I once read an answer on Quora that said something along the lines of “fear breeds the very thing that one is afraid of.” The example given was how germophobes are actually the ones who spread germs by peeing all over toilet seats in public restrooms because they are afraid to sit down. In this way, fear of dirty toilet seats creates dirty toilet seats.
The more I reflect on this idea, the truer I find it is. Here are a few more examples I have come up with from personal experiences and reflections:
- I am afraid of coldness, and when I am cold, I don’t want to move because if I move, I get cold. However, the longer I don’t move, the colder I get. If I could just get over the initial coldness, moving actually warms me up. In this way, being afraid of coldness actually creates coldness for me. What I need to do to combat coldness is to confront it by moving my body against the cold air.
- I have perfectionist tendencies. What that means is that I am afraid of failure. However, the more I am afraid of failure, the more paralyzed I become. By delaying action, I actually become more of a failure than I would have been otherwise.
- Some people are afraid that eating too much will make them fat, so they go on strict diets. However, dieting makes people hungry, and hungry people eat a lot. At the end, they become fatter than before.
The pattern in these examples is this:
fear of an object –> avoidance of the object of fear –> growth of the object of fear
In order to break this pattern, we have to change our reaction to fear from avoidance of our imagination of the object of fear to confrontation to the reality of the object of fear.
I find that it is useful to think of what I am afraid of as an enemy. How does one defeat an enemy? The first step, of course, is “know thy enemy”. In other words, one has to gather as many facts and be as objective as possible about one’s object of fear. Often, this is enough for the fear to subside (if the enemy is weak).
Then, after learning everything about the enemy and devising tactics accordingly, one attacks the enemy by confronting it directly. This step requires a lot of courage, which is the opposite of fear. While fear creates more objects of fear, courage destroys them.
To conclude, fear breeds the very thing one is afraid of. The best weapons we have against this enemy are knowledge and courage. By investigating the enemy, we gain knowledge. This knowledge in turn fuels our courage to confront and defeat the enemy.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela