Are there things you want to accomplish in life but don’t attempt to do because of fear? Don’t worry—you’re not alone.
According to experts, there are common fears that hold us back in life and keep us from reaching our full potential.
Here are their insights:
Rachel Davidson, MA, LPC-A
Licensed Professional Counselor Associate, Malaty Therapy
Our fears result from our core beliefs
Most of us experience deeply rooted fears that can hold us back from accomplishing everything we hope in our lives. Oftentimes, our fears result from our core beliefs.
Core beliefs are those deep-seated beliefs we hold about ourselves, others, and the world. We form core beliefs as a result of the experiences we have throughout our lifetimes.
A core belief that our worth is based on our performance
For example, if we receive messages as children that we are not loved unless we make all A’s on our report card, we may develop a core belief that our worth is based on our performance.
Someone who holds this belief may live in fear that they will never be adequate unless they constantly perform at an elite level. This type of pressure can create immense fear and can lead to challenges with anxiety and self-worth.
Related: How To Stop Beating Yourself Up
A core belief about others can lead to fear
If we live in fear that we are unworthy, it becomes extremely difficult to live in the present moment, which means we will struggle to connect with others and do well in our work. A core belief about others can also lead to fear.
One example of this will be if we receive messages throughout our lives that people who are different from us are dangerous. When we hold this belief, it can get in the way of us collaborating with and having empathy for others.
Because we are so fearful of what makes others unique, we are limited in our exposure to diversity in thought and background.
Modify your core beliefs
It is not an easy process by any means, but with much practice, we can modify our core beliefs in a way that could prove to be helpful in overcoming the fears that hold us back.
Core beliefs are the result of many experiences over the course of a lifetime, so they can be incredibly challenging to change. However, through the process of cognitive restructuring, a vital concept of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, we can begin to replace the thoughts that led us to form these beliefs with more helpful ones.
Cognitive restructuring is a learning process in which we notice the thoughts we automatically have and find alternative ways of thinking. These thoughts tend to reinforce our core beliefs.
When we really pay attention to our automatic thoughts, we may start to notice some unhelpful or negative thinking patterns.
Once we are aware of our unhelpful thinking patterns, we can start challenging them by investigating whether they are really true and if there is evidence to support them.
If we find no evidence for the thoughts that lead to our core beliefs, we can replace them with thoughts that may be more helpful.
For example, you have the core belief that your worth is based on your performance. You get a B- on an assignment when you usually get A’s. You identify your automatic thought to be that no one will ever take you seriously because of this grade.
The next step is to ask yourself:
- Do you have any evidence that this grade impacts your worthiness?
- Does this grade define who you are as a person?
Asking yourself these critical questions allows you to challenge your typical pattern of thinking. If you answer no, you can replace the thought that no one will take you seriously with a more helpful thought.
Instead of thinking they can’t take you seriously, you might think: “I didn’t do my best on this assignment, but that doesn’t make me a bad student. I’ll do better next time.”
When we get into the habit of challenging our automatic thoughts, it will become second nature over time. We will begin to have ideas that support a different core belief, such as that we are capable and smart.
Working with a trained mental health professional is one of the best ways to get support and guidance as we navigate the process of cognitive restructuring.
Modifying our core beliefs takes time and hard work, but the outcome can be the elimination of many of the fears holding us back.
Jocelyn Hamsher LPC, CST
Professor and Course Creator | Licensed Professional Counselor, Courageous Living AZ
The fear of being perceived as stupid or incompetent
There are a lot of fears that hold people back in their life. From the fear of failure, judgment, and even success, we all have fears that sometimes keep us stuck.
Related: How to Overcome the Fear of Success
While we want to honor that fear has a purpose and the gifts of fear are preservation, wisdom, and protection, we also want to acknowledge that unhealthy fear can really hold us back.
Some common fears I hear from people repeatedly are:
- The fear of failure
- The fear of success
- The fear of judgment
- The fear of attention
- The fear of making a mistake
- The fear of being perceived as stupid or incompetent
- The fear of being rejected or alone
Whether your fear is one I listed or something different, here are three steps to help you work through your fear:
Know what your fear is
When we identify what our fear is and where it comes from, it often loses some of its power.
If I know I have a fear of failure because I was shamed any time I made a mistake growing up, I can have some empathy for my fear and understanding. That knowledge causes the fear to lessen.
If you have fear but don’t know why, explore that.
Ask yourself questions such as:
- What is the worst-case scenario if I act despite the fear?
- When did this fear start?
- Where else in my life is this fear present?
Answering those questions with rigorous honesty will help you learn more about yourself and your fear.
“Play the tape”
Playing the tape is an exercise often done in therapy where you visualize what will likely happen if you make a certain choice:
- What will likely happen if you do not act because of fear?
