The other day I had an opportunity to think about lessons learned during childhood. While listening to a lecture about bravery and fear, I realized I was given many mixed messages.

Fears are both emotional in thoughts and feelings and in actions.

First, I was taught to be brave. Then I was told to fear things. And hardest yet were the messages where I was told one thing but shown another.

To begin, I can’t think of how many times I was told to be brave. Some of those times included going to school, at the doctor, whenever trying something new, when on a dare from friends, and you can add to the list.

Then there are those times I was to be afraid. Be afraid for fire, traffic, strangers, even new things like ideas, fear being evaluated, and so on.

Hardest were the mixed messages: Be brave and try things, yet new ideas and things were to be feared. Or trust certain people even though they have shown they should be feared. And how about all the times the adults gave one message but their reaction to their advice was the opposite? I think during my formative years, I received more mixed messages than clear ones. I’m not here to belabor, and I’m sure you can add to your list as you wish.

All the messages, whether to be brave, be fearful, or have a mixed reaction, gave each of us a foundation to how we would be and what we would usually follow for all or most of our lives. Some of these messages have been beneficial and some not so much. What’s important to remember is that it’s up to each of us to decide, depending on the message and our life experiences. What is true for one may not be for another. However, in many cases, most of these messages hold some truth, but seldom hold full truth for a lifetime.

When I reflect on these messages, I think the strongest messages were to be brave. And in return, that meant don’t be afraid. After listening to the lecture, I realized this was the worst way to understand this message. Though I learned being brave meant to not fear, I no longer believe these two are opposites.

 I’m not entirely sure what being brave means, but I now know fear is not to be feared. A person can be brave enough to try something new even though they are experiencing some fear. As well, being afraid can keep us from doing something brave. Maybe, sometimes, it’s learning the balance of holding both at the same time. Balance here does not mean equal amounts. Rather, balance is understanding when and how much of each to hold as you make progress.

 I’ve been rewarded when I did what was perceived as brave, but seldom has my fear in the same instance been recognized or praised. So it’s good to be brave and to do so, ignore fear. This is another very mixed message.

 Instead, fear is important and not something to be afraid of. Fear is a legitimate signal for us to proceed with caution.

It’s true we can let fear hold us back for too long or when doing something has benefit. So, for fear to be honored and not something to be afraid of, it also needs to be evaluated. Ask questions about what you fear. Why do I fear this? What’s behind the fear anxiety? How much do I really fear and how much is being afraid of the fear? Is the fear connected with this experience or left over from another? Is it my fear based on someone’s else’s fear?

 Is the fear felt now beneficial or a hinderance? If a hinderance, it’s an obstacle to doing something that is desirable. You can ask yourself if you can set the fear aside so you can move forward. If you can set the fear aside, have a plan on how to set the fear aside, if you can. If, in the moment, there isn’t time to formulate a plan, then do your best to put your fear aside and proceed.

If you can set the fear aside, great. However, seldom is it that easy. Instead, honoring yourself and asking how much or what part of the fear can be set aside may be more realistic. Even if you want to set all your fear to the side, people have a hard time releasing fear, so deciding on setting part of that fear aside can be the best plan to proceed.

However, fear has many benefits. Fear is an emotional signal that’s inherited, acquired, or from an unknown. When a person knows how a fear has come into their world, they can more easily evaluate its benefit. Inherited fears come from others and generally were developed for survival. Acquired fears are generally associated with losing something. These fears become easily transferred to other instances as a part of self preservation. And fear of the unknown is a combination. Many are taught to fear what they don’t know as both a way to survive and so that there is no further loss.

Fear is valuable. Even though it hijacks actions and feelings, it is the signal to evaluate thoughts and actions. When fear signals you, take the time to evaluate how real and honest this fearful thing is, whether in thought, emotion, or action. How justified is this fear? Is it to continue to be respected or can it be released? And more importantly, how much of this fear thing is all right to release? When the fear is to be heeded and respected, do so. If your senses say to fear something now, respect your senses. Too often when someone senses fear and doesn’t heed that warning, they regret it later.

It can be a lot of work and therapy to choose to not live life stuck in fear, but it can also be very freeing. Though, even when you’ve done the work, fears are still going to come as a signal. Get to know and respect you and your fear, so you know how it’s best for you to react and when to react and when to leave old patterns behind that no longer serve you. Maybe it’s really brave to get to know and understand fear as you face it and then how and when it’s a hinderance and when a benefit. When to release and when to hold on. Most importantly, remember, though, you are the only one to decide for you. Whatever way you decide, be comfortable with your decision.

 My personal feeling is fear is not a great friend, but rather a valuable ally. It’s an indicator to reflect and evaluate and at times remember to keep the issue as reminder or help preserve life. It’s seldom beneficial to hang on to fear that does not benefit your life, you choose. As a point of reflection though, don’t fear fear. Allow fear to be your reflective ally.


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