What Is Fear That Can Be Tamed?

We all have it, as I do. It’s how we navigate and manage situations. We’re not alone; we’re just afraid to admit when we’re afraid and how we overcome that fear.

A new book by psychologist Dr. Helen Fisher is titled Fear That Can Be Tamed: A Guide For Managing the Fears of Adolescents . It is a guide to teaching young adults how to learn from their mistakes. The book begins by outlining the “five F’s.” They are: fear, fear, fear, fear, fear.(4) Fisher says that as children go through a process of learning, they sometimes learn that their fears are wrong. This is sometimes when we have a conversation about them with an adult. If we don’t admit we’re afraid, we’re setting up a bad situation for ourselves. One of the mistakes we often make as kids is not acknowledging when we’re afraid. Fisher talks about “fear-escalation training.” In it she describes how she used it to help kids deal with the fear of being bullied. She says she took the bully’s name and address, had his parents call him the name of her bullies, and then talked about what she told him. Then she had the bully ask for permission to call her by the name of her bullies while she talked to him. It works. The fear comes on relatively quickly and it’s a good idea for us to learn that it’s OK to talk to an adult about our fears. If we are afraid we can do something about it; we can talk to each other about it. If we have a bad day at work we may want to talk about that.

Fisher describes how many problems start with fear. She talks about the fears we bring to the bedside table at night where we can hide from the world rather than facing it up close. These fears can be learned. It’s part of what makes us human. If we know we can talk to someone about our fears, it helps us overcome them. Dr. Fisher goes on to describe how we’ve learned this behavior is acceptable by teaching “fear-reduction learning.”  

Fisher describes another useful way in which to learn how to deal with our fears: our natural reaction to the fear of being hurt. For instance, we can recognize that a fear of being hit can be used as a learning opportunity. We can be aware that even if we’re physically threatened, if we’re given permission to talk in the room, we can have an informed and non-threatening conversation with the person about their fear of hurt. We can even have this conversation by having the person ask us about our fears. If they ask us about fear, we don’t have to give them our reasons for not wanting to hurt. There are plenty of reasons why we might be afraid of hurting someone. One of them is because we’ve been told that doing so is a bad thing.

Fisher doesn’t stop there. She describes another skill she used to master in her own personal experience: dealing with the fears that keep us up at night. She describes a time when she didn’t sleep well and she didn’t want to know what was on the other side. She says she would look out at her bedroom wall and see a crucifix. She’s a Catholic and so she would get really afraid there at night. If she ever was in a situation where she was afraid that she would be hurt, a little voice in the back of her mind would start telling her to just stop looking in these directions. Fisher says that she couldn’t stop looking and she couldn’t stop feeling this way. Asking her about that would have been a terrible waste of time. She ended up going to therapy to try to learn how to accept her fear and work it down. This type of practice is not about learning how to deal with all the things we don’t want to know about, but how to cope with all the things we are afraid to know.

Fisher talks about some of the ways parents can help us. They can help with the fears of being hurt, especially physical abuse. They can do this by explaining to us that this kind of abuse is wrong and hurts others. They can also help us by putting the word out that abuse is wrong and that it hurts others. Parents can find another way to help when faced with fear than by trying to fix problems. Instead we need to learn to see our fears in a new light, to be in the presence of them and even to learn how to avoid them altogether.

What are your fears that can be tamed?

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Pam and I were both inspired by this article written by Dr.