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A World Addicted to Fear
The Epidemic of Fear
If you find yourself awakening in the middle of the night with worries about the previous day or the next day, you are not alone. How will that meeting go tomorrow? Will my boss like my ideas? Will that woman I like be as attracted to me as I am to her? I hope my kids are okay! When will the terrorists strike again? Is my 401(k) secure? Will there be enough left at retirement the way the economy is going now? What is that pain in my stomach; am I getting cancer? Will I pass my test tomorrow? These worries are all common expressions of the same emotion—fear.
Our wonderings, worries, analyzing, projections, and obsessions have become the relentless drone of our thinking for many of us today. But is this really a recent habit, or have we always been addicted to our worrisome thoughts? Have they only just recently grown to epidemic proportions of stress, anxiety, and dread about the future?
As a psychologist and addictions counselor for the past thirty years, I have witnessed one underlying constant in the litany of addictions and mental disorders in my patients, and in the worries and anxiety of my colleagues and myself—fear. The specific thing each of us fears and the level of intensity of that fear varies from person to person and from time to time. Nevertheless, fear is the constant, whatever its form or intensity.
Fear is so commonplace that it seems necessary, normal, and in some cases a sign of true caring, awareness, responsibility, and maturity. For example, our society sees worrying about our kids as a sign of being a loving parent. Fear is such an accepted part of life that we even brag about our fears: Who is most stressed? Who has more to worry about? What's fascinating is that we don't think of stress or worry as fear, but that is all it is—fear in a socially acceptable form. Fear appears normal, but is it just so commonplace that it only seems normal? Is it simply part of our collective (un)consciousness? I believe it is.
Aside from our everyday personal fears concerning safety, having enough, being successful, child rearing, performance, finances, and relationships, we also worry about the "big stuff." The news is full of daily reports of ever-more-violent deaths from terrorism. Government intelligence sources promise that attacks by the invisible enemy on our sovereign soil could happen anywhere, anytime. The future of the economy seems more uncertain, with the national debt at record levels, our currency devalued, and rampant corruption in our corporations and financial institutions. The environment is also cause for fear—global warming, climatic catastrophes, deforestation, extinction of animals and plant life, and pollution of our air, water, and soil. Who wouldn't be afraid? There doesn't appear to be a choice.
Is fear the logical response? If so, shouldn't it motivate us to do something about all the problems? One would think so, but the opposite is often the case. Fear has gotten so intense that we often feel almost immobilized by it, even numbed. This numbness is a defense against our feeling overwhelmed by the number and magnitude of personal and societal problems.
The other day I was visiting my ninety-eight-year-old friend in her nursing home. Though she was very glad to see me, she didn't even turn off the TV when I came into her room. She could not risk missing the latest on the terrorist situation, which is why she is glued to the cable news station all her waking hours. She feels she cannot risk being caught off guard.
My friend had always been an example of courage, whether it was climbing mountains in Glacier Park or fighting for a political issue. She had been an inspiration to me all my life. I have seen my friend transform from a vibrant, alive, aware person to one who is trapped by her fearful thoughts.
The illusion that safety comes from being informed of each detail has many of us addicted to cable news. It is like a scary mystery novel that we can't put down till we see how it ends. Unfortunately, in real life the story never ends, so we never get to put the novel down. Following the news, reading the never-ending novel, becomes our life.
It is no accident that following the news has become our life. Advertisers, the media, movie producers, and politicians know that fear captivates an audience and motivates them to stay tuned, buy the product, vote for the politician who is pushing the greatest fears, and join the group that promises the most protection. Fear is addicting, and the policymakers of all organizations know it. The pushers of fear are selling a product, and we have bought it wholesale.
Addicted to Fear
Worry, anxiety, dread, obsession, where do they come from? Throughout time, humankind has sought peace and safety by trying to outguess the unknown. We have tried to anticipate and prepare for the unexpected, the imagined, the apparitions of our minds. Our efforts to control the unknown and thus keep ourselves safe have led to a collective as well as a personal sensation of fear. Individually and as a society, we have become addicted to fear.
Instead of preparing us for an unknown future, fear locks us in an illusionary sand castle of protection, a false sense of security from demons, dangers, and all that we dread. Each day the tide of reality and truth sweeps in and destroys our tentative hold on security, and the sand castle washes back into the sea of creation. Yet no matter how often the sand castle of illusory control is destroyed, the ego rebuilds it with fearful, vigilant thoughts that keep us from experiencing true peace of mind and the ultimate comfort of truth.
This cycle of fear has all the trappings and symptoms of any addiction: denial, rationalization, projection, increased tolerance to the substance (in this case, fear), imbalance that seems normal, and increased harmful and fatal consequences that we minimize and blame on others. We have come to grips with many of humanity's addictions and brought them out of the closet of denial. Alcoholism, drug addiction, compulsive gambling, and sex addiction are the most common. Fear, however, is the last bastion of our collective denial of a self-destructive disease. Furthermore, fear is at the very core of all the other addictions and negativity in our world.