- What will likely happen if you act despite the fear?
With that, we often explore what the worst-case scenario is.
If I were to act despite my fear, what is the worst that could happen? When we really explore that, we realize that often what we are afraid is going to happen really isn’t that big of a deal or is something that can be worked through.
Then, think about five years from now. Will the action or situation matter five years from now? How would I feel five years from now if I allow my fear to hold me back? Will I be grateful I did not act due to my fear or regret not taking steps because of my fear?
Take small steps that move you in the direction you want to go
If you reflect on your fear and believe it is unhealthy and holding you back versus healthy and keeping you safe, start with small actions.
If your fear of judgment keeps you from putting yourself out there with your work, do something small that moves you in the direction you want to go. You don’t need to go all in and jump completely in the water. You can put a toe in and slowly take it step by step.
The important thing is to move and not let fear keep you paralyzed. Often those small moments motivate us toward more forward movement.
Keep in mind, though, some personalities are more all or nothing, and if so, you may need to jump in all the way and experience the discomfort all at once versus slowly.
You know what you need, so trust yourself as you navigate, pushing through the fear that once kept you stuck.
Licensed Relationship and Marriage Therapist
From my experience, personal as well as professional, I’ve seen three fears that typically hold people back.
Fear of failure
As humans, we want to be successful. We have expectations and goals, and we want to meet those expectations and achieve those goals. If we can’t, it can be really painful emotionally.
We can feel guilt, shame, and disappointment. Those are painful emotions that we tend to try and avoid.
Of course, no one wants to be a failure at something, but for some people, the idea of failure really holds them back because they have an all-or-nothing mentality about it. They would much rather not even try than take a risk and feel like a failure.
Redefine what “successful” means
To get around that, you would first need to redefine what “successful” means. Success for some means meeting a certain goal. For others, success means simply trying.
If your meaning of success is too broad, undefined, or too unattainable, you’ll need to redefine what success means.
Reframe what failure means
Second, you’ll need to reframe what failure means in your mind. Instead of seeing something as either pass or fail, look at it as an opportunity to learn and grow, and mature.
Even if you don’t meet your goal, you’ve at least learned one way that doesn’t work.
Fear about what other people think
Humans are social creatures. We want to be accepted, loved, admired, approved, and validated by our family and peers. Some people so strongly need that approval that they are held back by the fear of disapproval from others.
Some people have already received toxic messages about themselves from a loved one or a peer, and that resonates in their minds and tricks them into thinking everyone sees them in a negative light.
They can feel not good enough, and that holds them back from trying something new or creative.
Similar to fear of failure, some people reason subconsciously that they would rather not try than have someone think poorly of them. “What will other people think of me” is a thought that permeates decision-making and behaviors.
It ends up holding them back because no matter which direction they go, there will always be someone who doesn’t approve or doesn’t accept them, so they stay stuck in limbo, never moving forward.
The fears about what other people think of them hold them back from accomplishing what they want in life.
Fear of being overwhelmed
Some people really lack focus in life and do lots of research and weigh both sides of an issue, goal, or problem and get caught up in over-analysis. We’ve all heard the common phrase analysis paralysis, and this is what it refers to.
Some people overanalyze and end up overwhelmed. Their mind races in multiple directions. They end up confused and emotionally dizzy and stay stuck because they don’t know which direction to move or, worse, they can’t even find a direction.
This one is pretty common, but there are certain brain patterns and personalities that fall victim to this.
Take a break and prioritize
People who are usually very detail-oriented and take a long time to consider the options are at risk for overwhelm. When this happens, gather yourself, take a break from the research and prioritize.
Set your mind that you may have to do a little trial and error, but pick a direction based on your intuition and go with it.
Wade into the water (so to speak) and give it a try. It works—great! If not, take the next path and give that one a try. You’ll learn as you go and won’t feel so stuck anymore.
Dr. Harold Hong
Board-Certified Psychiatrist, New Waters Recovery
Fear of success
This might seem like an odd fear to have, but it’s very common.
People often think that if we’re successful, we’ll have to work harder and be under more pressure. Others might also worry that they won’t be able to handle the responsibility that comes with success and keep up the good work.
Indeed, successful people often have to put in extra effort to maintain their success. They also have to be able to handle the pressure that comes with it.
But if you’re afraid of success, you might not even try to achieve your goals. You might miss out on opportunities because you’re too scared to take them.
Fear of the unknown
This is a big one. We often stay in our comfort zones because we’re afraid of what might happen if we step outside them.
We’ve been too accustomed to how things are, and we fear change. But, if you never try something new, you’ll never know what you’re missing out on. It’s when we push ourselves that we truly grow and achieve great things.
Fear of losing control
This is a common fear for people who like to be in control of everything in their lives. We’re afraid that if we let go, we’ll lose control, and things will spiral out of our control.
