The Power of Fear

The Power of Fear

By Revd. Gracious Nyabonda

There are many self-sabotaging habits that are vices in life many of which remain unknown to us. My experience as a personal development and life coach has helped me understand this truth. The discovery of potential that is never converted to any material gain has led me to realize how much power these self-sabotaging habits have on our lives.  Psychology informs us that fear is the power which hides behind all self-defeating behaviors. My passion as a personal development coach has led me to research much on this salient power that is not only affecting many but has also been a hindrance in my life for a period which I cannot state precisely. What I can say is, I am happy and relieved to have known of this weakness of mine. It is my desire that many who seek personal development will be able to conquer this vice that manifests in many forms and is the source of our little progress if any. The paper is informed by my life experience as a student, wife, mother, pastor and a life coach as well as sources from various fields which are psychology, theology and the coaching fraternity.

Finding it difficult to achieve your goals? Having a lot of excuses: not enough resources; not enough moral support; never having time; failing to meet the standards; not certain about anything? Have you ever wondered what is happening to you? Why so many limitations despite having lucrative goals and an intelligent mind? Why are others making it despite having the same resources and coming from the same background? Here is one of the silent factors that could be the answer to all these questions: fear. It is the objective of this paper to expose fear, its triggers and manifestations and ultimately to propose the tools that can be used to conquer fear and emerge winners. The paper is divided into three series, the first one focusing on defining fear and exposing its effects; the second one exposes the triggers and effects of fear of failure and success and the third series provides us with tools that we can use to conquer fear. The ultimate goal of these series is to empower the readers to foster courage and be able to harness fear into a positive power, instead of fleeing, we fight to conquer; instead of reacting we act intelligently achieving our goals no matter what it takes; instead of bowing down to limitations we redefine our boundaries.

Fear is a salient power that takes control of oneโ€™s major decisions and activities. We are usually not aware that we are within the grip of fear. For a long time, I have claimed that I am bold and brave and was not even afraid to take any risk. At one time, my mother said, โ€œI am sure dai hondo yakarwiwa wakura ukadai wakaenda.โ€ Such is my bravery; little did I realize that concealed within me was a strange fear of failure which was running my life.  Many times, our bravery pertains to physical things that we confront such as darkness, heights and taking other risks. We hardly realize how the little things; our daily decisions and tasks are controlled by our psychological fear. I know, one cannot even admit that he or she is afraid as it seems demeaning. However, unless one admits and confronts his or her fears, one will stay in its grip and continuously fail to reach intended goals.

Fear is the emotional power we are afraid of the most, stress, nervousness, anxiety, edginess, and sleeplessness are some of the many manifestations of our disturbed relationship to fear. In general, fear is defined as, an unpleasant feeling triggered by the perception of danger, real or imagined (Oxford Dictionary). Fear manifests in many forms some of which are fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of change, fear of success, fear of making decisions, fear of responsibility and fear of commitment. In its shadowing expression fear is paralyzing. Rather than carry us over the threshold to the unknown, it makes our blood run cold, prompting us to flee from life. It is like with other feelings; whether we succeed in utilizing fear as a power or get caught up in its shadow depends on its drive and direction. Fear is neither a good nor a bad power. As with any other power, it can serve or hinder us depending on how it is harnessed.

Fear is normal and part of every success story. One could claim that our entire civilization is dictated by one huge, fear-avoiding strategy; insurances, policies, and legal systems are designed to make us feel safe. Jimenez (2001) believes that, it is fear that gives you the powerful adrenaline rush so that you will have the ability to flee from a situation that is truly unsafe or the same adrenaline rush to fight to win.

Fear means leaving known territory when considered objectively, fear is the epitome of excitement and adventure. Berns (2005) describes how the level of dopamine, a transmitter in the brain, rises when we are confronted with something new. Depending on whether this new thing is threatening or not, dopamine will either trigger our fight or flight response or produce spontaneous joy and long-lasting satisfaction. Berns (2005), concludes that, only the new truly satisfies us as human beings. As a power, fear allows us to experience fulfillment in every moment, if through nothing else, but the unpredictability of small things.