Fear is the cause of all war, greed, material and spiritual poverty, destruction of the planet, and inhumanity to ourselves and to one another. Fear manifests in less noticeable, less dramatic ways as well. For fear is the most insidious force in our world today, robbing all of us—not just those whose fears have warranted a diagnosis of mental illness or a label of addiction—of our capacity for peace of mind, bodily and spiritual well-being, and an ability to get along with each other in a life-sustaining and harmonious manner.
My Addiction to Fear
I remember the first time I felt the beginnings of my addiction to fear. I was five years old, and kindergarten was about to begin. Up to that point in time I had lived a carefree, happy-go-lucky life. The thought of leaving my family, my home, and all that was familiar to me and venturing off on a bus to a strange and unknown place terrified me; so much so that my mom decided to hold me back from going to school till first grade.
Thus began my intimate relationship with fear for the next thirty-some-odd years. In grade school I developed a school phobia and would become so anxious in the morning that I got sick to my stomach before school each day. In high school my fear addiction grew—test anxiety, dating, college admissions tests, peer pressure, career choices. I got to the point where my day began with a pit in my stomach, and I would immediately begin thinking up a list of worries before I got out of bed. I was addicted to fear, but I didn't know it. In my home, worry was simply a normal part of life.
In college, my level of fear grew to the point that I actually had a few panic attacks around exam time. I had no idea that it was unnatural for me to feel so fearful, and I had no idea how to stop the fear. I just coped with it by trying to work harder and achieve higher grades in school and to understand it intellectually by studying psychology. I also occasionally blew off steam by drinking alcohol, which gave me some momentary relief. It got to the point that if I didn't feel fear, I would wonder what I was avoiding and immediately begin searching for something to be afraid of. I was like a swiveling radar dish, always on the alert for something to fear, to avoid, or to be on the lookout for.
I see clearly now why I went into the field of psychology. I instinctively knew that fear was unhealthy, but I had no hope or understanding of how to let it go. In fact, a part of me didn't want to let it go. I was hooked! Nevertheless, I read books on meditation, took yoga classes, did stress-relieving breathing practices, and began to search for peace of mind in whatever way I could attain it. I engaged in many techniques to cope with stress and even taught many seminars on stress reduction. But I was still afraid.
Then, twenty-five years ago, I discovered the connection between my power to think and my experience of anxiety. I realized that fear comes from within my own state of mind and does not originate in the unknown, outside circumstances or events. Once I realized the origin of my fears, my stress went away, almost immediately. Once I quit believing everything I thought and realized I was the thinker and creator of those thoughts, I began to identify with my deeper intelligence—my true Self. My life of headaches, insomnia, back pain, and nervous stomach were gone.
Today I have very little fear. I am no longer afraid of fear, nor do I take it as truth. Instead, I see it as nothing more than a friendly guidance system, which is a concept I explore later in this book. I am writing this book because of my own realization of how to live a fearless life and the desire to share that understanding with you. Fear keeps us in that sand castle of illusionary safety, but it doesn't ever really protect us. In fact, fear is our undoing. This book will help you realize this truth and show you how to discover a source of security, knowing, and serenity that lies within you, and within each of us—the true Self.
From Coping to a Change of Heart
How do we cope with our fear? Some of us nostalgically try to turn the clock back to a time when we believe that values were more wholesome and life was simpler and more secure. (We tend to forget that those simpler times had their own set of fears, such as the bomb shelters and nuclear threat of the 1950s.) Some of us push headlong into denial and self-destructive distractions via addictions to drugs, alcohol, food, sex, money, or gambling. Many of us look outside to saviors—radio pundits, TV preachers, religious or psychological authority figures—in an effort to find someone who has the answers to life's current anxiety, emptiness, and uncertainty. We turn outside and look to Oprah, Dr. Phil, and a host of others, hoping they will give us the coping mechanisms we need to live in an age of anxiety.
Figure 1 illustrates some of the ways in which we have coped with this all-pervasive fear.
Coping mechanisms allow us to live with our dysfunctions without really changing. They are like solving the problem of drowning in a leaky canoe by constantly having to bail out the water instead of patching up the leaks.
For example, if I am afraid and feel anxious, I may have a drink to alleviate my anxiety. My anxiety may go away momentarily, but when I sober up the anxiety is back (with a hangover), and nothing has really changed internally.
The same is true with a positive coping mechanism like jogging or journaling, but without the hangover. With positive coping mechanisms as well as negative ones, we are able to cope with a faulty perception of reality, one that is not based on our true Self, our spiritual nature. That faulty perception is a projection of our ego thought system—our interpretations, prejudices, and biases.
