My Fear, My Friend: A Brief, Personal Outline of the Book and Its Message
Fear quietly controls many aspects of our daily lives, yet we are often completely unaware of its deep impact. In my groundbreaking research, I discovered that the very fears we often unconsciously run from and try to avoid can actually become highly beneficial tools in the creation of self-awareness and fulfillment. I have termed this aspect of fear—the valuable side of fear that we often ignore—“Transformational Fear.”
Transformational fear is far different from the rational, reality-based fears that often come to mind when we think about fear. In my research, which investigated fear from a depth psychological and neurobiological perspective, I found that most people recognize fear merely as a physiological response to an actual or perceived threat within the environment—for example fear of a stranger, dark alleys, a tiger or a mountain lion. I discovered that most people do not differentiate between realistic fears and imagined fears. I began to focus on how imagined fears tend to immobilize and constrain us in silent, pernicious ways. I realized that the type of fear I was working with had the ability to create incredible transformation when it was used as a tool rather than avoided or run from. I became intrigued by the idea of helping others transforms their lives by developing a new and positive relationship with fear.
My interest in fear originally emanated from my own life. I had always thought of myself as an incredibly strong, independent woman who took risks given half a chance, so it was a rather sharp blow when it dawned on me that I’d lived much of my life in a place of fear. It wasn’t long after I had this realization that I felt pulled to investigate fear, to really look it in the face and dismantle it. As I began to deconstruct fear, I began to recognize it in myself more readily. As I became more aware of fear’s powers, I began to see its far-reaching and destructive effects in others.
I wanted to learn more about fear in order to help others pry themselves from the grip of fear and transform their lives. As my research deepened, I began to better understand fear-based issues and their related disorders (e.g., anxiety, panic attacks, phobias, and addictions). From the terror of panic attacks to days filled with anxiety and depression, I began to identify the evidence of fear’s destructive power in my clients--and in humanity at large. As I delved into the root causes of fear-based disorders, my work helped me see with greater clarity that our society operates on fear to a large extent. The environment of fear we are steeped in breeds and promote fear on an ongoing basis. As a result, both children and adults have become ridden with anxiety, panic, depression, and general angst. Sadly, they are often wholly unaware of the cause of their feelings of unrest. In fact, many have become so accustomed to either ignoring or medicating over the symptoms that they no longer feel the depth of their distress.
The more I learned about fear the more I felt compelled to share my discoveries with others. To this end, I developed a unique approach to fear-based issues that focuses on delving into fear and deconstructing its various levels. Although this approach is somewhat involved and multi-layered, the results I have seen are profound. By learning to acknowledge, differentiate, and under the various faces of fear, greater self-awareness develops. This self-awareness facilitates increased self-confidence, personal power, and a sense of freedom. As Transformational Fear loosens the chains of destructive fear, life becomes filled with hope, passion, and fulfillment. Gone are the days filled with anxiety, depression, and unsettling inner turmoil.
Moving into Fear
Fear, when used as an instrument of self-awareness, is an incredibly powerful tool. Transformational fear can be used to move us out of fear’s constraints and into a fuller life. Often, we are simply on auto-pilot. We react to situations without much thought due to being busy, stressed, overtired, and unaware. We remain in patterns of behavior and thinking simply because they are familiar to us. Women and men stay in unhappy marriages. Employees complain about their dead end jobs. Many parents tend to fear for their ability to provide for their children, their elderly parents, and themselves. We turn to anti-anxiety drugs, anti-depressants, and sleeping pills. Even when the patterns are uncomfortable, unproductive, or downright destructive, many people prefer the known to the unknown. This attitude emanates from a place of deep—often unconscious—fear. I say, “Turn it all around! Don’t look at fear as something to be avoided—instead, look at your fears! Welcome them and embrace them to see what information lies in store.” In this way, fear becomes a truly valuable instrument in our hands. Fear is two-faced; we are accustomed to seeing only one aspect of fear—it’s frightening side. When we smile at our fears and look at them with curiosity, we gain control over the fear—and fear loses its power over us. It is an incredibly powerful way of looking at fear.
Unfortunately, fear often locks us down. Fear can work against us by making us immobilized and constrained. Much of this has its roots in neurobiology—in the “fight and flight” instinct. However, most of our fears don’t serve to protect us from actual threats. Instead, we become accustomed to being in a chronic state of irrational fear based upon imaginings and worries about the future. The worry and anxiety only debilitate us and make matters worse. When the self-preservation instinct becomes over-utilized, we often freeze without realizing that we are frozen. It’s a vicious cycle. It is such a pity, because I see so many individuals who are absolutely miserable, but so afraid to make changes. The first step is differentiate between constructive fear and destructive fear, real fear and imagined fear. Fear—left to reign free—feeds upon itself. We become afraid of our fears. For example, a client recently came to my office for a group counseling session. She was so terrified that she could not cross the threshold. As it turned out, she had amassed a litany of fears that had prevented her from coming for months on end. These were all imagined fear—entirely unfounded—and they had successfully kept her from seeking help and support. Once you begin to break down fear’s control, the opportunity for self-awareness comes alive. It’s as though you’ve given air to the person’s internal fire, and they begin to light up with hope and life. Fear—destructive fear—works against that. Transformational fear fosters self-awareness. It is this very self-awareness—fueled by reflection, desire, and determination--that breaks old chains. Healing and transformation results. It is so difficult, because we are immersed in fear—we live in a world riddled with fear. It is so pernicious that we don’t realize how destructive and invasive it has become. With a movement out of controlling fear—a simple awareness of the difference between destructive fear and transformational fear—positive changes can begin.
In the course of my research—the research that provided the foundation for my book--I developed two testing instruments, the Manly Fear Based Immobilization Scale and the Qualitative Fear Survey. Both are very user-friendly and are designed to help clients open the door to working with their fears. In my research, through the quantitative analysis, I observed significant correlations in both the trauma and the control groups that supported my research hypothesis as to the negative effects of destructive fear and the positive aspects of Transformational Fear. In particular, statistical analysis of the Manly FBIS found some very noteworthy patterns. First, those with a greater sense of being controlled by fear felt more immobilized; second, those who felt more immobilized experienced decreased satisfaction in life; conversely, those who expressed a greater degree of self-awareness experienced less depression; and those with a greater degree of awareness of Transformational Fear also expressed increased life satisfaction. In accord with many tenets of neurobiology, it was clear that mindful self-reflection was healing—the opportunity to explore personal narratives does, indeed, enrich neuropsychological processes. One key finding was the evidence of increased faith in those who felt that they had successfully surmounted trauma. On a clinical level, my research helps me further understand, and empathize with, the variety of ways that fear manifests itself in my clients’ lives. In understanding how fear insidiously exerts control, I help my clients pay attention to their thoughts and behaviors that are based in fear. I help them move away from destructive patterns into positive, constructive ways of being. As well, there is great power to be had in changing a worn-out personal narrative based in fear and negativity.
I felt so compelled by my research that I was led to develop a book that makes the concepts less obscure and more pertinent to the way fear impacts our daily lives. It is my hope that this will become a handbook to those who are seeking to transform their lives. I believe in this work and the power the individual has within to change. Sometimes all we need is a bit of a forceful nudge to get started, to get out of fear’s grasp. Already in progress, my book is a beacon for those seeking to truly improve their lives. Unlike the multitudes of self-help books, My Fear, My Friend allows each reader to take personal, specific steps toward creating the life that has been a secret dream. Through my unique methodology, each reader finds that a life free of destructive fear is a life that is utterly transformed.
--Carla Marie Manly, PhD