The fear of fearful things
November 19, 2008 4:29 AM   Subscribe

How do I conquer fear? I'm quite afraid of doing things that I have not done before, and it does not get better when I conquer fear of some things.

I used to be scared as hell of going to clubs. Then I started going, and now I am no longer afraid. I used to be afraid of talking to people. Then I started doing it, and now I'm fine.

The problem I have is more meta - everytime I meet a new situation, I get just as scared as I was at the beginning with any of those situations. I conquer the fear of single things by practising things, but it does not help with my general fear of trying new things.

I.e, each fear I conquer does not make the next thing any easier - I am just as afraid. And it's cramping me. I am falling into a routine of 'known' things, and it takes some major effort to add anything to this 'known' list.

And when I stop doing the thing, the old fear comes back. I keep fighting and conquering new things, but it's such an effort each time, I wish there were a way I could just wipe out this meta-fear. I thought if I try new things constantly, I would be able to try other new things without any problems, but it does not seem to work that way. The fears don't seem to influence each other - conquering a fear of going to clubs does not make it easier to conquer a fear of climbing rocks.

I have some type of meta-fearfulness, an overly cautious personality, one could say, and I want to change this. I can't practise, because practise only ever solves one particular item, it does not seem to solve the overarching problem.

Does anyone have any tips on how something like this can be fixed?
posted by ChabonJabon to Human Relations (15 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
you could try looking into meditation - in its simplest form, it's a way of practising being calm - it's also a way of practising being able to recognize emotions (like fear) when they arise - the more you practise watching how they come into being, the more easy it is to detach oneself from them & their effects
posted by jammy at 4:54 AM on November 19, 2008

Cognitive behavioural therapy. Writing down and recording how you feel after accomplishing a particular task, learning from how you handled it, and taking forth what you learned to future challenges.
posted by fire&wings at 4:57 AM on November 19, 2008

I suffer from a clinical anxiety disorder.

Prior to my current treatment (mild medication and irregular, informal chats with my psychiatrist) my situation was almost identical to what you're describing.

I know some people freak out at the thought that they might be suffering from an emotional disorder, but i found it liberating to realise that I wasn't just 'an anxious person' that instead I had a treatable disorder that would eventually lessen to the point where I'd get to see the real me.

Think of it as a physical condition; if you had unexplained stomach pains, you wouldn't live with them telling yourself you're just a stomach-painy person.

Don't wait until you're 38 like I did.

Find a good shrink.

Good luck.
posted by Ugotron at 5:04 AM on November 19, 2008

nthing a good therapist/psychiatrist/other mental health professional. Regular appointments with someone you trust and who you can work productively with (look around, it might take a while to find that person) can work wonders...

Good luck.
posted by fracas at 5:29 AM on November 19, 2008

Response by poster: Okay, let's leave the psychiatrist solutions out of this one, I personally prefer something I can do myself. If I'm overweight, I don't immediately go to a doctor, first I try running.
posted by ChabonJabon at 5:31 AM on November 19, 2008

I think that your mindset when trying new things can affect how much the success is generalized. You could try making a conscious effort to remind yourself that you're doing these new things because you want to do them (and list the reasons why). Personally, changing my perspective from "I'm glad I survived that" to "I wanted to do that and I did it" helped develop a general desire to try new things that simply going through the motions didn't.

Good luck!
posted by matteesee at 5:44 AM on November 19, 2008

If I'm overweight, I don't immediately go to a doctor, first I try running.

I'm not suggesting that seeing a therapist, taking medication, or some combination of the two are your only options, but haven't you already "tried running"? I mean, that's why you asked this question: you've found through great effort you can conquer individual fears, but that does not help with your generalized anxiety of new situations.

If you don't want to work through this with an actual therapist, maybe fire&wings suggestion of CBT on your own could help. I can't give you specific titles, but I have seen some CBT books/workbooks strongly recommended around here before.
posted by owtytrof at 6:06 AM on November 19, 2008

Here's the thing about fear: nobody conquers it. Nobody can just wake up and go "hey, this is great, I'm no longer afraid of anything!" Everybody feels fear; the courageous are those who simply push through it.

Fear has an important function for people, but in your case it's irrational and in fact inhibits your ability to function as well as you'd like. For this reason, the best thing for you to do is to recognize that fear as irrational, understand that it's irrational, and just push through it. Sounds pretty tricky, but the more you do it the easier it gets.

Next time you get into one of those scary social situations, just picture your mind as being a big, roaring fire, and push your fear into it. Destroy the fear. It's natural for people to get nervous when socializing, but it's out of the ordinary to experience fear in that situation. So your goal, then, is to force that fear to the back of your mind and just keep doing exactly what you want to be doing, not what the fear will make you do.

