Good fear, bad fear

How to free yourself from limiting fears.
Fears and anxiety

Good fear vs. bad fear


Fears are unpleasant obstacles on the way to a fulfilling life. This article is about what fears and anxiety good for and how to let go of limiting fears.

Good fear, bad fear


There are some obstacles on the journey to a fulfilling life to master, again and again, and again. Many of these obstacles have to do with fear.




Personal development


Fears have a huge impact on our lives. Fear reduces the joy of exploration, play, imitation, and creativity, causes stress, alters the personality. And I am writing here about the fears that many of us know.




Everyday fears and other anxieties


Some things in life are uncertain. We win something, we lose something. Not everything in life evolves as planned, and sometimes it gets harder. That’s when worries can take on serious forms.

Many people are afraid of something. Many things can frighten us humans. Some fear is justified, others unjustified or at least exaggerated;

  • the fear of being judged by other people
  • the fear of being alone, of exam situations, speaking in front of an audience
  • the pressure to perform

Fear rarely makes it better.

Fear makes life more difficult. For example, our decision-making.

Decisions also have consequences, and this can be a burden, can cause anxiety. Fear stands in the way of making clever decisions. Paralyzed by fear, the scope for creativity is not explored and used. Important conversations are avoided out of fear, or they are painful.

Many relationships are only maintained out of fear of being alone. Many stay in the job because they worry about not finding a more suitable one and finally dare to approach to their calling. A lot of challenges and therefore chances remain unexploited because of fear.

Often the fears are unjustified or at least disproportionate, and yet they slow us down, distract us, or even paralyze us. Many of them have the characteristics of demons, which on closer inspection turn out to be projections. And even if they turn out to be substantiated, it is usually better to align and design resources accordingly than to ignore them.

In the case of phobias, it becomes very obvious; avoidance makes the fear grow. There and elsewhere, avoiding unpleasant issues does not solve them, the problem just gets bigger.

How about the purpose of fear?


What is fear good for?


1. Fear is supposed to protect us


Hardly any human emotion has such a bad reputation as fear. People are even afraid of fear.

Fear has a vital function, it is an alarm reaction that should protect us when there is a threat. It is designed to prompt us to flee, to fight, or to exercise extreme caution.

The fear reactions are partly based on innate reflexes and some are learned. Both acute fear and worries about future events that might threaten our existence can be helpful. In the right dosage, it stimulates us to take action. But when fear prevails, it blocks us until we are paralyzed.




2. Anxiety promotes peak performance


Fear can unleash incredible powers. For a short time, the body is ready to perform at its best when anxious. Usually, this lasts as long as the dangerous situation lasts. However, increased physical abilities are not as helpful in many situations today as they were in our ancestor’s situation. Unfortunately, our cognitive abilities largely take a break in the meantime.




3. Physical reactions


When we are anxious, we notice above all the accompanying symptoms; trembling, wet hands, palpitations, rapid breathing up to shortness of breath, dry mouth, altered facial expressions, paleness or blushing, sweating, trembling, weakness, dizziness, diarrhea, urge to urinate and nausea as well as altered, limited perception up to a blackout.

Fear is a primitive system. This fear reaction is supposed to protect us from danger, and the physical reactions that accompany it are natural. This is also the case when fear and anxiety are learned reactions to an unpleasant experience. Then the strong aversion to possible risks should protect against having that negative experiences again. However, too much fear restricts the ability to act appropriately.

Where does fear come from?


The fear response starts in a region of the brain called the amygdala. But how and why did the human species developed that mechanism?

In human history, our species once was a source of food, our ancestors were in danger of being eaten. You and me, we are descended from those who were more careful. The ancestors who were not afraid did not reproduce so often because they were eaten in those times. This has probably left patterns during evolution. Parts of our brains have not yet adjusted to the changing world.

In our somewhat more civilized world, existential threats are usually of a different nature.

Nowadays, only a few people are consumed by hungry wild animals. But our brain still evaluates situations according to old criteria and triggers primal physical reactions. Today this no longer happens in the wild, but for example in meeting rooms and in front of an audience. It is still frightening to leave the supposedly safe center of the herd. The so often praised individuality usually aims at maintaining the security of belonging to a group. On the periphery and outside the herd we feel threatened.

A stage is not a battleground, but if the reptilian brain believes that the audience might be dangerous, you may experience severe stage fright.

Here, and in many other situations, fear no longer helps us directly to save our lives. In the best case, fear leads to an activation, like a cup of espresso. If the fear increases to a restrictive blockage or even takes on pathological forms, then it is harmful.

We get used to some fears through repetition and to others we do not. Fears are not pleasant, apart from the thrill of a horror story, a roller coaster ride, or extreme sports.

Overcome fears


To overcome limiting fears is worthwhile even with mild forms. Fears haunt many people into their sleep and lead to nightmares, which in turn leave traces. Here, as in other areas, unreasonable fears unnecessarily reduce the quality of life. Such ballast works under the surface, it influences perception, thinking, and acting and should be discarded.




Get help with fears and anxieties


Fear and anxieties have many forms, manifestations, effects. Each form requires different steps. While stage fright, for example, can still be handled and solved by yourself or in coaching, real public speaking anxiety or glossophobia requires competent psychotherapy. Public speaking anxiety is considered a social anxiety disorder.

Given an appropriately experienced therapist, anxiety disorders can also be treated very well, improvement, and finally resolving them will be achieved soon. However, some fears do not require psychotherapy because they are not considered pathological. These are the anxieties that are not found in the ICD-10. ICD-10 is the abbreviation for the 10th version of the International Classification of Diseases. Whether anxieties are pathological, is not always so clear. Good coaches know when to recommend an expert. By the way, for 20 years I have been helping people affected by anxiety disorders as a therapist with permission to practice psychotherapy two days a week. Yes, fear has many forms.

“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”, said John Wayne. So, face your demons, and you will support your personal development. Ask for support.

Just ask me personally


Please post any questions that may be of interest to other readers in the comments. Looking for professional help?

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What causes the fear of public speaking?

When you know the causes of your speaking anxiety, it can be more easily resolved. Here are common causes of speaking anxiety.

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Great Ideas Need Wings As Well As Landing Gear And...

This article is a short excerpt from the more comprehensive course materials my clients receive in a group or individual training or coaching.

Published: May 20, 2020
Author: Karsten Noack
Revision: August 20th, 2023
Translation: ./.
German version:

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