Discerning when there is fear

Published on 14 Apr 2020
Sign saying Don't Panic

Nikolaas Sintobin SJ considers how fear can affect us emotionally and spiritually and how we can best deal with it. 

Fear can literally freeze a person and cut them off from life. There's something appealing about fear. It tends to get stronger and stronger and overtakes us. The reason is simple. It is inherent in fear that it puts forward all sorts of relevant arguments, often difficult to refute, to explain why doomsday scenarios will necessarily become reality. So, it seems normal and inevitable that we feel fear. Thus, fear feeds and reinforces itself and can become obsessive.

Of all negative emotional movements, fear is perhaps the most destructive. Yet it is not so difficult to cut it off. Four points of attention may be helpful in this regard.

Expressing yourself

It is important not to keep fear to yourself but to talk about it. Fear develops much better in secret. Talking about fear with someone you trust can be an important first step. It can help to counteract the logic of fear, which encloses and grows by itself. The necessary condition is, however, that the person who listens does not confirm the fear and reinforces it.

Critical examination of the facts

A second tool can be to critically examine the facts that cause fear. Often the perception of these facts is confused, incorrect or incomplete, wrong connections are made and wrong conclusions are drawn. Hence their anxiety-provoking effect. The conversation with a trustworthy person we have just mentioned, is perhaps the ideal opportunity to bring more objectivity and tranquillity here.

The Deception of Fear

The third advice is the most important and fundamental. The strength of fear lies first and foremost in the conviction that fear is justified. Fear is able to present subtle and relevant arguments like no one else could. These arguments aim to reinforce the credibility of fear. We honestly believe that we are right to feel anxious. After all, these arguments prove that we have no choice but to be afraid.

That is exactly where the deception of fear lies. Often it is true that what we are afraid of will actually happen. So, we should not be afraid. We can deal with the problems. It is good that we do so from morning to night.

Fear prevents us from living in the present

A fourth point of attention concerns the fact that fear is often linked to problems, imagined or unimagined, which present themselves in an ambiguous future. The insidious consequence of this can be that the fear of that future that does not yet exist prevents one from living fully in the present that does exist. Here too, the exchange with another person can be comforting.

Jade, a young teenage girl, cries in her bed. When her mother comes to say good night, she tells her what is happening. Jade is afraid that her friends will turn their backs on her one day. There is no indication of this at the moment. Yet the young girl is in the grip of this fear. The short conversation with her mother may quickly bring Jade back to peace.

Fear is a bad counsellor. It is not good to follow its logic. It is wise not to dialogue with fear and to consciously choose to trust. The path to a richer and more abundant life is indicated by trust and hope, not by fear. It is not for nothing that Jesus keeps saying: "Do not be afraid."

Can choices be made in times of coronavirus crisis?

By crisis, we mean here an experience of deadlock experienced as problematic. The crisis is often accompanied by a chaotic succession of conflicting feelings. In the event of a crisis, Ignatius suggests not doing what one would do spontaneously.

When one is in crisis, one usually wants to get out of it as quickly as possible. Ignatius' advice on this subject is diametrically opposed to this reflex. In times of crisis, it is better to refrain from making choices. He advises, as far as possible, not to change anything. It is better to stick to the decisions you have made before. You can assume that at that time you were calm and that you had your bearings. Choices made in those circumstances are more reliable than the precipitous changes that could be made now. It is therefore preferable not to question too quickly the choices made previously. Calm will return. At that time, we will be able to discern what we must do.


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