This causes us to hold on tighter and try to control everything, which can lead to more stress and anxiety. Instead of trying to control everything, learn to let go and trust that things will work out how they’re supposed to.
Fear of rejection
This is a fear that many people have in some form or another. We’re afraid of being rejected by others, whether in a romantic relationship, friendship, job opportunity, school, etc.
When we’re scared of rejection, we often hold back from putting ourselves out there and taking risks. In severe cases, this fear can lead to social anxiety and isolation, as people tend to build up their walls to avoid getting hurt.
That’s why it’s important to reframe your thinking and remember that everyone gets rejected at some point in their life. It’s not a reflection of your worth.
Fear of failure
This is probably the most common fear that holds people back. Failure can be difficult to deal with as it can open other doors to feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, and low self-esteem.
It often leads us to question our worth and compare ourselves to others, a cycle that can be difficult to break free from.
Remember, everyone experiences failure at some point in their life. What matters is how you pick yourself up and learn from your mistakes. Don’t let fear of failure stop you from taking risks and pursuing your dreams.
Lydia Angelica Antonatos, LMHC
Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Choosing Therapy
Fear is a survival mechanism that has enabled us to stay safe when faced with a threatening situation. That said, a little bit of fear is not only normal but healthy too.
However, when our fears start to grow out of proportion, they can paralyze us, stunt our personal growth and, in some cases, even leave us in precarious situations.
Here are some common fears that hold people back:
Fear of uncharted territory
One of the most common fears everyone has felt at one point or another. This is because our brains are not wired to readily embrace change. Thus, we need to feel in control by sticking to routines (even the ones we dislike) and resisting getting out of our comfort zone.
Usually, most people can overcome this fear and move forward. However, there are others who cannot and become paralyzed just by the thought of entering the unknown.
Sadly, this can often lead a person to remain in toxic relationships, tolerate unacceptable behaviors, stay at jobs they hate, miss out on great life opportunities, and more.
Fear of making mistakes
Many people, particularly perfectionists, often tend to set unrealistic standards for themselves. In their minds, if they cannot perform perfectly, then they will not even make the slightest effort to participate in a new endeavor, for the mistakes are felt as a huge failure that makes them feel not good enough and insecure.
Related: How to Feel Good Enough
Unfortunately, this distorted view can prevent a person from learning and developing new skills, becoming creative and resourceful, finding new ways to solve problems, and eventually impeding personal/vocational growth.
Fear of getting hurt
We live in a society where there’s generally no tolerance for hardships or pain and where we must appear strong and like we have it together.
For many people, this belief can turn into a chronic fear of getting hurt and avoiding anything or anyone that could potentially harm them.
It is normal to be cautious, but when you live with this constant fear, you limit your quality of life and the ability to experience new opportunities, develop meaningful relationships, get your dream job, etc.
There is risk in everything we do, and being open to feeling vulnerable is part of our human existence and growth.
Lena Suarez-Angelino, LCSW
Licensed Clinical Social Worker | Writer, Choosing Therapy
We’re human, and with our humanness comes fear. This fear often holds us back in life for a variety of reasons.
Here are a few ways that fear can hold people back in life:
Making a mistake
Everyone wants to get things just perfect the first time they try in an effort to avoid making a mistake. The reality is that you have to shift your perspective around mistakes and failures and see them as part of the growth in learning and trying something new.
Lack of self-worth and confidence
For some, it’s the lack of belief in their own capabilities that hold them back. This often results in constantly being in a spiral of overthinking and the hamster wheel of consumption and learning.
Shifting the mindset from having to have all of the knowledge before you ever begin keeps you from ever showing up in the first place.
Fear of becoming successful and being seen
While this may seem questionable, many fear becoming successful and getting noticed and praised for their contribution to society. You may believe you have a story worth sharing, a product worth selling, a concept worth teaching, a book worth writing, etc., which makes sense to you.
What might not make sense to you is when others see your value and worth, too. For some, that is absolutely terrifying.
Fear of going for it
Whether fear is holding you back on negotiating higher pay or asking the biggest crush of your life out on a date, the fear of being able to just go for it keeps many in the same reality loop.
Stopping this cycle and taking a chance allows you to step out of your own way and aim higher. Sure, rejection is always a possibility, but what-ifs are exhausting to live with.
Fear of feeling “less than”
Two of the most common irrational emotions that hold people back in life are fear of failure and low self-esteem—feeling less than.
One of the best ways to overcome the fear of failure is to adopt a what-if/so-what attitude. Ask yourself what is the worst thing that could happen if you fail. Try to determine if this truly is the worst and whether you can handle it honestly.
Most likely, it’s not the worst, and you find that you can overcome it. Then think of something even worse that can happen and repeat.
