Fear is probably the single most conflicting and complex feeling in the world. Sometimes it's just good fun, a brief burst of adrenaline during a horror movie or roller coaster ride that gets the blood pumping and (for some of us, anyway) the dopamine flowing. Other times, it's a good motivator; fear of illness can encourage us to make healthy decisions and fear of injury can keep us safe. You could absolutely argue that a healthy dose a fear is necessary for our safety and no one would disagree.
But, like all things, fear taken to an extreme is anything but healthy. It can be paralyzing and mess with your happiness and quality of life. Fear of the unknown and the different often results in hate and bigotry. Fear of change can lead to stagnation and misery. Fear of rejection and loneliness can cause us to hold on to toxic relationships and patterns. Too much fear as a result of trauma can also lead to paranoia and being in a constant state of fight or flight, which is emotionally, mentally, and physically draining.
Working through our fears is difficult but rewarding work. Overcoming these perceived limitations, slowly but surely, is part of the healing process. I know this because I lived it; I can admit to having an acute fear of failure.
In high school, I was an overachiever because I didn't want to fail my classes and disappoint my parents. While I am proud of my accomplishments today, I never really felt like I was "the best" at anything in high school. I didn't crack the Top Five in my class (I came in #6), I only "won" the 1st place poetry prize because the actual first place winner was a junior and this was a senior award (I was the 2nd place winner), and I wasn't voted President of the National Honor Society. These all felt like monumental failures because someone else surpassed me, so instead of celebrating what recognition I got (many of them well-deserved in their own right), I instead focused on all the ways I had failed.
I would carry this defeatist attitude with me well into my 20s. In college, I chose a very practical teaching career rather than focus on pursuing my passions because I was afraid to fail as a writer and end up broke and relying on family for financial support. In my relationships, I was always afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing and hurting or pushing my partner away, so I always put their needs before mine. At work, I am perpetually afraid of being fired by speaking my mind, so I avoid confrontations with coworkers and keep my head down and my mouth shut even when the injustices I'd witness enrage me to no end. I once stood by and allowed the principal of my school punish the entire 7th grade class for the acts of a few, which resulted in my 7th graders having their privileges taken away even though they had done absolutely nothing to deserve that. I didn't say or do anything to fight this unfair punishment, and I convinced myself that I simply didn't have the power to change the principal's decision. And maybe that's true to an extent; maybe nothing I said or did could have changed his mind. But I regret staying silent and not being an advocate for my students. More than that, I regret not fighting such punitive practices in a school setting.
I am slowly working past these fears; I make more conscientious efforts to defend myself, to put myself first, to forgive myself, and to speak up. The fear is still there, but the more I do what I know needs to be done, the less afraid I feel. My hope is that I come out the other end of this very long tunnel feeling unstoppable, because fear can, above all else, paralyze you and keep you unmoving and unyielding.
But we are not meant to stand still; we are meant to move forward.