“Face Your Fears and they’ll never bother you again!” At least–that’s the promise! Except that it does not always work. If you are like many people that I see in my office you may have attempted to face your fears and found that it provides little relief. In fact, sometimes it even makes you more afraid to go into the same situation again!
Why does this happen? In my experience facing your fears is only effective if you have done the right kind of prep work. What I mean by that is, not that you have thought about it many times, or prepared yourself by doing your deep breathing techniques or relaxation exercises. Nor do I mean that mean that that you “feel fully ready.” To be honest, you may never feel fully ready to face your fears head on, and that’s okay. You may still be somewhat anxious and even that is Okay and will not derail your progress.
What I mean by the right kind of prep-work is that you have done the work on how your thinking may be contributing and sparking your anxiety cycle. What I mean by the right kind of prep-work is that you know how to respond to your anxious thoughts and physical sensations before you begin to face your fears. The reason that just facing your fears does not work, is that we often just muscle through the situation and rather than having it be a therapeutic learning experience. The only lesson that we get this way is “I am just glad it’s over with!” The result is that it cements our fear and anxiety rather than having a positive effect.
The next time you decide to face your fear, examine your thoughts and your beliefs. The truth is, if you cannot dismiss your feared thoughts effectively—you will get limited if any benefit from facing your fears. You are better off getting some cognitive behavioral therapy that will help you respond differently to your feared thoughts and then facing your fears. If you need help with facing your fears in the Chicago area, please give Dr. Helen Odessky a call at (847) 529-8600.
Thanks so much for this piece. As someone who suffers from anxiety, I think that the disorder is more complicated than just having one fear. The concept that “facing fears” somehow purges us of their effect is old-fashioned and ultimately useless. I’d recommend, as you do, some kind of therapy to take a better approach to this issue. Thanks for elevating the discussion.