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The Five Deceptions of Fear

Part three in a series on “Deconstructing Anxiety."

Gerd Altmann/Pixabay
Source: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay

Fear distorts truth. According to the “Deconstructing Anxiety” model, this is the source of all suffering. It is inevitable that fear distorts truth since, by definition, fear only permits us to see what we feel safe to see, to understand what falls within the bounds of our chosen beliefs. Anything else, we have decided, is too threatening to acknowledge.

And so, we do not live in an “objective” reality but only in our distorted perception of it… a “3-dimensional multi-sensory hologram” which we call “reality." The blueprints of this hologram are drawn according to what we believe will bring fulfillment, but only so long as they do not challenge the worldview we have constructed and feel safe in.

In order for fear to successfully convince us to see the reality it wants us to see and not the reality that is, it must first distort the truth about how it distorts truth. We must not know that fear is a distortion or we would no longer believe in it. So fear draws a veil of obscurity over the way things actually are and then keeps us in darkness about what it has done.

Specifically, it keeps us from realizing that it creates rather than relieves suffering. Instead of securing fulfillment, it merely fills our mind with anxiety.

Of course, we think fear is a necessary tool for survival, keeping us alert to danger that we may be prepared for it. But ultimately, it becomes a brutal dictator, forcing us to be in constant battle-ready mode, consuming us with fantasies of threat and perils that, in the end, become our only real problem. So fear must masquerade as “friend,” seducing us into believing it is better to follow its guidance (“on your toes, prepare for danger”) than to let down our guard and relax.

Even though fear leaves us despairing and exhausted, we choose to keep anxious vigil rather than risk some imagined catastrophe. By hiding the truth about itself, fear shrouds the real source of our troubles in mystery. We end up blaming our circumstances for our unhappiness instead of questioning our allegiance to fear.

The five deceptions

To find our way out of this, we must deconstruct exactly how fear hides the truth about itself, convincing us to employ its strategy for fulfillment over and over. There are five ways that fear accomplishes this goal, five “deceptions” by which it ensures its primacy:

  1. Fear keeps us from seeing that it is ubiquitous. Fear is a nearly constant way of thinking and feeling; whenever we are not in the present moment, wholly fulfilled and at peace with things just as they are, there is a fear lurking in the background. It may be as subtle as “Someday I will die” or as blatant as “My lover could leave me."
  2. Fear keeps us from realizing it is the true source of any problem. Rather than exposing itself for what it is, fear masquerades in a myriad of forms. Anger is a forceful way of saying “stop scaring me," guilt is a way of punishing ourselves before someone else can punish us, and so forth. By wearing these disguises, fear keeps us from addressing it directly to find a resolution.
  3. Fear keeps us from looking directly at it to see it for what it is. When we see fear for what it is, naked and exposed, it begins to degrade. It can only keep up its pretense of power when we run from or otherwise avoid it. By looking at it directly, we gain insight into its true nature and find the threatening situation to be very different than what we had imagined.
  4. Fear keeps us from facing and moving through it when necessary. Facing and moving through fear is the ultimate way of exposing that it cannot carry out its threat; again, we find it is a very different thing than we had imagined. For when we face and move through fear, we come out the other side…still whole and in tact. This, more than anything, proves to us it was not “real” as we had understood it to be.
  5. Fear keeps us from looking at or facing the correct fear. Fear has one more trick up its sleeve: even if we recognize its ubiquity, even if we are willing to look at it, face it and move through it, we can still get thrown off the trail if we don’t find the correct fear to face. In “exposure therapy," for instance, which promotes this very meeting with our fear, it is quite possible to face a superficial fear or even the wrong fear, such as when someone believes they are afraid of asking their boss for a promotion, but are really afraid of appearing foolish in others’ eyes if they should be turned down.

When therapy works

When therapy works it is because it understands that the client’s problems are rooted in fear (i.e. it recognizes the ubiquity of fear), is unafraid to look at that fear directly, addresses it as the true source of the problem, and in some fashion (according to the school of thought) helps the client face and/or move through the correct fear at the source of the problem. This holds enormous potential for not only resolving the presenting problem, but digging out the “root” of what really ails us. Such an approach promises a way of living built on a much wider (and more objective!) appreciation of our possibilities, a way of living no longer limited by the dictates of fear.

In part 4 of this series, we will talk about the 8 manipulations of fear, the specific mechanisms by which the deceptions of fear distort our experience.

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