remember the last time you felt fear. You may have decided to stay home, avoid the situation, run, or hide. It may have kept you from reaching out to others, or damaged your relationships. We may fear failure, rejection, or physical threats. What’s a better way to handle those situations?

Notice any negative feelings and question them. Decide to not let negativity stop you. It’s your choice. Take a 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 it may free you to pursue the career of your dreams! If a close relationship fails, you grieve the loss. But don’t despair: That person you were meant to meet may appear! If you’re a senior citizen with a fixed income, in hard times your pension is in jeopardy, or your social security payments don’t keep up with inflation. You might find that cutting costs or changing some parts of your life opens open up new doors! You might find new hobbies or interests, or meet folks you wouldn’t have otherwise met.

Face your fears. Are you willing to replace negativity with reaching out and trying new things? Are there some fears you’ve not faced? When ignored, fears only get worse, and may hold you back. Decide to face your fears, and use them to learn and grow. You’ll be the better for it. The best way through your fear is to face it head on and resolve it. You don’t need to take foolish risks, but don’t give in to fear and let it control you.

We develop character when we face our fears, think positively, discover strengths we didn’t know we had, and use those strengths to take charge of our own lives and build that happier, more successful life. 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 waiting there for you.

Bob Denny is a licensed mental health therapist, and teaches psychology at Florida Gateway College. Your comments are welcome at

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