Menu

7 Common Fears That Don’t Have to Control Us

Love is what we were born with. Fear is what we learned here.” ~Marianne Williamson

As babies, we know nothing about the world. In the universe of an infant, there are no norms to follow, no rigid rules and regulations; no room for labeling or judging ourselves and others. We don’t yet know to disapprove of ourselves, and we’re curious to play, learn, and grow.

We are all born free spirits. Then our environment—our families, schools, religions, and political systems—shape the way we think and behave.

Fear is a learned practice. Children generally are not afraid of trying, failing, and getting up on their feet again. That’s how we learned to walk. When we made our first step, we didn’t call ourselves names or punish ourselves if we fell. We just got up and gave it another try.

As kids, we weren’t afraid to step outside of our comfort zone and try new experiences.

So why did we get so fearful as adults? What are we really afraid of?

1. The fear of imperfection

I often hear people talking about their need for perfection as a sign of virtue. In a society that generally evaluates human worth through how well we do things in life, some people even feel a sense of pride when they describe themselves as “perfectionists” or “workaholics.”

To me, perfectionism is a sign of fear. When I know I do everything perfectly, I’m untouchable. There is no room for others to correct me.

As a child, there were times when I was afraid of punishment after getting bad grades in school. Years later, as an adult, I developed an extreme need for perfection, especially at work. All my assignments had to be executed perfectly so none of my managers would have a reason to criticize my performance. At the time, that fear of authority was still present in my life.

People who struggle with perfectionism also tend to get overwhelmed because they avoid asking for help. They would rather look invincible and strong than vulnerable and “weak.”

Showing up in our vulnerability in front of others is a sign of authenticity. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s a beautiful human attribute, and it takes lots of courage to show what most of us have been taught for years how to hide.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.“ ~Brené Brown

2. The fear of failure

I once read an article about successful people who were intentionally planning for failure. I found that fascinating and strange. Planning to fail? Who likes to fail?

No one enjoys messing up, but those people were using mistakes as much needed instruments to learn and grow.

Today I know that each time I am afraid to step outside of my comfort zone and try something new, that’s the fear of failure making decisions for me.

Each time I find myself stuck and afraid to take risks because I might fail, I ask myself: What’s the worst thing that can happen? Could I cope if it did?

These questions help me realize that my life would surely go on, and that most mistakes wouldn’t literally kill me.

“The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.” ~Elbert Hubbard

3. The fear of success

Sometimes, success is scarier than failure. When dreams look too good to be true, we get scared by our own greatness. Deep inside, we don’t see ourselves as enough, and worthy of love and success.

Whenever I make myself small or put myself down, I am acting on my fear, taking myself for granted, and forgetting to appreciate myself for my achievements. I’m thinking, “Anyone else could have made it” or attributing my accomplishments to faith, luck, or other people who gave me opportunities to shine. I’m focusing on my weaknesses or limitations, without honoring my strengths, gifts, and talents.

That’s how I operated in the past, for too many years. But here’s what I know to be true today: It wasn’t luck; it was me.

Sometimes in life, we need to acknowledge there’s been a lot of hard work and efforts behind our “luck.” And if we’re not yet where we’d like to be, we need to believe that we truly are worthy of what we visualize.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.” ~Marianne Williamson

4. The fear of being rejected

Being liked and included and feeling a sense of belonging to a community are basic human needs. We fear being left out and seek approval as a means to ensure this doesn’t happen.

I can recall many situations in my life when I did things I didn’t really want to do to please others, like going to a movie with someone on a Sunday when my body wanted to stay home and take a good nap.

I was a master of people pleasing and, to be honest, it wasn’t always because I wanted to make everyone happy. The truth is that I wanted people to like and approve of me. I expected them to give me the things I wasn’t giving myself: love, care, and attention.

Again, being loved is a human need. However, being needy is something different. I came to understand that people who are taking good care of themselves are less dependent on the approval of others.

Taking care of our own wants and needs is a necessity. When we make sure to keep our tank full and we treat ourselves kindly, we inspire others to do the same for themselves.

“I used to be a people-pleaser. Now I love them instead.” ~Cheryl Richardson

5. The fear of what other people think

Did you know that the fear of public speaking comes first among all kinds of fears? Even the fear of death comes second! Most people don’t feel brave enough to show up in their vulnerability in front of others because they’re focusing more on what people might think about them than on their performance.

I can recall quite a few situations in my life when I didn’t dare to ask questions, especially when there was something I didn’t know. I didn’t want to look less intelligent or even stupid.

Especially at work, I didn’t feel comfortable enough to openly admit that I didn’t hold all the answers and I still had a lot to learn. I wanted people to perceive me as an expert, super smart, invincible, and strong. I now know that every day brings new lessons in the school of life, and it’s more important to stay open to them than it is to be perceived as all-knowing.

