The Anatomy of Fear
By Carol Kent
There are basically three types of fear: holy fear, self-preserving fear, and slavish fear.
Holy fear comes from our reverence for and awe of the God who created us and loves us.
Self-preserving fear is the God-given instinct to run from danger, avert an accident, or protect ourselves and those we love. This wise form of fear causes us to take responsibility for ourselves and others. It provides the motivation to teach our children to look both ways before crossing the street and to use caution on a bicycle.
Slavish fear is the negative type that kills expressions of love, plugs lines of communication, imprisons victims of abuse, taunts with ridiculous phobias, controls by manipulation, and erodes all confidence and security.
So, what really happens inside our heads when we're afraid? When we analyze the whole process, it's similar to a chain reaction.
The trigger. Something or someone is always the cause of fear. There is a “trigger point” that makes us aware of danger, evil, or pain. The cause might be from a real or imagined source, but it feels threatening, harmful, and disarming.
Reactive emotion. Our first honest reaction to the triggering event is virtually involuntary. It might be the emotion of shock, terror, panic, dread, anxiety, horror, hurt, anger, or shame. Depending on our personalities, we may have different initial reactions to the same events. One person might have a panic reaction that is immediately recognizable as fear. Someone else's first response might be anger, which could be displayed by a volatile outburst or by passive, wounded withdrawal.
Powerlessness. After our automatic, emotional response to an event, it doesn't take long to realize that things aren't going according to our plan. We feel alone and unprotected before a scary, powerful person or situation. We are not in control the way we would like to be or thought we were.
This is a frightening feeling, and we aren't comfortable staying with it for long. If we were sinless, we would immediately turn our focus to Christ's sufficiency. But every human's natural tendency is to try to regain control first. So we move to the next stage.
Rage. The rage response sometimes begins with a feeling of betrayal. At this point, sometimes unconsciously, we raise our fist in the face of God and cry, “I hate what is happening, and I won't have it. I refuse to feel helpless and dependent. You have let me down by allowing me to experience this situation or emotion, and I cannot trust You anymore. I'm determined to find a better way to resolve my feelings.”
The rage response may or may not feel like anger. But in essence, it's a posture of defiance that is based on the fear that God can't be trusted. So we must go it alone in order to have things the way we want them. This is the nature of sin.
Internal negotiating. Here lies the turning point in the whole chain reaction. This is where we thrash around trying to come up with a way to fix our feelings or situation. Will we choose the path of self-reliance or the path of God-reliance? Depending on our answer, we will “resolve” our fear in either a destructive way or a constructive way.
Reprinted from Tame Your Fears by Carol Kent. 1993 by Carol Kent. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved.