“So, first of all, 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. [Emphasis added.]” — From Franklin D. Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address delivered on March 4th, 1933.
What is the opposite of fear?
My counselor asked me this question during our last session. I guessed fear’s opposite to be bravery or courage. Thinking about it a bit more, one must experience fear to be brave or courageous; thus, bravery and courage are an action resulting from the emotional state of fear, not fear’s opposite.
I can’t think about fear without also thinking about the current state of affairs in the United States. This year’s election campaign is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever witnessed. People have themselves worked up in a frenzy over it — most certainly for good reason given the idiocy we’ve come to tolerate; but politics is a mere distraction meant to divide people through their fears. Fear is a powerful weapon. It’s been used since the beginning of time to divide, conquer, and enslave. Politics is its current manifestation — a competition, a game of manipulation, that preys upon the insecurities and weaknesses of the public.
It’s a game, not meant to test the merit of its competitors but the virtue of its spectators.
I don’t understand what “need” competition fulfills in those who compete or even those who choose to watch (not just in politics but sports or any other form of competition). If we, as humans, moved past that rivalry and antagonism, perhaps we could finally move toward cooperation and teamwork for the sake of, you know, actually getting shit done. It’s that cooperation and teamwork that unites people — a prerequisite for promoting a “civilized society.”
I’m guessing some people don’t want that. I’m sure there are some people who would love nothing more than to see everything collapse into a state of anarchy. I get it. Chaos is stimulating. It’s action versus inaction. It’s something different. It’s scoffing at a broken system, demanding it to change to suit some arbitrary need.
Except — everything in the Universe is like a finely tuned machine that eventually balances out and follows a pattern despite chaos.
Anarchy is like a deep-seated anger or tantruming 2-year-old.
If you subscribe to Robert Plutchik’s theory of emotion, anger is the polar opposite of fear. Anger is certainly in abundance during this election season, but that anger is more appropriately fueled by fear. Isn’t anger comparable to the fight response of fear? Isn’t “hate” a form of anger and thereby also an extension of fear?
The next time you start to use the word “hate” use instead the word “fear” because that is what it really is.
“The biggest thing you have to fear is not a terrorist or a shooter or a deadly home invasion. You are the biggest threat to your own safety.” — Neil Strauss, from Rolling Stone’s, Why We’re Living in the Age of Fear
Thinking about “fear,” I imagine a feral cat or deer or even a black bear. Where I grew up in East Tennessee, deer and black bear sightings were fairly common, especially in the Smoky Mountains. Past and present, I’ve had ample opportunity to watch wildlife as it’s a passion of mine. Watching wild animals’ behavior helped me understand my own behavior as much as other people’s behavior. Go anywhere near a wild animal, startle it, and you’ll witness raw fear in its purest, most instinctual form. The wild animal will either freeze, run away, or attack — same as any of us when we’re in the emotional state of fear. Yet, if you observe a wild animal from afar in perfect stillness and quiet calmness, that same wild animal will remain perfectly at peace, content in its environment.
This leads me to believe the opposite of fear is peace — calmness.
During the last 8 years, I have worked diligently to maintain a simple, safe and secure, peaceful environment to benefit my mental health. That is what I need. Perceived threats [see: The (Only) 5 Fears We All Share] — whether real or imagined — cause life to feel out of control, chaotic, and full of fear.
Fear and anxiety have been constant companions throughout my 44 years of life. Fighting fear requires all of my energy just to maintain that level of balance I need to nurture my mental health. Fighting fear is the equivalent of avoiding it — whether through distraction or numbing or denial of its existence. Fighting fear is an unconscious coping method/defense mechanism that takes over, subconsciously stating, “This feels bad. I don’t know what this is. I must avoid it.”
Fighting fear is action without exploration.
Accepting fear is the opposite reaction, requiring conscious action. Accepting fear leads to peace, a state of freedom — the opposite of fear. Accepting fear is the equivalent of consciously choosing to acknowledge, “I am scared” or “I am anxious.” Accepting fear is exploring my state of fear to gain understanding which allows me to validate the emotion. Accepting fear soothes, comforts, and nurtures the soul.
Accepting fear consciously acknowledges, explores, validates, and nurtures; thus allowing you to move from a state of fear into the state of peace.
Living in a constant state of fear is exhausting. Fighting, fleeing, or freezing all seem to take on the same avoidance characteristics. Each serves a purpose, and none is either right or wrong. They’re reactions to fear and still methods of coping. For me, it’s a persistent, never-ending battle to cope with fear and anxiety. I’m still learning to recognize and remain “conscious” when I find myself in these states of emotion (or any state of emotion, for that matter). I’m convinced it takes a lifetime to master.
My advice for anyone facing these same challenges:
- You’re NOT weak. Fear and anxiety are normal responses, especially in precarious times such as these. Above all, remember that. Go easy on yourself.
- Practice living in this present moment. Conscious awareness is key. If you find yourself depressed, you’re living in the past. If you find yourself anxious, you’re living in the future. Now is really all that matters.
- Turn off the TV. Get off the internet. Take a break from media. That shit will drive you crazy! It’s all about moderation and balance. Go for a walk out in nature, spend time with friends and family, do something that lifts you up rather than brings you down. Give yourself space when you need it.
Seek out moments of calm. Moments of calm are practice for the emotional state of peace.
Tips from around the web:
- “A calm, balanced frame of mind is necessary to evaluate and understand our changing emotions. Calmness ideally is a baseline state, unlike emotions, which arise when triggered and then recede.” — Atlas of Emotions
- “The goal… is to separate real threats from manufactured ones. And to find a balance where we are not so scared that we’re making bad decisions that hurt us and our freedom, but not so oblivious that we aren’t taking steps to protect ourselves.” — Neil Strauss, Rolling Stone’s, Why We’re Living in the Age of Fear
- “When we let go of our notion of fear as the welling up of evil forces within us—the Freudian motif—and begin to see fear and its companion emotions as basically information, we can think about them consciously. And the more clearly and calmly we can articulate the origins of the fear, the less our fears will frighten us and control us.” — Karl Albrecht, Ph.D., Psychology Today, The (Only) 5 Fears We All Share
- “The question isn’t whether or not we experience fear in our lives (because we all do and always will for as long as we live); the more important question for each of us to ask and answer is how we can move through our fears in an honest way so that they don’t stop us from being who we really are and going for what we truly want in life.” — Mike Robbins, The Huffington Post, How to Move Through Your Fear in 7 Steps