Let’s be honest with this one: I’ve never met anyone who would love to hear they were ugly or stupid. We all need to feel validated. But in the end, all that really matters is that we fully approve of ourselves.

“When I seek your approval, I don’t approve of the me that’s seeking the approval.” ~Byron Katie

 6. The fear of losing control

If there were Oscars for control-freaking, I would have surely gotten one! Looking back on my past, I recognize that I always wanted to have full control over everything and everyone. This comes back to the fear of imperfection.

During my former leadership position with a multinational company, the most difficult things for me to handle were decision-making and delegation—not only with people who were new in their roles and lacked experience, but also with co-workers who were very skilled and competent in their jobs.

Why did I struggle with delegation? Because I knew I was responsible for my team’s results, and I wasn’t mentally strong enough to bear any sort of failure on my shoulders.

Making mistakes would have scared me to death; that’s why I always needed a long time to brainstorm all possible scenarios that could go wrong when making important decisions.

The need to always control situations or other people is a major source of stress. It is tiring, frustrating, energy consuming—and pointless, since we can never control what other people do. Letting go of control is true freedom and a form of self-care.

“Be willing to stop punishing yourself for your mistakes. Love yourself for your willingness to learn and grow.” ~Louise Hay

 7. The fear of what might happen in the future

If I spend my precious time overthinking and allowing my mind to create different scenarios about the future, I risk missing out on my life and the only reality that is: the present moment.

Most of the things we worry about never happen. They are nothing but the illusionary product of our mind.

It’s true, ‘bad’ things do happen at times, but they’re often blessings in disguise that make us stronger and wiser or show us the right path for us.

Looking back on my past, I recognize that I had to suffer in love so that I could understand what I wanted from a romantic partner. I had to become unemployed for a while in order to realize what I truly wanted from a profession and what would bring me joy and fulfillment.

Knowing that my painful experiences were actually gifts, and that I survived them, I’m better able to accept that what will be, will be—and no matter what, I can handle it.

“The best use of imagination is creativity. The worst use of imagination is worry. “ ~Deepak Chopra

I have stopped feeling guilty and ashamed of my fears. I’ve learned how to embrace them with self-compassion, as part of the package of being human. I know the primary intention of fear is to protect me from things that could hurt me. But I also know I don’t have to let my fears control me.

I am aware that I can always get mindful and pay attention to my thoughts and emotions. I make sure that I nourish my mind, knowing that I am the one creating my own world through my feelings, thoughts, and, actions.

“A miracle is a shift in perception from fear to love.“ ~Marianne Williamson

And now, I would like to hear from you. What scares you the most? How do you manage your own fears?

About Sara Fabian

Sara Fabian is a women’s career and empowerment coach and inspirational speaker, on a mission to help professional women to discover their unique strengths, gifts and talents, boost their confidence, find their calling and live a meaningful life of purpose. For weekly inspiration, subscribe to her free newsletter at sarafabiancoaching.com or follow her on Facebook.

See a typo, an inaccuracy, or something offensive? Please contact us so we can fix it!
Announcement: Tired of feeling stuck? Learn to let go of the past & create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • ShaunTheCHB

    Very good article here. Some of these I can certainly relate too. A fear of failure and imperfection is a common demon I face everyday. But my biggest fear is of the future, due to things that happened to me in the past, I do not look to the future with excitement, but with dread. I fear that as bad as things in my past have been, no matter how hard I work or try……the worst is yet to come. It’s a feeling I can’t seem to lose. I often wish I had a crystal ball, just to have a peak and see how bad it will be, so I can brace for it when it comes. I would like my future to be nice and happy, but for some reason, call it intuition, i just can’t see it happening. I get the feeling that the punchline to the cruel joke has yet to strike and when it does, it will hurt immensely to the point of non recovery. That scares me.

  • Sara Fabian

    Thank you for sharing, Shawn. I can hear you. What about switching perpective? Knowing that the past is part of the experience but it has nothing to do with the future? “I am not what happened to me. I am whatever I choose to become.” (Carl Jung)

  • ShaunTheCHB

    I wish I knew how to do that. It’s difficult to change the perspective due to the impact that was made in my life by what happened to me.

  • CW3

    Great article, Sara. Nailed so many of these! (#4 probably ties all of this list together.) Recently woke up (or got smacked awake) after several years asleep and in taking stock was shocked at the depths of fears I hadn’t realized existed, or at least hadn’t realized they exerted anywhere near the influence they did. It was a moment of: “Who the holy heck is this fearful needy person?!?” Living the question now, per Rilke. Really appreciate posts like yours, and Tiny Buddha and other similar communities that act as lighthouses and safe harbors along the way.

