We all fear something. Some people like to pretend that they have no fear, but in reality they are only kidding themselves, and I am guessing that even they are not truly convinced. We all have worries and concerns and are terrified of various realities that life may bring us. The fears that we have can be on a variety of levels, from work to family to finances. Here are some of the most common fears I hear:
- What if I lose my job and not be able to support my family?
- What if I lose my mind and go crazy?
- What if I cannot keep up?
- What if I am not good enough?
- What if I am not smart enough?
- What if they all hate me?
- What if I cannot adjust to my new circumstances?
- What if I do not have what it takes?
- What if I fall apart?
- What if I look stupid and embarrass myself?
- What if my children hate me?
- What if my children grow up to be burdens on me or society?
Most of the fears we tend to express are worse in our minds than how they play out in reality. Years ago I worked on a post-graduate degree program at Gonzaga University. As Gonzaga is a Catholic University, one of our courses brought in the writings of Anthony De Mello. As I am not Catholic, I had not heard De Mello prior to his works being required reading in this degree program. De Mello was a psychotherapist and Jesuit priest who had amazing insights on people, their thought processes, and also had many deep philosophical insights. I read his thoughts on fear over ten years ago and they made a strong and lasting impression in my mind. De Mello states:
It’s not that we fear the unknown. You cannot fear something that you do not know. Nobody is afraid of the unknown. What you really fear is the loss of the known. That’s what you fear.
This is SOOOO true! We do not really fear the known, we fear the LOSS OF THE KNOWN. We fear losing our comfort zone, being pushed into something that we are not ready to do, feeling completely out of control. We fear our stable circumstances (job, family, etc.) becoming unstable and unpredictable. We fear our reactions to losing the comfortable lives that we live. Even when our lives may not be perfect, we still fear losing them, as they are all that we know. De Mello is correct, we do not fear the unknown, we do not know what the unknown holds. We fear the loss of everything familiar to us, everything we hold dear.
This realization has helped me immensely as I have sought to challenge myself to push through my barriers of fear that prevent me from the learning and growth I wish to achieve. If I can stop and remind myself that I will not lose all that I know, that there will still be familiarity and stability in some forms in my life, it is easier to garner the courage to walk into circumstances that I am not accustomed to experiencing.
Today, 336 days ’til 40, I remind myself that my fear of loss of the known is my true fear. By acknowledging and naming the fear for what it really is, I am able to properly address the issue. I am able to remind myself that I will not lose all that is familiar to me (even if I lose all material possessions, I still have my familiar thoughts, etc.) I am able to acknowledge that fear of loss of the known is fear of a grieving process, fear of death of one chapter in my life, and apprehension as to what the next chapter of my life may bring. The unknown is nothing to be feared – it is a blank canvas waiting to be painted.
It is my hope that you too will understand the difference between “fear of the unknown” and “fear of loss of the known” – as you work out the subtle differences in your life, you will be freer to take chances and prepare yourself for new adventures in the unfamiliar.