In contrast, a "change of heart" would be a shift in our level of consciousness. It is looking at what I am afraid of from the perspective of the true Self rather than my ego's limited thought system. It is an internal change that transforms the pattern of my thoughts, and as a result my attitude changes as well.
Fearproof Your Life is about how to realize that shift in consciousness, that change of heart. It is about empowering ourselves to realize that we are the creators of our experience. It is about reminding ourselves that we are the ones who created the fear, and thus we are the ones who can uncreate it.
If you have already chosen this path or are willing to pursue it, even if you aren't certain it can happen for you, then this book is for you. If you want a life that is fearless, a life of certainty of the truth, a life of love, joy, and peace, this book can help guide you there.
Somehow, deep inside, you know that within you is the secret to living a whole and fearless life. How do you know this? Because inside you, inside everyone, there is a Universal Intelligence that has guided you to this point.
This book will show you how to access this Universal Intelligence. It will show you that your true nature is trustworthy, and it will show you how to choose it as a source of reliable wisdom. This path goes beyond a life of coping mechanisms designed to deal with fear; instead it promises a life without fear—a life that is fearproof.
As with any addiction, we can only continue the addiction as long as we are in denial and under the delusion that there is no problem. Fearproof Your Life is a book that attempts to break us out of our delusion and begin the process of recovery from our individual and collective addiction to fear. Instead of managing our addiction to fear by developing coping mechanisms, other addictions, and belief systems that we rigidly cling to, we can discover something that is more lasting, more truthful, and more effective. We can alleviate and conquer our fear by discovering who we are.
Fear: Friend or Foe?
We are both drawn to and repelled by fear. Though we often complain of stress, anxiety, and overwhelming fear of the unknown, we seem drawn to fear like a moth to a flame. We love frightening movies, adrenaline-rush sports, reality TV shows such as Fear Factor, and scary bedtime stories. And although we may not like the frightening news on TV, fear is what motivates us to stay tuned. News producers are well aware of this fact, which is why they usually lead with a fear-invoking story.
Despite our attraction to fear, we don't want it to strike too close to home because we hate the way it makes us feel. Fear makes our palms sweat, our hearts race, our breathing strain, and our muscles tense, which over time can lead to physical and mental illnesses. Sustained fear leads to stress, anxiety, phobias, insomnia, and panic attacks.
On a societal level, fear has become an epidemic. We live in constant fear of the unknown—terrorism, crime, the weather, the uncertainty of our health, the economy, and the future of our country and planet.
On a personal level, worry, stress, dread, and concern are considered normal, even desirable. We worry about our children's safety and their future. We worry about the security of our finances, investments, retirement, insurance, and having "enough." We fear for our physical and mental well-being, while commercials for prescriptions to treat every imaginable ailment feed that fear. We are concerned about relationships—finding one, keeping one, getting out of one. Despite our attraction to fear, it inhibits our actions, limits our choices, and keeps our world small. It keeps us from taking risks, from following our dreams, from telling the truth, from expressing ourselves honestly, from feeling hope for the future, and from doing what we want to do freely.
We seem to need fear, but clearly it can be a destructive force in our lives. Could it be that this all-encompassing emotion has a purpose?
The Distortion of Fear
Fear becomes contaminated and distorted when we lose faith in its overall protective nature, when we feel separate from the Divine whole. Instead of listening to and trusting fear's alert system to be there when we need it, the ego takes over and uses the intellect to project into the world all the possible things that could go wrong. We quit trusting in the information that will come to us when we need it and thus begin to trust in the false, ego-based system of fear.
Ego-based fear is distorted and contaminated. With the help of the intellect, it projects dangers that aren't there, only imagined. In its most extreme distortion, ego-based fear has resulted in obsessive-compulsive personalities like that of Howard Hughes, the brilliant entrepreneur who became such a prisoner of his fears of germs and enemies that for the later part of his life he sequestered himself in a tomblike existence in his Las Vegas penthouse. Though he was one of the richest men on Earth, Hughes lived an emotionally impoverished existence.
Excerpted from FEARPROOF Your Life by Joseph Bailey. Copyright © 2007 Joseph Bailey. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Foreword by Richard Carlson
Chapter 1 A World Addicted to Fear
Chapter 2 Fear: Friend or Foe?
Chapter 3 Overcoming Fear through Transformation: From Ego to True Self
Chapter 4 Creators of Experience
Chapter 5 Choice: The Instrument of Creation and the Essence of Safety
Chapter 6 Listening Within: The Key to Knowing One's Self
Chapter 7 Intuition: The Antidote to Fear, Worry, and a Busy Mind
Chapter 8 Fearproof: Immunity from Others' Fears
Chapter 9 Transforming Fearlessness into Right Action
Chapter 10 Living in the World, but Not of the World—Fearlessly
About the Author