Face Your Fears: Does It Actually Work?

Facing your fears can give you confidence, self respect, and increase your personal power. But how and why does it work?

Psychology

People want to avoid their fears, but most fears become worse when avoided. One of the reasons facing your fears actually works is because of something called exposure therapy. Exposure therapy uses incremental challenges to reduce a person’s negative feelings towards a task.

The increasing difficulty desensitizes the person to the challenge. Eventually normal life routines aren’t hard anymore because the incremental increase in challenges has surpassed typical daily experiences. It also teaches people that they are capable of confronting and emotionally processing the fear.

Exposure therapy works well for social anxiety, phobias, ptsd, ocd, and many other problems, small and large.

There are four types of exposure. In vivo exposure is directly facing the situation, activity, or object. Imaginal exposure means picturing, recalling, or describing the fear. Virtual reality exposure is a mix of vivo and imaginal. Interoceptive exposure is when feared sensations are brought up.

Jung and Peterson, famous psychologists, talked about how people need to find and slay their dragons. A dragon is a metaphor for the things you avoid and don’t want to confront in life. Often the things that are most dark and frightening to you are the ones you need to work on first. When you conquer the dragon you get the reward of self improvement and self confidence. Your narrative about yourself also begins to change.

How To Face Your Fears

First you need to discover what you fear. This can be as simple as looking for the things you avoid or procrastinate doing. It can be as complex as studying your emotional reactions to situations to find patterns, and then questioning the situation. Ask yourself what the situation says about you that you are afraid to believe. What part of your identity are you afraid to change or come to terms with?

Next comes handling the issue. We will give two example patterns for exposure therapy, imaginal and in vivo. In imaginal therapy, the therapist tells the person to describe the situation in detail. The fear or anxiety gets triggered.

In vivo, the therapist presents the person with an easy to conquer situation. This situation is gradually increased until the person has surpassed their fear. Think of ways to break down what you are afraid of into small parts. This might even mean you start first with imaginal before increasing the challenge.

Facing Fear Steps

Here are a few steps taken from an anxiety help site. Keep in mind you might be best off just consulting with a therapist who can guide you more effectively through this process.

  1. Make a list of situations that you are afraid of. Group similar fears together.
  2. Write down a fear ladder. List things from least scary to most scary. Write down a goal, like going on a date. Then write down specific steps for that task. Each fear group gets a different ladder. If you struggle making things more or less difficult, change the length of time, the time of day, the environment, or who is with you.
  3. Expose yourself to the bottom rung on a the fear ladder. Repeatedly engage in that activity until you feel comfortable and you feel the negative feeling start to lessen.
  4. Repeat and keep practicing. Keep doing all of the steps, since the more you practice the fear the faster it will go and stay away.
  5. Reward yourself.

Examples

Facing your fears can cover a large array of situations, from well recognized phobias, to social anxiety, to mental roadblocks. Here are some examples.

  • If you have social anxiety you spend a few minutes each day saying hello to a random person at the store. Next you try having a quick conversation with them. You increase the challenge each time you conquer it.
  • If you struggle with eating issues you seek help from a professional.
  • You are procrastinating going to work or doing homework. Instead of avoiding, you figure out what you are afraid of happening, and march right at that. Maybe you fear not being able to figure out a problem, so you start with that problem first.
  • You are afraid to be vulnerable with people because you think they will make fun of you. Instead of pretending to be tough, you share your emotions with someone who you know will be open minded and a good listener.
  • You often get nervous during arguments or discussions, so you join toastmasters and comedy clubs to get rid of your nerves.

Your deepest fears are often more difficult because of how well you have learned to cope with them. Rooting those fears out and conquering them can give you the confidence and personal power you seek. If you want to know more about how to discover your deepest fears, check out this article.

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