If you are authentically digging, you will hopefully conclude that you can deal with the failure, that it would be silly to lose out on an opportunity by not taking a stab at it because of fear, and if you do fail, so what? You will have gained experience.
Low self-esteem develops in childhood. Being told that you are bad, inept, and won’t amount to anything by primary caregivers, teachers, and coaches instill self-doubt. To survive these verbal attacks on their personhood, children adopt coping mechanisms.
Upon entering adulthood, these defense mechanisms are normally shed. If they are not, the person can develop a disorder such as anxiety or depression.
The verbal abuse, however, has been recorded in the limbic part of the brain, and you go there, feeling worthless without even having anyone tell you.
To reverse this, you learn to tell yourself that these thoughts are irrational and why they are not based in reality. Finding and surrounding yourself with people who support and value you is also vital.
Related: How to Believe in Yourself More?
Ileana Arganda-Stevens, LMFT
Program Manager, Thrive Therapy & Counseling
There can be a lot of fears that hold people back in life. Humans are vulnerable creatures, and keeping ourselves safe is one of our core motivations in life.
We are also motivated by the need to connect and belong, make choices, and express ourselves. However, the need to keep ourselves safe can often override these other needs when we feel afraid and perceive multiple threats in our environment.
Some of the main fears I encounter in my work with clients are the fear of abandonment and losing control over one’s life.
The fear of abandonment
The fear of abandonment often manifests as constant worry or concern about upsetting others, being judged by others, or being discarded in some way.
These fears are often formed in childhood when we experience repeated abandonment, judgment, ostracization, or harsh treatment from others.
This can happen in subtle ways and is often normalized or justified by the people treating us poorly, which contributes to a sense of powerlessness and fear.
The fear of losing control over one’s life
Fears of losing control over one’s life can manifest as unmanageable focus or obsession with controlling and ordering one’s environment, relationships, or schedule.
People who struggle this way may have experienced a chaotic or overly-controlling parent or events in their lives, an unstable living environment, or parental mental illness.
Intense focus on controlling every aspect of one’s life can lead to exhaustion, burnout, and relationship difficulties. The desire to relax and let go may be significant, but the fear of what will happen when we let go can be debilitating.
I want to assure readers that you do not need to be diagnosable in order to get support.
If you’re feeling lost, experiencing patterns of painful or unhealthy relationships, or even feeling a vague sense that something is missing in your life, your needs are significant and important enough to seek help.
If you feel like your fears are getting in the way and you’re ready for a change—even if you don’t know what that looks like—don’t hesitate to reach out.
Shayna Cornelius and Dana Stiles
Fear of running out of time
Every single individual on this planet has a unique life purpose, a unique set of gifts they are here to contribute to the world. But here’s the catch: Following our inner compass and taking action to build a truly unique and purposeful life can be scary.
In our work, we get the opportunity to meet with thousands of individuals to discuss their unique life purpose and how they can begin to use their energy correctly to find greater personal alignment.
Through these conversations, we have observed key themes that are a universal part of the human experience. One of them is fear.
We all have our own unique relationship with fear, and some of us are designed to have more fears than others! While some types of fear are here to keep us safe physically, other types of fear only hold us back from our growth and evolution.
The types of fear that belong to the second category are meant to be faced head-on. When we learn how to tune into our inner guidance system, we begin to build our trust and confidence in our ability to navigate life, no matter how the future unfolds.
While we can never know the unknown, we can transcend any fear we have by building a relationship with our intuition and confronting those fears with confidence. By doing so, we transform our fear into trust.
Here are some of the archetypal fears that are central to the human experience:
- The fear of inadequacy: “Am I good enough?”
- The fear of the future: “Will I do the right thing or say the right thing? Will this work out?”
- The fear of the past repeating itself: “That’s just how the world works” or “That’s just who I am, and nothing will ever change.”
- The fear of responsibility: “If I make a big change, then it will be too much for me to handle.”
- The fear of failure: “If I try this..what if I fail?”
- The fear of running out of time: “I should have done this sooner” or “I should have done… before I did…”
- The fear of authority: “I don’t want to be told what to do” or “I don’t want to tell others what to do.”
If you feel one or more of these fears holding you back in your life, we invite you to ask yourself why: How is this fear serving you?
Perhaps this fear is something you’ve been taught to subscribe to, but by facing it, you prove to yourself it was never really yours—it is simply a conditioned belief that you can let go of now that you have acknowledged it.
Perhaps this fear exists deeper within you and is actually meant to be a part of your unique life’s curriculum.
In this case, facing this fear can bring great depth and growth to your life and help you build a deeper connection with your intuition.
Either way, when our fears remain unexplored, they act as a barrier between us and our purpose. They keep us stuck. When they are acknowledged and challenged, they act as a catalyst for our transformation.
