Fear and Anxiety

Fear is a God given emotion which helps us keep safe from potentially dangerous situations. The problem with fear, however, is when the object of our fear is not legitimate. For a fear to be legitimate it must truly have the potential to harm us and it must be something we are actually experiencing.

For example, a fear of poisonous snakes is helpful when there is one right in front of me; that fear will aid me to keep safe. However, if every time I go for a walk I am gripped with the fear of seeing a poisonous snake, it is no longer a legitimate fear because there is no real threat of danger.

At other times our fear is not legitimate because the object of our fear has no real potential to harm us. I once knew a lady who had a phobia of burnt matchsticks. There is no real threat there! These types of fears defy logic. We can tell ourselves over and over that we shouldn’t be in fear but it just doesn’t help. These fears can be a torment to us and interfere with our ability to enjoy life, for some they are crippling.

It can seem that we are at the mercy of our emotions and there’s nothing we can do about it. Fortunately though, that is not true, there are solutions to these issues.

Firstly, we need to understand how our emotions and beliefs work together. Our emotions are to our soul what nerves are to our bodies, they give us the ability to feel. They are reflectors, not originators. They reflect what we believe. The issue is that we are not consciously aware of the majority of our beliefs. They sit beneath the surface of our conscious mind and we can be totally unaware of how they got there and that they even exist.

The majority of our beliefs do not come through formal learning but through life experience, particularly as a child. I do not like spiders and years ago when my son was a toddler he came from the living room to the bedroom where I was, trying to communicate something to me. I thought he was trying to tell me that there was a spider in the living room but when I got there I couldn’t see anything. He was calm and happy as he tried to get his point through to me. I went back to the bedroom and a little while later he came back, motioning again that there was something for me to see in the living room. I walked into the room only to see a massive huntsman on the wall. I gasped in fear. My son’s total demeanor changed and he became afraid because he saw that I was afraid. In that moment he learned that spiders are to be feared and from that point on it was evident in how he reacted to them. He is now an adult and likely has no recollection of that event but the fear of spiders remains.

Our minds are programmed with all kinds of information from birth right through our lives from the experiences we have. We learn far more from everyday experiences as a child than we ever do from books and formal learning. The more emotionally impacting an experience is, the stronger the belief and subsequent emotional reactions will be. This is evidenced in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Cognitive behavior therapy is used by many therapists to help a person change their beliefs and manage their emotional responses to situations. It can be very helpful for some but for others it may end up being exhausting to constantly have to manage their thoughts without any lasting change.

The issue is that the mind taking in new information into the brain simply isn’t enough to change a core belief that has been learned through experience or trauma. These strong core beliefs can be termed “strongholds of the mind”. A stronghold is the word used for a fortress or prison back in biblical times. These mindsets, or core beliefs, are impenetrable – truth hits them and bounces off again.

Fortunately, God has an answer to this problem as we read in 2Corinthians 10:4-5

“4For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, 5casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,”

The Word and Spirit of God are well able to demolish these mindsets. If we understand the process, we can cooperate with the work of Holy Spirit whose desire is to lead us into truth and bring freedom. Jesus said that it is truth that sets us free.

Renewing our minds with truth can be a process and it may require perseverance and patience. If we return to the fortress picture of the stronghold, sometimes we need to keep clearing away the bricks until we feel totally set free from the effects of the old belief. We know we are free when our emotions and behavior reflect the truth and fear no longer controls us.

Many times in ministry sessions Holy Spirit will lead us to the memory where the fear and false belief was created. He can reprogram our minds with truth and dismantle the false belief very quickly in this way. He accesses the part of our minds where the false belief was inserted and replaces it with truth. In this process, trauma is healed and fear is replaced with peace.