Because that's the problem with fear-- it controls you, if you let it. And it's easy to console yourself if you give into it, but once you learn to contain your fear, to just push it into a small, tiny space in the corner of your mind, and you can learn to respond to these situations without relying on it, you'll immediately feel 100x better about yourself. I'm serious. I've been where you are, and being able to push through that fear is the best feeling in the world.

You can't live without fear, you will always react that way. But you don't have to let it control you. Pretty soon, it just becomes reflexive; once you feel the fear, you know you have to do the exact opposite of what it impels you to do. Example: you see a cute girl at the club and want to talk to her, but the fear wells up and you feel paralyzed. Your instinct is, at that point, to just give into fear and sit there quietly sipping your cocktail. This is what the fear wants you to do. Instead, take a deep breath, swallow, put a smile on your face, and make your feet move. Once you manage to say the first few words, you're stuck with that course of action and the fear is irrelevant.

You'll get there.
posted by baphomet at 6:14 AM on November 19, 2008 [5 favorites]

From The Positivity Blog, 5 life-changing keys to overcoming your fear.

1. Taking small steps

The fear of being rejected and that others might think less of you if you get turned down can make many of us feel uncomfortable in social situations. A solution is to take small steps instead. Steps like first just saying hi to people. Or starting to talk more to people online via forums and Instant Messaging.

2. Getting some concrete, positive motivation

Lack of motivation can get you stuck while contemplating how much your life sucks. If you don´t become clear on you motivation it can become hard to get going. Writing down all the wonderful things you will gain in your life by overcoming this fear can be powerful. Focus on those positive things to get motivated and inspired.

3. Seeing failure and rejection in a new light

You have to work on your skills to sharpen them. See failure or rejection not as something incredibly negative that might end your life if it strikes. Redefine it in your mind to lessen the negative emotional impact and the fear. See failure simply as feedback on what you need to improve on.

4. Being in the now

This means not getting your mind stuck in a kind of psychological and emotional headspace that is placed in the past or future. It means not dwelling on what has gone wrong before and what could go wrong tonight or tomorrow. Just be, and don´t think about the future. Focus on the now and what needs to be done now. The future will be the now soon enough.

5. Redefining you, me and reality

To change yourself and overcome fear you have to be prepared and willing to redefine yourself. The key is willingness. Consistent change in behavior will still probably be slow and gradual (with some epiphanies). It doesn't happen overnight. If you are prepared and ready to change, you can rewrite what you perceive as the truth about yourself and your personality, thoughts, actions and emotions.

Take the Positivity Challenge.
posted by netbros at 6:42 AM on November 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

Okay, let's leave the psychiatrist solutions out of this one, I personally prefer something I can do myself. If I'm overweight, I don't immediately go to a doctor, first I try running.

I presume that you understand that you probably said that because therapy would be something new and not under your immediate control.
posted by mandal at 6:49 AM on November 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

OP has stated repeatedly in past questions that therapy is completely out of the question.
posted by spec80 at 8:10 AM on November 19, 2008

Keep taking yourself out of your comfort zone. Seek out things you are afraid to do and do them. Peer pressure helps. Anything to get you over the hump. Forget about therapy. Learn to discern the difference between real and perceived danger. Seems like you are quite young, you need time to learn how to be awesome.
posted by clark at 8:12 AM on November 19, 2008

Can you accept a reasonable amount of discomfort/fear as the cost of new things?

A bit of discomfort is to be expected. You're taking a risk on something that just might suck and forgoing a known quantity. If I go to clubs tonight, then I can't sit home on my couch in my underpants. Clubs could be nearly any level of good or bad; couch/underpants is known to be safe and comfortable.

If you can accept that doing something new will cause you some short-term fear, then you have some motivation to get started. You know that the fear is transitory.
posted by 26.2 at 8:16 AM on November 19, 2008

Seconding baphomet. Fear is a primal and essential instinct in us. If we didn't have it, our ancestors would be eaten by sabre-toothed tigers. It's evolutionary.

You wouldn't want to be completely fearless. There are legitimate things to be afraid of because it impacts your survival.

That being said, our fears shouldn't dominate our lives. You need to evaluate the risk, and fight fears that are worth overcoming. It sounds like you've been doing a good job of it so far.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 12:33 PM on November 19, 2008

I'm quite surprised at your question. I've lived my life under the impression that what you describe is completely normal. At least, it's been normal for me.

Attempting new things is hard. It places one in dangerous and difficult positions, opens up the very real and immediate possibility of being thwarted, of failing, of hurting oneself, of falling short of the mark.

The very fact that you are even trying makes you better than most people around you. The fact that you are suceeding makes you nigh on epic.

Don't change a thing, mate, and if you need inspiration, use this.
posted by Cobalt at 8:09 PM on November 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

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