Managing Partner, California Law Firm
Fears frequently rule our lives as humans, making us too rigid to make the best choices. We avoid taking risks and maintain our current lifestyle primarily because of these fears.
While there are many different types of fears, these are the fundamental ones that I believe threaten and restrict people in life:
Fear of being judged
This obstructs free will by creating a worry that peers will harshly criticize unconventional actions.
Even though constructive criticism is viewed favorably, harsh judgments can break someone’s will and prevent them from following their heart’s desire.
Fear of being abandoned
Nearly all people experience serious fears when they are abandoned and isolated. Nobody enjoys being alone. Everyone yearns for a group of people to stand by them and offer a shoulder for support.
People’s behavior can be constrained by their fear of abandonment, and it may even prevent them from speaking their minds.
Fear of sounding too opinionated
People may be reluctant to share their opinions due to this.
People who are trying to express themselves modestly may become uneasy out of concern that they will be seen as being overly opinionated. People will be afraid to even raise unimportant concerns in passing.
Travel Blogger, Viva La Travelista
The fear of moving abroad
Many fears can hold people back from living their best life. One of the most common and potentially debilitating fears is the fear of moving abroad.
This fear can stem from a variety of things, including the fear of the unknown, the fear of leaving loved ones behind, or the fear of not being able to adjust to a new culture.
I personally faced every single one of these fears before deciding to quit my job and move to Mexico. I was living a comfortable life working for a luxury hotel brand in Chicago.
My job had amazing travel perks, but I never really looked forward to coming home after every trip.
With a degree in International Business and Spanish language skills, I have always dreamed of living and working abroad in a Spanish-speaking country. Most of my days were spent daydreaming about living in a foreign land.
But with each new experience that pushed me outside of my comfort zone, I learned. I networked, I tried new things, and eventually, I made some amazing new friends.
It was hard at first, but now, over four years later, I haven’t regretted it once. I’m now a successful travel blogger living life on my terms—in a beautiful place that I absolutely love.
So, if you’re feeling held back by the fear of moving abroad, remember that it is only a fear and that you have the power to overcome it.
Sit down and take the time to tackle your fears individually—what creative solutions can you come up with for each one?
Fear of the unknown
Plan a trip to your desired destination beforehand and stay in a home or vacation rental to get a real feel for living there as a resident rather than a tourist.
Fear of leaving loved ones behind
Plan for annual visits to return home or schedule regular video chats with loved ones.
Fear of adjusting to a new culture
Try to learn the language basics before you leave, or do as much research as possible on cultural differences.
Yes, it is a risk, but moving abroad can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. And remember, it doesn’t always have to be permanent. But if you push yourself outside of your comfort zone and pursue your dreams, you’ll live a life you won’t regret.
It won’t always be easy, but it will definitely be worth it.
TEDx Speaker | Longevity Lifestyle Advocate
Fear of dying
One of the greatest fears that hold people back is the fear of dying, yet 100% of us will die.
Many will attribute this quest for youth or an immortal life to the youth culture that exists from Hollywood to Madison Avenue. However, searching for youth has been with us for much of the known history.
It has been suggested that Alexander the Great’s quest to conquer much of the known world was driven by his search for a river that healed the drama of age.
The myth of the Fountain of Youth is actually a Native American legend about a spring that was said to exist in what became known as Florida. In years past, youth was needed to procreate and work the harvest, etc. In 1800, life expectancy was around 30 years.
Today with life expectancy at nearly 80 for both men and women, those of us healthy enough to live a full life have 50 additional years of living and contribution.
Getting comfortable with the idea that aging is natural and that life is finite will help people use their time wisely. We are given one day at a time—no day is promised.
Each day is a unique opportunity to contribute who we are to the world and learn the lessons we are here to learn.
Leah Marie Mazur
Certified Divorce Recovery Coach, Mindfully Ready, LLC
Fear of being alone forever
My clients’ most common fear is that they’ll wind up alone forever. In fact, if you look back as to why most people settle in relationships, it’s out of fear of being alone.
Many people would rather stay stuck in unhealthy relationships than take that leap towards being single because that would require them to face things they don’t want to accept about themselves.
It’s uncomfortable to journey into ourselves and take responsibility for our own feelings and actions.
A lot of people jump into the wrong relationships and stay in the wrong ones because it’s filling some kind of void they don’t know how to fill on their own—like not feeling whole, lovable, worthy or enough.
Being alone isn’t so scary when you can learn how to fulfill your needs and enjoy your own company. And it’s much better being alone and feeling happy and healthy than being stuck in the wrong relationships your whole life.
Matthew Scarfo, NASM CPT-OPT, CES, PES, FNS
Personal Trainer, Lift Vault
Fear of being heavy and oversized
Many people hold back being truly happy until they’ve lost “the weight.” That could be anything from five pounds to a hundred pounds. Clients will think they have to wait until they’re the perfect weight before living the life they dreamed of.
