Fear is Ruining Your Life, Here's How

How many times have you outrun a cheetah? If you felt the stomach dropping, heart skipping clutch of fear at any point today, I'm guessing you weren't zig zagging from a wild beast trying to maul you, you were experiencing what I've dubbed MPTs or Modern Protection Thoughts (acronyms are fun).


These MPTs are typically a daily, even hourly, occurrence and can be triggered by having to make any decision that has potential risks or downsides (even as small as having to talk to a coworker about their weekend  watching Cat gifs online when you don't want to can trigger these MPTs). They come alive as nagging voices of doubt, anger, or self pity in your mind, or strike as a full on panic attack that makes you sweat plate sized pit stains through your shirt (hopefully it's not a button up shirt, because you can't hide shit with a button up shirt). This fear can even stifle you from doing, saying, or being the "wrong thing."

Fear is traditionally defined as "an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat." We human beings take a lifetime of experiences and begin to (subconsciously) believe that fear is our best friend against pain and suffering, forming the Modern Protection Thoughts that shape each and every action that we take. This pattern of thinking couldn't be more wrong. 

How Fear is Born

From a young age, we're trained to use fear to protect ourselves against the world -- "Don't talk to strangers because they could harm you. Eat your veggies or you will get sick. Don't hit that little boy at recess because you will get in trouble by your teachers. Don't chomp down on that electrical cord or you will be very sorry. Go to church or go to hell." Many of these statements at their core have some good lessons - of course you want to protect your children and yourself from pain and suffering. This natural habit of protection takes a very wrong turn when they form a pattern of worst case scenario thinking for every life encounter. This habit can push you to hunt for negative consequences for every decision you make, such as, "I have to go to school or else I won't get a good job. I have to keep this job that's killing my soul because I am afraid I won't be able to pay my bills. I won't steal this meatball sandwich from Subway because I'm scared of the police body slamming me on the sidewalk and handcuffing me."

These patterns of thinking are deeply ingrained by a society and world that teaches us to fear the unknown to try protect ourselves against pain. Imagine if the previous thinking I described was flipped, "I'm going to school because I want to learn about my country's history. I'll take another job, even if it's not exactly what I want, to pay those bills but also be happier. I won't steal this sandwich because it can hurt someone to lose something they value and own." This all sounds very kumbaya, and I'm sure you may be thinking, "Come on CBlack, people will never think like that because it's unrealistic." If you just had that thought, you've already proven my point - you're thinking about the worst case scenario before this situation could even occur in real life! 

When you combine these MPTs with trauma, you get the perfect recipe for distrusting disaster and deep unhappiness. 

Trauma and How it Affects your Fears

Childhood is a formidable time in your life. There are debates with how much weight we should place on how our childhoods affect our lives, but there's strong evidence that our earliest experiences shape our perspectives of the world for better and for worse. First experiences of love and security typically start from infancy, and if you're lucky, you receive stability and emotional comfort from your parents and surroundings. Children that experience abandonment, neglect, or different forms of abuse, are on shaky ground with trusting people in this world. If you're not able to build healthy attachments to the individuals who raised you (genetic or not) it forms a foundation of distrust of others that creates instability in a person's life.

My past experiences with an emotionally abusive father amped my Modern Protection Thoughts up like they took two shots of vodka and red bull. I was constantly on the subconscious hunt for signs and red flags from potential friends, lovers, job opportunities, you name it. I would use those "signs" to predict and project someone's future behavior and outcomes. At times, this skill of reading people to determine how trustworthy or reliable they were helped me avoid mentally unhealthy individuals. I got so "good" at reading people, I begun to ruthlessly cut individuals off at the slightest whiff of any flaw I believed proved a person untrustworthy and unreliable. 

The downside of this pattern of thinking was that it wasn't always accurate. I had no way of truly predicting someone's future behavior based on random signs or past failures. I couldn't control future outcomes based on this projection, so all it did was limit my circle and experiences but not necessarily limit any pain. 

Marginalized groups have this pattern of thinking to a severe degree. This fact shouldn't come as a surprise given the dark statistics that show minorities aren't doing so great when it comes to the mental health department: we minorities on average carry higher levels of stress, depression, and mental illness compared to other groups. It's hard to see the world in a healthful way when trauma and pain has occurred to a significant degree.

Vulnerability is the Key

Brene Brown, a researcher and TED talk master, wrote a book based on her findings of what makes people happy and what role fear plays in our lives. She found that individuals who are able to be comfortable with vulnerability, take more risks in love, life, and career and benefit greatly from this habit of taking a chance on things that may or may not work out. 

When you use fear as your main lens of viewing the world, it creates a false sense of comfort and control. It helps justify not taking any actions that may have a downside of pain, even though there is no guarantees to avoiding pain. Bad things happen to good people, even to people who have contingency plans B,C, D, first aid kits near their bed, and pay premiums for even the most obscure insurance policies. When you're able to have a healthy dose of vulnerability, it gives you the freedom to take chances. You'll speak to that stranger on the bus, or start that company you've been yapping about for the past five years, or drop the word ratchet in a business meeting, because you'll be comfortable with the idea that it's ok to not be protected at all times. You can't predict all future outcomes from past experiences, so fears only provide a false sense of control that will limit you from being vulnerable and authentic. 

I could go on and on and on and on about fear, and how sickly risk adverse and fearful we've all been socialized to be, but you would stop reading this if you haven't already. In the meantime, I want you to start thinking about the fears that have held you back in life. What are they? Are they a true reality or a projection to try to protect yourself from perceived threats? Give a big middle finger to those ideas, and you'll begin to really start living.