Fear & Anxiety (Part 2) - Fear of Other People
How Does Fearing Others Affect You?
Other people can be a major source of anxiety. It's usually something to do with the fact that they have repeatedly treated us badly, used their power against us or simply grate against our personality. The result of this varies between two extremes: feeling a vague tension whenever near them or thinking about them, to full-on physical reactions such as vomiting and dizziness.
It can mean avoiding places so you don't have to go near them (e.g. the young person who skips school because of a bully; the employee who 'chucks a sicky' to avoid seeing a colleague; the family member who makes an excuse to not attend the next birthday party). It can mean not wanting to talk to them. Or, turning to other things to cope with the fear-related stress: eating too much chocolate, drinking too much, biting nails down to the stubs (or one of many other habits).
The constant tension is draining. It wears us out physically and emotionally. It also wears out our nerves - the longer the fear continues, the more even little things feel overwhelming. It steals our joy and our peace. Even when we're not around that person, we may still feel a vague tension because deep down we are not relaxed about the situation. This means we may find it hard to sleep, to concentrate, or even to maintain healthy relationships - when we're stressed, even dealing with our loved ones can be a challenge.
The fear of others means we can also stop living for ourselves and live for them instead. This includes going out of our way to keep them happy, fearing their disapproval, or just trying to manage the volcano before it explodes again. Whatever the reason, our lives start to revolve around their needs at the expense of our own.
Last week I wrote about how 5 major fears are rooted in our self worth. One of these was the fear of disapproval, which is strongly linked to the fear of other people. This means that the fear of other people also links back to our self worth. If we were totally secure within ourselves, then we wouldn't live in fear of what others may or may not do to us. Of course, if there are significant threats to our mental and physical heath, these need to be dealt with appropriately and not tolerated. But fear is often about the 'what ifs' - 'What if she doesn't like me?' 'What if he says this about me?' 'What if she's in a bad mood again?' 'What if he yells at me when I tell him?'
What if they are? What if they do? What's the worst case scenario? Can you develop a plan to deal with that? Do you have to stay there and put up with it? If so, how can you build resilience so whatever they say doesn't affect your sense of worth?
It's like the story of the three little pigs - the first two built their houses out of straw and sticks, but the wolf came and blew them down. The third built his house out of bricks, and it was the only one that withstood the pressure of the enemy. He was safe inside, and the wolf eventually wore himself out and left him alone.
The Bible tells us that God is our fortress (Psalm 91:2). A fortress was a structure within which people could live, even entire towns. Those who lived there didn't have to worry about the enemy - the fortress was equipped to deal with anything that tried to attack it. In the same way, when we dwell in God, we dwell within a refuge that protects us. We don't have to fear the enemy.
The fear of the thing is often worse than the thing itself. Fear is like a cloud in our mind that covers our perspective and rationality. But we don't have to let it. If fear is stopping you from enjoying life, from going where you want to go, from sleeping well, then it's time to move into the fortress - to build your house out of bricks so no 'wolf' can blow it down.
Your worth is not defined by how other people treat you. The more you believe that, the less people will be able to inject fear into your life.