On Facing Fears

What is Fear?

Fear is an unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm. 

Our fears are driven by a physical reality to be safe, this unpleasant emotional experience has its root in our thought. Our thoughts and emotions are inseparable when we think we are afraid we feel the emotion of fear. We tend to avoid circumstances that create the illusion in our minds of being fearful, we use negative language over and over again in our minds, in order to avoid any pain or suffering that might come as a consequence. For example; talking to new people, speaking in public, fear of driving, starting a new business or even starting a new hobby.

Most of us have grown up believing, that fear is an emotion that is an unconscious, impulsive response to any threatening situation, anyone who is a student of psychology must be familiar with the fight or flight response. But, that’s not entirely true, the modern neuroscience researchers have shown that our brains are capable of much more than responding to impulses. The good news is we can overcome our fears. How you may ask!

Allah‎ﷻ has given the best examples to us in the prophet’s (عليهمس السلام ). We know that the prophets were human beings and they were the ones who were tested the most, would they not have faced these fears while they were being tested? We have no way of knowing their feelings, and ‎إن شاء الله we get to ask them about that in Jannah, however, what we do know is that they accomplished great feats, and they wouldn’t have accomplished all that if they let their fears overcome their mission. Their faith was stronger than their fears through which they were able to fulfill their purpose. The purpose, for which they were sent down to earth, which is preaching and spreading Allah‎ﷻ’s message to their respective nations.

Most of us know the negative effects of fear and anxiety, it paralyzes us, and stops us from achieving goals, arrests our growth as a person and it blocks us from functioning at our optimum level. As a result, we are always frustrated and cannot be the person who we really are or want to be.

Face your fear. This may sound clichéd and you may say, I keep hearing people saying this often but, what can do I achieve this?

Try to understand where this fear is stemming from, try to find its root. The more you understand something, the less intimidating it becomes. Ask yourself meaningful questions, that will lead you to the answers of why you feel the way you do, dig deeper into yourselves and be honest with your answers. If you fear approaching new people and talking to them, ask yourself, why am I feeling this way? Is it because I fear they may judge me, or what if I mess up? Where exactly is this fear coming from? When you are able to answer these questions you will realize that the root of your fears is often from your thought in that moment.

“The competence-confidence loop” is developing competency around something in order to develop confidence around it, which means the more you know about something, the more you gain mastery in that particular aspect, and hence deal with it in a better way.

Fear is not real. Most everyday situations and things that cause us to fear something, do not carry an imminent threat to our lives. They are often a creation of our minds and since these thoughts come from inside ourselves, we make them our reality.

Sometimes, the negative feelings we experience are from the waswasas of Shaitaan, he puts fear in our hearts, to prevent us from doing anything meaningful and purposeful with our lives. He keeps us engaged with our fears, and prevents us from achieving the excellence that Allah‎ﷻ expects from us. And, the most important aspect to note is he uses this as a tool to create an illusion of disconnection from Allah‎ﷻ and further keeping us entangled in this illusion to keep us from finding peace and taqwa in our hearts. Fear keeps us from doing what’s right, as Allah‎ﷻ says in the story of Musa (عليه السلام):

“But no one believed Musa, except [some] youths among his people, for fear of Pharaoh and his establishment that they would persecute them. And indeed, Pharaoh was haughty within the land, and indeed, he was of the transgressors.”

[Surah Yunus: 83]

Allah‎ﷻ removes the fear from the heart of those who have true faith, and follow it up with good deeds. Allah‎ﷻ says;

“Indeed, those who have believed [in Prophet Muhammad‎‎] and those [before Him] who were Jews or Sabeans or Christians – those [among them] who believed in Allah and the Last Day and did righteousness – no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve.” 

[Surah Al Ma’idah: 69]

This is an indication to keep our eeman strong and have complete tawakkul on Allah‎ﷻ.

From a psychological point of view, we have fears because we have a thought of being hurt or experiencing pain. Basically, there are three areas of pain we may experience in our lives and understanding these areas can help us fix our mindset around those things.

The pain of loss. Fearing that if we take action, we might lose something that we care about or hold close to our heart. Fearing that if we do it, we might lose something of value, or fail in relationships. We can break this cycle of ‘what ifs’ by not focusing on what we would lose, but rather on what we would gain. Focusing on the moment at hand doing what we can do now and not worry about the future.
As a norm, our mind creates these ‘what if’ scenarios, followed by a negative statement, creating a state of anxiety fueled by the deceptions of Shaitan, that we are incapable of changing the things we want to change.

The pain of action. We create this illusion in our minds that changing something is difficult and challenging, and believing this illusion put a block in our paths from taking action towards making that change, we imagine in our minds that the process to doing something new would not be easy, we are so comfortable with this thought that we do not want to take that effort to work towards it. For instance, if we want to learn to drive, and the fear of roads is stopping us from achieving that goal, we keep telling ourselves that it’s not worth the effort, that we rather stay under the blanket of our comfort zone, than the tedious task of taking up those driving classes in the first place. We tell ourselves, ‘I don’t have the confidence to face the road, I am not competent enough to learn how to drive, I am not sure how this is going to go……”.

Since we process this image as being scary, we don’t even want to take that step toward change. The decision to change is just a thought away, and on the other side of that thought is action. Change can happen only through ACTION.

The pain of the outcome. The fear that the effort and time invested will not get results is again the thought about the future, and expecting a worse outcome. We need to focus on what we can do now, and visualize positive outcomes. Allah‎ﷻ promises us that our efforts shall not go wasted, He‎ﷻ says:

As to those who believe and work righteousness, verily We shall not suffer to perish the reward of any who do a (single) righteous deed.  

[Surah Al Khaf: 30]

It is important that even if we do not get the desired outcome, we remain content with Allah‎ﷻ’s decree, and understand that His plans and better than our own.

And finally, the secret sauce to overcoming any kind of fear or achieving anything in life is the Du’a, when you feel incapable of helping yourself, seek the help of Al-QadirThe All Able, cause for Him‎ﷻ nothing is impossible.

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