Fear, fearlessness and courage

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Mark Twain has been quoted as saying, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”

Fear is one of the most basic emotions.  Some people even think that all emotions can be reduced down to just two, fear and love.  Fear is vitally important, because it tells us there is something wrong or threatening.  It helps us to stay safe from things that might harm us.

However, sometimes we are scared in situations which aren’t life-or-death threatening, and this holds us back from doing the things we want or need to do.  Sometimes fear leads to other emotions which mask it, such as anger.

That is where Mark Twain’s quote comes in.  It’s often implied that courage is the same as fearlessness, but I think that is a mistake (and so, apparently, did Mark Twain!).  Fearlessness would be not feeling afraid at all, and what one person is fearless about could cause terror in someone else.  This might be due to past experiences or traumas, or learning from early caregivers about what is to be feared.  Courage is a quality that emerges when you feel afraid, but move past it to do the thing you want to do anyway.

If “being courageous” isn’t the same thing as not being scared, then it’s possible to feel courage and act bravely while still being scared silly!  You might dismiss compliments on your courage and resilience by saying, “yes, but I was so scared…”.  That is giving you far less credit than you deserve, and overlooks the strength you showed in overcoming your fear.

Often the best way to move past fear is by exposure to the thing which scares you.  You might feel able to do this by yourself, or you might want support and guidance.  For example, graded exposure therapy can be very helpful for phobias and OCD.  Major airlines offer “fear of flying” courses, and London Zoo’s “Friendly Spider Programme” offers an excellent course for arachnophobes.  Please note, these types of therapy are supportive and compassionate.  At no point would you be forced to do anything you’re not yet ready to.

What induces fear in you?  What does it hold you back from?  How would you like to move past it, and are you giving yourself enough credit for how you manage your fear?