Thursday, October 21, 2010

What Fear Fears Most

On my way to Orange County the other day, I saw a new billboard advertising the annual Halloween extravaganza at a local theme park. The slogan for this year: "What fear fears most!"

It often comes down to that in our day-to-day lives: we fear what we fear. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (aka DSM-IV-TR) we can find this experience in the diagnosis of Agoraphobia. Most people think of Agoraphobia as meaning simply the fear of open spaces. This is only partially true. The first criteria for this disorder in the DSM-IV-TR is:
Anxiety about being in places or situations from which escape might be difficult (or embarrassing) or in which help may not be available in the event of having an unexpected or situationally predisposed Panic Attack or panic-like symptoms.
So Agoraphobia is basically the fear of being afraid. 

We all remember Franklin Roosevelt's words at his first innaguration in 1933, with the world in the grip of an economic depression:
Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
I see this paralyzing fear in almost every psychotherapy session, and I know it to be present in my own life, as well. Mindful awareness has helped me in many ways to recognize that most of my fears are only about feeling fear, and that there is nothing in most situations that really warrant feeling fear beyond that. 

Perhaps if we can simply stop for a moment when the habitual feeling of fear arises, and reflect upon what exactly we are afraid of in that moment - or better yet, what in that moment is there really to be afraid of - perhaps we can see the impostor of fear more clearly for what it is: a simple thought, and a habit of the mind.



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