However, it’s often better to start living the life you want as soon as possible and let that motivate you and drive you to healthier choices.
Here’s more about how the fear of being heavy prevents people from doing what they love:
The fear of being oversized is something that appears in different ways.
People might be afraid to be in photos with their family because they’re embarrassed about their size, or they might not want to go to events where they might be looked at.
They may put off life events like having a child or getting married for fear of being judged for their size.
Finally, they might find they don’t want to do certain activities, like hiking or going to a park, because they don’t want to be perceived for their size.
There are plenty of people who pursue weight loss because they want to have a body worthy of doing these things, like wearing a bikini to the beach, enjoying rides at a theme park, or taking a dream vacation.
However, living in a body that you’re working on doesn’t mean you should put your life on hold.
Don’t let the fear stop you from living your life
Living your life can help you inform how you make lifestyle changes to help you reach your goal:
- You might find that you love hiking and want to get stronger to scale tall mountains.
- You might find that you need to build your upper body strength to carry your children around.
Life is meant to be lived, and you shouldn’t put it on hold because you’re not at the size you like right now. Taking control of your life is empowering, and living it can be one of the greatest forms of inspiration any of us can find.
Allison Herries, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian, Bite Out of Life Nutrition
Fear of weight gain
I’m a registered dietitian nutritionist, and I’ve found that one of the most significant barriers holding people back is the fear of weight gain.
I’ve encountered many individuals, especially women, who spend an extraordinary amount of time, money and effort trying to prevent weight gain or chase a certain number on the scale.
The fear of weight gain is a huge time-suck, and many people don’t realize the mental, emotional, and physical toll chronic dieting has on the body.
We’re led to believe that dieting is always a worthwhile pursuit when, in reality, it’s actually something that can hold us back.
For starters, most diets don’t work for sustainable weight loss. Instead, people usually find themselves trapped in a cycle of yo-yo dieting—or losing and then regaining weight.
Plus, for most, there is never this maintenance phase where they lose weight and effortlessly keep it off permanently.
Instead, most people who lose weight must maintain a strict diet indefinitely, which impacts the amount of time and focus they have for other important things in life.
Calorie counting, obsessive exercising, and preoccupation with food all take time and energy that could be used elsewhere.
How to overcome this fear
Unfortunately, we live in a society that values thinness and body size.
For most of us, it’s unrealistic to unlearn all of the toxic messages of diet culture overnight. However, with practice, we can place less importance on our weight and that number on the scale.
Here are some questions/prompts that I use with my clients who want to start challenging their fear of weight gain:
- How does dieting impact my work or social life?
- What is the cost of dieting (both physical and emotional)?
- Where did my fear of weight gain come from?
- What might happen if I were to gain weight?
- How are these opinions and beliefs impacting me?
- What evidence do I have that support or disprove these beliefs?
- How much pressure do I put on myself to maintain a specific appearance?
- How might my life be different if I had a better relationship with food and my body?
Dr. Christopher Hansen, LPC
Licensed Professional Counselor | Clinical Supervisor, Thriveworks
Fear of failure
This is one of the most common fears people engage in that keeps them from moving forward in life.
Many times, people are so fearful of failure and being judged negatively that they do not try different things because of this fear, which only reinforces their negative self-image and perpetuates the behavior that keeps them stuck.
This is called cognitive dissonance and is one of the most common causes of this behavior.
Fear of the future
Often, people do not act because the “known” is comfortable, and the insecurity of the unknown engenders fear in many and precludes them from acting because they are afraid to leave the security of their current situation.
Ironically, this behavior continues even when the current situation is not optimal or is even detrimental, which is telling how much this fear can impact a person’s life.
Fear of not being “good enough”
Though many times this fear is seen in tandem with fear of failure, this fear has more basis in self-image/ego than the fear of failure.
The core of this fear is a person not feeling capable, educated, confident, or skillful enough, which prevents them from trying new things, opportunities, work relationships, etc.
Fear of success
This one most don’t usually think about or understand, but it can keep a person stuck just as much as any of the fears previously mentioned.
With the fear of success, many times, people fear that other family members or friends may reject them or ostracize them because of a different financial or lifestyle change.
Oddly enough, some with this fear actually believe that they don’t deserve success or that success is a fluke and is not due to their abilities or hard work.
Myisha Jackson, LPC
Licensed Professional Counselor | Owner, Healing Journey Counseling Center
Fear of being unsure what is going to happen next
One fear that holds people back is the fear of the unknown. I work primarily with millennial women and young adults who are trying to navigate through life.
I recognized that many are afraid to move forward with their goals due to the unknown. They are unsure what is going to happen next or if their plans will work out.