Dittmar (2015) and Jimenez (2001) concur that, fear is an explosive power that shifts boundaries. It requires us to gather courage and willingness to enter into unknown realms then we experience it. We experience it as a current that not only enables us to perceive the threshold to the unknown, but which also carries it across it into a new realm.  Through it, one expands comfort zone, radius, and scope of action. In this way, possibilities reveal themselves which were not available before because they lay beyond the borders of what one knew. Through them, we rise above ourselves and develop in a measure hardly possible through any other power. Jimenez (2001) attests that, Columbus is still considered a hero despite his numerous failures and shortcomings, because he had the courage to face his fear and sail beyond the boundaries of the known into the unknown. Most people are only acquainted with the defense mechanisms of a system that strives to avoid fear at all costs. They feel their body contract, their breadth stop, and a feeling of paralysis spread throughout their entire system. Hence, many fail to redefine their boundaries because they fail to harness the energy of fear positively.

We need fear to be creative; find solutions and possible paths if none are known to us; find our life purpose; truly live; be able to love unconditionally; experience adventure; face uncertainty and remain open to the mysterious; go beyond boundaries and grow beyond ourselves; evolve (Dittmar, 2015). If there is no situation that seems inevitable, terrible, or unsolvable to us, we have no genuine impulse for change. Our definition of who we are remains static because it is not affected by our environment. We are stuck and we have no way of learning from our mistakes. Thus, fear is a necessary evil, we just need to know how to manage it.

In most cases, fear is perceived to be negative. It is only associated with danger and fatalities. It is fear and all its counterparts, such as worry, anxiety, depression and self-doubt that will turn oneโ€™s dream of success into an unsettling nightmare that haunts one into paralysis. Dittmar (2015) asserts that, fear corresponds to the element earth, like a rock wall or a mountain, it rises before us and confronts us with a dead end. It is indeed a dark and mysterious power. Like death, fear is a threshold that separates the known from the unknown. Hence, fear is a signal for the unknown. Thus, when perceived negatively, fear brings confusion, boundaries and limitations. In light of this negative orientation with fear, one may never accomplish his or her goals. It is actually the biggest barrier that everyone should overcome.

When we become too fear conscious, we often are painfully aware of the existence of boundaries but want to avoid confronting them at all costs. A popular strategy used to avoid experiencing our limitations is to create a fear of fear. The fear of fear which is also called anticipatory fear, becomes an artificial boundary between us and our real limitations (Dittmar, 2015). As a result, the system is constantly interpreting something as terrible but the interpretation refers to fear itself. What is hidden behind this second fear is just that hidden. There is no need to preoccupy ourselves with our true fears because our alarms go off miles before we ever reach them. We have no way of accessing what initially scared us: the unknown. Out of touch with what โ€˜itโ€™ is, fear becomes a self-perpetuating mechanism, building up steam in the whole system. Hence, we are terrorized by fear itself without knowing exactly what we are afraid of, thus, it is just fear of fear.

This mechanism, the fear of fear often perpetuates itself over the course of many years, sometimes reaching a point where every aspect of a personโ€™s life is governed by it. To break through this cycle, we need to recognize that fear is caused by the unknown. Therefore, fear of fear, arises because fear itself is unknown to us. When we find ourselves trapped in the fear of fear and we realize our entire life is dictated by it, we usually think we are familiar with fear, but the only thing we are familiar with is the defensive strategy of our system, not fear itself. It has remained hidden from view, primarily due to our ever-intensifying efforts to evade it.

We cannot escape the fear of fear. The very attempt to do so generates yet another fear: the fear of the fear of fear (Dittmar, 2015).  According to Dittmar (2015), to break through this cycle, we must encounter fear consciously- fear itself, the fear of fear, or even the fear of fear of fear. It is always the same power that invites us to experience the new and enter the unknown. The realization that we are running away from the unknown is important. It is also important to open ourselves up to the possibility that the attempts to escape are what exhaust us, not fear itself.  Our fear invites us to move beyond the boundaries of the known, enter new territory, and embark on a journey with an unknown course. What allows us access to this territory is precisely the evoked power of fear. If we are uncomfortable with this power, it runs our life from the realm of the subconscious. Only when we are ready to allow this power to emerge and are willing to face it can we utilize it to transcend our limitations. 

It is evident that fear is neither good nor bad, but it is indeed a power that determines whether we redefine boundaries or are paralyzed. In order to convert it to a positive power, we need to know how to harness it. To deal with it, we need to be familiar with its triggers and manifestations. Watch out for series two where these will be exposed.


Berns, G. (2005). Satisfaction: Sensation Seeking, Novelty and the Science of Finding True Fulfilment. Henry Holt and Company.

Dittmar, V. (2015). The Power of Feelings: A Practical Guide to Emotional Intelligence. Verlag VCS Dittmar

Jimenez, L. (2001). Conquer Fear. Florida: As A Man

Vornbrock, S. (2013). Conquer Your Fear of Failure and Your Fear of Success. Arizona: Breakthrough Performance


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