Recognizing, Accepting, and Capitalizing on Fear

by 26Health Staff

When I was eight, I earned the privilege of watching a movie alone in my room; I chose Ernest Scared Stupid. The beginning of the movie was filled with the funny, silly humor I loved about the Ernest franchise. However, by the middle of the movie, things had taken a turn for the worst; the trolls were winning and Ernest’s sidekick had been turned into a small wood figurine. Worse yet, Ernest had no idea how to fix it.

I was hiding under my blankets completely terrified with my heart pounding and unable to catch my breath. As the movie continued, it felt like it was taking hours for Ernest to figure out how to stop the trolls, though I knew it couldn’t have taken that long because my mom never would have let me stay up past 9 pm. Eventually, Ernest saved the day and turned his friend back into a real human, which meant all was right in the world. That was until I got out of bed to use the bathroom and remembered I had a collection of 20-30 troll dolls which, thanks to the movie, I was now afraid would come to life and try to turn me into a wooden figurine.

This was the first time in my life that I realized that something seemingly normal could turn into something scary.

Since the Pulse massacre and now with the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have experienced this feeling; situations where they once found solace, such as going out with friends, now elicit feelings of worry and fear. Many of my clients tell me that they feel like “fear is winning.”

What is Fear?

Fear is also the most crippling of emotions because it is rooted in our natural instinct to protect ourselves and those we care about from perceived harm. Generally speaking, our fears fall into two categories: innate fears and learned fears. Innate fears are fears that we are born with, primarily the fear of falling and the fear of loud sounds. Learned fears are fears which are usually developed at a young age and are often influenced by our environment and culture. Most fears fall into the category of learned fears, for example, evil enchanted troll dolls.

Fear as a Superpower

I am a Whovian, which means that I am a fan of the BBC TV show Doctor Who. There are many reasons I love the show, but one of the main reasons is that the hero is a humanoid alien, who above all else, believes that the human race is intrinsically good. Because of that conviction, he often questions beliefs about human nature, and provided the best description of fear I have ever come across:

“Let me tell you about scared. Your heart is beating so hard I can feel it through your hands. There’s so much blood and oxygen pumping through your brain, it’s like rocket fuel. Right now you could run faster and you could fight harder. You could jump higher than ever in your life. And you are so alert it’s like you can slow downtime. What’s wrong with scared? Scared is a superpower. It’s your superpower. There is danger in this room and guess what? It’s you. Do you feel it?”

For me, this description of fear serves as a reminder that in the moments when we feel most weak or vulnerable, we are also strong because we are accessing the greatness within ourselves. Fear is not our adversary; it is simply, one of the means by which we activate our superpowers. Thinking about fear in terms of its function helps us to feel less out of control of our bodies and our minds. I wish I could go back in time and explain this to my 8-year-old self; it would have eliminated the thought that I was broken because something I loved had literally become a thing of nightmares. Lucky for me, this particular fear was short-lived and approximately one month later, I was back in troll heaven.