My professional experience has taught me that those that are planners and love to plan out their goals are often fearful. They expect things to go as planned; if they notice any changes to their plans, then they allow the fear to stir them away.
I teach clients in therapy how we are not able to control every aspect of our life. When we start to fear something, we must ask ourselves, “How likely is this going to happen?” or “What is in my control in this situation?”
Fear can be a control issue
Fear can be a control issue. When you do not have total control, you can be anxious or worried and allow the fear to hold you back. We cannot be in total control of our areas in our lives. We can only control how we react and respond to situations.
Life Coach and Founder, Mennd
The fear of being too visible holds people back
From a young age, we’re often told to fit in with everyone else. To not stand out. We’re given the message that it’s not safe to be visible. These ingrained fears often hold us back from putting our message and work into the world.
Fear of being imperfect
Many people stifle themselves and don’t do great things because they worry about being imperfect. They fear that everything has to come out in the world without flaw.
This dread makes them stay safe, in a place that might make them unhappy, for fear of stepping up and being great because their imperfection may show.
Fear of being too much
The inner voice of “Who are you to do that?” causes great angst in many people.
In reaching for more in life, they are stopped when they imagine family or friends saying, “Who do you think you are?” Because of that little voice, they stifle any bold steps they may take in the world.
Recognize the fear and do it anyway
The key to getting past these fears is to recognize them, pat them on head, say thanks with no resistance, and take those daring actions anyway.
Senior Editor, Tandem
Have you ever heard the quote from Friedrich Nietzsche, “But the worst enemy you can meet will always be yourself.“? There is a lot of truth in this. Many fears take hold of us, which can prevent us from achieving our professional or personal dreams.
But what are these fears that hold people back in life?
“I’m not good enough”
On Saturday Night Live, the character Stuart Smalley (played by Al Franken) would give himself a daily affirmation: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me!”
Many people, however, don’t think this about themselves. They think they aren’t good enough or smart enough or that people don’t like them.
If we are guilty of thinking this way, maybe we should take after Stuart Smalley and give his affirmation to ourselves.
“I will fail”
Having feelings of inadequacy can go even deeper than thinking we aren’t good or smart enough. It could be that fear of failure.
But you must think to yourself: What is the worst that would happen if you failed? And how will you know whether or not you will fail if you don’t even try?
“People will make fun of me or think less of me”
Many people also are worried that they will be made fun of or that people will think less of them if they try something new. But do we need to worry about what other people think? Shouldn’t we be more concerned about what we believe?
Don’t let what others may or may not think to hold you back.
“I can’t go back”
Another misconception people have that holds them back is the fear that they can’t go back. This often isn’t true.
What was done can often be undone. We can try new things, and many times we can revert if they don’t work out. Maybe it won’t be exactly the same, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world.
Trying new things is frightening. But it can also be exhilarating, exciting, and highly rewarding.
So don’t be your own worst enemy. Don’t hold yourself back. You are good enough, you are smart enough, and gosh darn it, people do like you!
Jordyn Mastrodomenico, LCADC, LAC, CTP
Clinical Director, ChoicePoint
Fear of change
Everyone yearns to move forward in life. Uncertainty of what lies ahead in the future is one of the biggest fears that we, as humans, often think about.
I believe that it’s human nature to feel that way. However, we shouldn’t let fear make decisions for us. Worrying about the future robs us of the chance to celebrate life in the present.
Fear of rejection
Getting dismissed is hurtful, and it doesn’t matter if it happens during personal or interpersonal relationships. However, rejection is an aspect of life that everyone must face, sooner or later.
Humans have different tolerance levels towards rejection, which can make or break us.
Thus, the key to a happy and successful life is to build tolerance and confidence to take risks for big moves like getting a new job or asking your partner to marry you, even if there is a fear of getting rejected.
Fear of loneliness
Humans were not created to spend our lives alone. We think we will be okay on our own, but it is not true. Everyone craves intimacy, affection, and support. But if someone is stuck in a cycle affecting their mental health, it is better to be alone than to be around people who make us feel lonely.
Whether it’s a partner, friend, or family, you should always know when it’s time to make difficult decisions, set boundaries, and leave.
Fear of loneliness is a valid concern, but self-love is more important. You will build a better future for yourself.
Fear of never being “good enough”
Most people are taught to forgive others while never receiving the tools how to forgive themselves.
Mistakes cause a spiral of childhood memories of regret, blame, shame, and conversations of never being good enough to loop on replay over and over again.
The cycle leads to an intimate relationship between procrastination and perfectionism, and both are rooted in fear.
Forgiveness heals all fear
Understanding how to forgive ourselves requires inner trust and confidence.
Lean into past mistakes and perceived failures and discover the lessons learned and growth achieved rather than finding fault in your actions. Then give yourself permission to release the attachment to the approval of others and do it scared.