  • CW3

    Shaun, I feel your pain. Borrowing trouble from the future is a tough spot. “Staying in the moment” is way easier said than done. You survived your past. That’s something to remember. Even if the future were, worst case scenario, to bring a repeat, you wouldn’t be the same person going through it, and you’d have all the lessons learned to help change your narrative. Are there any strengths/lessons/growth that you are grateful for that stem from your past experiences? Those silver linings might not seem like much, but sometimes they make all the difference.

  • ShaunTheCHB

    Well..I don’t know if this is what was taught to me or simply what I gathered from it all, but here’s what I got from it all. People can’t be trusted, they are all guilty until proven otherwise and love is only for a select elite few. That is the growth I pretty much got from it. I don’t know if that is something to be grateful about, maybe it is. I am not sure. I agree that I am a survivor, but I don’t want to encounter that sort of hurt again. I worry that it might damage me to a point that I can’t come back from. I’ll give an example, if someone good and kind and wonderful came into my life in the future, but the damage got done already, them being in my life would not matter to me anymore. I’d be like a cold zombie person. Just going by the numbers, nothing matters, burned out etc. I don’t want that to happen….ever. That’s a real lousy way to live your life.

  • Sara Fabian

    I’m glad it resonates. Blessings!

  • Sara Fabian

    Your story reminds me of one of my past experience, when I got “burned” and hurt in love and started to think that “men hurt.” What I didn’t know at the time was that my mind created a cognitive distorsion of labeling and generalization (stereotyping people based on someone’s behavior). In reality, some men hurt, others don’t. And today, I am truly grateful for that experience because that was how I found out what I didn’t want from a relationship. What helped me the most to recover was this question, that I’ve learned from Byron Katie: Who would you be without your story? I came to realize many good things were possible for me if I only decided to detach from the story I was telling myself and acting like a victim, while blaming someone else for my misery and pain. In reality, no one can stress me or depress me, unless I allow it. Blessings!

  • ShaunTheCHB

    Yes, I can definitely understand what you mean. I’m not in the same boat, but i can see what you mean. I should add, I have not been in a relationship before, I never got a chance to experience that due to judgmental people.
    I do have that way of thinking for certain types of people yes, I am learning that type of thinking does not help me or anyone else. My main setback in that is I can’t determine who is good and who is bad anymore.
    What I would be without my story? I think I would be a far greater and a better person without my past. I would not be bitter and upset like I am now. I really wish I could just erase it and move on to bigger things. Alas, it’s not so easy to do. Thank you.

  • Cavemomma Ugh

    I fear the future financially. I am the caregiver of my parent with Alzheimer’s Disease who doesn’t have enough money for long term care. Already my personal resources are strained with the daily care of this parent in my home, and I have worked out in my mind that I will have to dedicate all of my full time salary (and perhaps some more hours than full time) to the care of this parent as the years go on indefinitely into the future. I fear that the costs will bring my family to financial ruin at worst, or, in a slightly more positive scenario, the costs will gobble up all my salary for my living expenses and my own retirement. I’ve scared myself pretty well! Yet, how does one refocus on a scenario that is less than worst case, when nuggets (boulders, in some cases) of truth seem to indicate the direction of one’s own fears?

    I loved this article! Thank you for the perspective! And also for those great quotes from the greats!

  • Sara Fabian

    What a big responsibility! Thank you for sharing your experience. I can hear you. That’s definitely not easy. I can not give any advise as I have never been in a similar situation, so I’ll only share what works for me when my fears feels paralyzing. I’ve learned this one from Byron Katie. I take the thought that scares me the most and I inquire it. For example: “I fear that this cost will bring my family to family to financial ruin.” – Is that true? Am I 100% sure, without any doubt, this is how my family will end up financially? If the answer is not a 100% yes (and I assume it is not because we’re not there yet and that’s just an assumption), it means i am not connected to the only reality that is: the present moment. Inquiring the validity of our thoughts is a form of self-care. I hope this helps!

  • Juliet Cruz

    Hi Sara.. I used to be exactly this person… each moment.. I make changes for better me.. for a better way of living… and all I can say is…. thanks to great people who’s willing to share their life journey for others to get some perspectives… allow ourselves to move on to the right mindset.. It’s not easy… (I continue to say i’m a work in progress) but like I say … these articles are food for my soul… and I have learned a lot.. So.. I write to say.. thank you for sharing and providing us ways of doing things I never thought possible..

