Fear & Anxiety (Part 1) - 5 Fears Rooted in Low Self Worth
Fear is something that almost everyone experiences at some point. In some senses, fear is a healthy, instinctive response to potentially dangerous situations – the woman who slams her brakes to avoid hitting a runaway child is responding to the fear of causing harm. Her heart may race for a while afterwards, but the rush of adrenaline and fear help her avert a potentially disastrous situation. But fear can also be something that we learn to live with, a vague tension that we feel on a day to day basis without even really knowing why.
In many situations, the root fear of the tension we feel is related closely to our self-worth, such as:
Worrying what someone’s opinion will be on something we have worked hard to achieve
Fear of disapproval
Fear of being ‘found out’ as not good enough
Fear that we are, in fact, not good enough.
While this may not be true for everyone, many fears can be traced to a person’s doubt of their own worth and value:
The Birth of Low Self-Worth
We come into this world with a healthy sense of self, as seen in a confident and happy child. Self-worth is usually only damaged as a result of another person: an abusive parent, a hurtful friend, bullies at school – people who plant the seed of self-doubt and worthlessness. If this seed is allowed to grow, ongoing low self-esteem takes root. The challenge in life is to become so resilient that no one can plant the seed, and that the following five fears don’t result:
Fear of Intimacy
Intimacy is the ability to be vulnerable (in a healthy sense) with another person – letting them see you as you are, faults and all, and being comfortable with it. Many people fear intimacy and inadvertently push others and/or their love away. They may not even realise it, but this is often because they’re uncomfortable with the person’s love, particularly because it conflicts with their lack of self-love. If someone can’t be honest about the way they’re feeling or finds it difficult to share experiences, they may be fearing that if they do open up, their true self will be judged and rejected.
The fear is: If I let them in, what if they don’t like what they see?
The problem it causes is: Lack of meaningful relationships and emotional closeness.
The truth is: You are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139).
Fear of Rejection
Similar to this is the fear of rejection. Sadly, this fear is often born out of actual experiences where rejection has been a very real thing. It can stop us from trusting others and forming stable relationships. It can mean living in a constant state of worry. Or, constantly evaluating other people’s actions, even to the point of irrationality: What if they took what I said the wrong way? Why haven’t they gotten back to me? Maybe they cancelled because they didn’t want to spend time with me? What did they mean when they said …?
The fear is: What if people don’t love me because there’s something wrong with me?
The problem it causes is: Lack of trust and peace in relationships.
The truth is: Your worth is not based on how other people treat you.
Fear of Disapproval
It’s very easy to get caught up in seeking other people’s approval. This means it is also very easy to be hurt and disappointed if we receive disapproval instead. It’s part of human nature to want to fit in, to be loved – that’s why we long to be accepted by those around us, particularly the ones we care about. But this becomes unhealthy if it extends to completely relying on others to feel good about ourselves. Sometimes we even get caught up in adjusting our personality to suit others or going out of our way to meet their needs at the expense of our own. Or, we become overachievers and place top value on our achievements and possessions – both of which can be used to impress others.
The fear is: If people don’t approve of me, what value and worth do I have as a person?
The problem it causes is: Inability to find peace and confidence in being yourself.
The truth is: Your worth is not based on how others feel about you.
Fear of Failure
Sometimes people are bound by a fear of making a mistake, letting other people down, or failing to achieve their goals. This can be because they’re afraid of the judgement and disapproval that might come from others: What will they say when they realise I've stuffed up again? Or, they judge themselves. I'm such an idiot. Either way, their sense of worth is linked to their perceived success.
The fear is: If I don’t succeed in the things I'm putting my effort into, then I'm a failure as a person.
The problem it causes is: Fear of trying new things or of admitting mistakes, and constant pressure on self.
The truth is: Your worth is not based on how successful you are.
Fear of Making Decisions
Following on from this, people who struggle to make decisions often do so because they are trying to avoid failure, keep too many people happy, or they don’t have confidence in their own judgement. They may agonise over each option and worry about the potential consequences. Maybe they have made bad decisions in the past, or have been criticised for them. Either way, as James wrote, ‘a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways’ (1:8).
The fear is: If I stuff this up, what does that say about me as person?
The problem this causes is: Anxiety instead of confidence when making decisions.
The truth is: It’s often better to do something than nothing, even if it means learning from mistakes.
Almost all of these fears are based on what might happen. Maybe I’ll be rejected. Maybe they’ll think I'm a failure. Sometimes we even perceive the thing we fear as happening even when there’s no evidence. This is why fear can be so debilitating. However, the more confidence we have within ourselves and the more we come to know that we have already been redeemed (Isaiah 43:1), the less likely fear is to get a hold on our mindset.