“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t feel fear,” a CEO of a highly successful firm once confided in me. The constant uncertainty of knowing whether he was doing enough to keep his business successful haunted him. Fear made him fight harder for his business—relentlessly brooding, working long hours, demanding more from his team—and it was taking a toll in fatigue.
Few of us are equipped to live for sustained periods of time in the heighten state of alert that fear arouses. Our natural response is to resolve the fear in some way. Fight, flight or freeze; these are classic responses to a threat. We can fight by over-functioning as my friend did, take flight through impulsive decision making or denial, or freeze through inaction altogether.
Fear is easy to spot in ourselves when our routine is suddenly disrupted by a job loss, health crisis, lawsuit, or death of a loved one. These are catastrophic events. It can be more difficult to discern its presence, however, when life is more or less normal. We may be so acclimated to fear that we are no longer aware of its presence. Like bearing a low grade headache, over time we may forget we even have one.
Low-grade fear is like that too. It requires extra vigilance to recognize it. But you’ll find it lurking behind:
- that hesitation you have to try something new
- the excuse you made to cover your failure
- the compromise you made to win approval at work or with friends, or to land a new contract
- the resistance you feel in pursuing your dream
- that hasty decision you now regret
Fear is a perverse preservative. It seeks to preserve our safety at the expense of our vitality and authenticity. Left unchecked it can fester until it robs our joy and leaves us frustrated. Once we recognize it, however, we can intentionally take steps to trust God with the adventure He calls us to and be rid of that headache we’ve been carrying.
What are ways you’ve seen low-grade fear at work in your own life?
I’ve found that continuously working AA’s Step 4 & 10 on fears has been a huge help. I can more objectively determine which of my core human instincts [Maslow’s hierarchy of sex, security, social, self-esteem (pride), self-actualization (ambition)] are being threatened and where my self-will may be way out of whack.
Hey Spence. Thanks for commenting. That’s awesome. It takes that kind of intentionality, I think, to be in touch with our everyday expressions of fear.