  • eve

    I fear in the future, and in my relationship to end suddenly, to invest myself so much as i already do with my boyfriend, and that it suddenly stop for whatever reasons (my boyfriend cheat on me with another girl, …). fear that i made mistake, and i do not have time anymore to overcome them, just some regret (cause not in the age to be anymore a mum…)

  • Amy O’Neill O’Connor

    I lost my mother at the age of 24 and my father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma (an incurable blood cancer) two years ago and is now in remission. I became absolutely terrified of losing a loved one. Then just over a year ago my daughter and I were hit by a car while crossing the street in a crosswalk. She was in the stroller and went flying about 10 feet down the street. Miraculously, she was fine, aside from some scrapes and bruises. The memory has haunted me and the thought of what could of been has been hard for me to escape. I did everything right (strapped her into the stroller, stayed in the crosswalk, wasn’t distracted while walking) and still something terrible happened that almost took my child away. The world has become a very scary place and the lack of control I have to stop a terrible situation from happening has been paralyzing. I know I have PTSD from the experience and I am working through that, but my fear of loss has only grown and is sometimes crippling. I find myself constantly trying to somehow prepare myself to lose people I love, which is of course impossible and silly. I am working so hard to overcome this fear and instead be grateful but it hasn’t come so easily. Thank you for this article and the encouragement. I hope I will soon be able to see the world as not such a scary and unfair place.

  • Amy O’Neill O’Connor

    “I agree that I am a survivor, but I don’t want to encounter that sort of hurt again” This statement really spoke to me Shaun… I have experienced losses and hurt in my life that has made it so I am constantly looking over my shoulder waiting for the next bad thing to happen. It is a terrible and depressing way to live. Even the things in your life that you are grateful for become things you worry about losing. I wish I could tell give you a magic answer to get through this, but I am still figuring it out myself. What I am trying to do is make a positive out of a negative… in other words, I want to use my bad experiences and my so-called “strength” to have a positive impact. Whether it be simple things like spreading kindness, practicing acceptance, or contributing to my community in some way, I am trying to create more positive experiences in my life. I don’t know if that is helpful for you, but know that you are not alone.

  • Sara Fabian

    Thank you, Juliet. I’m glad it helps. Blessings!

  • Sara Fabian

    Wow Amy, that was tough. I have never gone through similar experiences to relate but I can only imagine that wasn’t easy. You are a brave woman, and strong. Think how much you’ve gone through and still, you have the inner strength to find the gain in the pain with these experiences and bless others with your gifts (like kindness). Let us acknowledge your strength, not take it for granted. I think people who’ve been through similar pain turn into real assets for other people who need help. They are more able to empathize and be with through sorrow and let others know they are not alone. And sometimes, just being there helps a lot. Thank you for sharing. Light and love!

  • Sara Fabian

    Hi Eve. I am inviting you to switch perspective and see what happens. What would be possible for you if you only knew how to set healthy boundaries in any relationship, including romance? What do you want from a romantic partner? How do you want to be treated? How do you want to feel? From what you describe, looks like you’re giving your power away. Why not taking it back and know that any relationship is about you and what you want. I know it might sound selfish at start but give it a try and see what happens. Get clear on what you want at first. Blessings!

  • Amy O’Neill O’Connor

    Thank you, Sarah. I hate even telling my “story” because I don’t want sympathy and don’t want to be seen as complaining. But it is all part of who I am and will hopefully help me become someone better! I found your article by accident today, and it has helped remind me to move past these fears! Thank you again.

  • ShaunTheCHB

    All feedback and comments are helpful to me Amy. I am glad to know that I am not alone in this, but I am also saddened to know there are others out there that are like me. I think your approach is very commendable. You have a strength to be able to see the light through the dark and move forward and look to positiveness, that’s quite a feat in my book. I don’t know what it will take for me to step out of the dark, but like I said before, I’m not quitting on life yet. I’m hanging in there. Thank you Amy!

  • Cavemomma Ugh

    Thank you, Sara! Doing The Work on this fear of mine is helpful. No, I can’t positively know that the fate pictured in my brain is absolutely true. Something else occurred to me as I watched the news regarding the possible fate of Medicaid…another assumption I have made is, “I am completely responsible for my mother’s future”. So I did a bit of Byron Katie work on that….and that is not true. When I saw the news about the House voting to replace Obmacare, my first thought was, “Oh no. I have a big problem”.(not being able to afford my mother’s future care) But then I remembered that it is not *my* problem, it’s my mother’s problem! If I assume that her financial problems are mine, it closes off possibilities of other people (besides myself) and other opportunities to come to her aid! It puts more of the responsibility on those who would share it with me, (like other family members) and not solely on me. That is a great comfort….

    Thank you for providing contrast and food for thought!!!!

  • Sara Fabian

    I’m glad it helped. The Work of Byron Katie is transformational, indeed, and a gift to this world. Blessings!

  • Hey, Sara!
    I appreciate the honesty here. Thank you for pointing out that vulnerability makes us human, not weak. I was never really the type who was comfortable in one-on-one situations because the possibility of being vulnerable was there compared to staying with a group where the point of focus could be transferred when it was time to get to the “mushy” stuff that I tend to avoid. It’s different now tho, Ive been working on that.
    Im much more comfortable opening up now.