It’s better to get started and make corrections along the way than to wake up daily reminded of what you haven’t completed. Fear camouflages itself behind all excuses, procrastinations, and lack of accountability.
Accept all that you are. Acknowledging the greatness within and forgiving yourself and all perceived failures opens up the unlimited possibilities of life to take action to attract freedom, wealth, and abundance.
Who or what do you need to forgive for building confidence to face your fears?
Dr. David Seitz
Medical Director, Ascendant Detox
Fear can be a powerful motivator or inhibitor, depending on the situation. For some people, fear keeps them from pursuing their dreams and goals.
Here are some of the most common fears that hold people back:
Fear of failure
One of the biggest fears that hold people back is the fear of failure. This fear can cause people to avoid trying new things for fear of not succeeding.
As a result, they may never experience the joy of success. They may also miss out on opportunities because they are too afraid to take a chance.
Fear of the unknown
Another fear that prevents people from achieving their goals is the fear of the unknown. This can include fears about new environments, situations, or people.
When faced with the unknown, people may feel anxious and unsure of themselves. As a result, they may avoid new experiences altogether.
Fear of change
Change can be scary, especially unexpected. This fear can prevent people from taking advantage of new opportunities or making necessary changes in their lives.
Fear of change can cause people to resist any type of change, even if it is for the better.
Fear of rejection
Many people are afraid of rejection, whether from others or themselves. This fear can cause people to hold back from pursuing their goals for fear of rejection. Rejection can be painful, but it is often a necessary part of life.
Fear keeps us from living our best lives. It can prevent us from taking risks and trying new things. If you let fear hold you back, you may never reach your full potential. Instead, face your fears head-on and take action (with caution, of course).
You’ll never know what you’re capable of until you try. And if things don’t go as planned, remember that failure is not the end of the world. It’s simply an opportunity to learn and grow or a redirection towards a better goal.
Embrace your fears and use them as motivation to achieve your dreams.
Seek professional help
However, if you feel that your fear is becoming too much to handle or if it is significantly impacting your quality of life, it may be time to seek professional help.
Speaking with a therapist or counselor can help you understand your fears and develop healthy coping mechanisms. They can also provide support and guidance as you work towards your goals.
Founder and CEO, Make Money Writing, LLC
Fear of not being “good enough”
The biggest fear I see in students and newcomers in the professional writing field is the fear of not being “good enough”—even though, if you ask them, they probably wouldn’t be able to define what “good enough” means.
This applies to more than just the writing world, of course. Writers sometimes struggle to start great works because they don’t think they can turn their ideas into something marketable. Other professionals may hesitate to apply for a job they feel is above them.
Why the fear of not being “good enough” is irrational
I see this as an irrational fear for two reasons.
First, if you don’t have clear, objective standards for yourself, there’s no point in worrying—if there’s no finish line, why would you worry about being able to finish?
Second, because so many people suffer from this fear, you’ll probably end up being better than average if you do anything at all.
While the masses are paralyzed with insecurities and fears, you’ll be doing an okay job—and that, ironically, is usually all it takes to find success.
What to do about it
You can take several actionable steps to get over this fear in your life.
For starters, learn to see flawed work and imperfect fits as acceptable: a C+ is much, much better than an F, and even an F is better than not turning anything in. Not everything needs to be an A+.
I also think it’s important to work with more objective definitions.
If your work isn’t good enough currently, what would make it good enough? And how can you close that gap? If you don’t know, your starting point is trying to figure that out.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is it important to overcome these fears?
Overcoming your fears can lead to a more fulfilling and successful life. When we let fears hold us back, we miss opportunities for growth and personal development. By facing your fears, you can:
Build confidence: Overcoming your fears can boost your self-esteem and confidence and make you more resilient in future challenges.
Expand your comfort zone: Taking risks and trying new things can help you grow and learn. It can also open you up to new opportunities for personal and professional success.
Live a more authentic life: When we let fear drive our actions, we aren’t living authentically. When we overcome our fears, we can stay true to our values and live more authentically.
Improve mental health: Unchecked fears can lead to anxiety and depression. By facing your fears and taking action, you can improve your mental health and overall well-being.
What strategies do people often use to cope with fear?
Coping with fear can be challenging, but there are some strategies that people often use to cope with their fears:
Avoidance: Some people manage their fears by avoiding the situations or things that trigger their fear. While this can provide temporary relief, it can also reinforce the fear and prevent them from overcoming it in the long run.
Distraction: Others cope with fear by distracting themselves with other activities or thoughts. This can be helpful in the short term but doesn’t address the underlying fear and can prevent them from developing the skills they need to manage it.
Self-talk: Many people use self-talk to manage their fears. They may remember experiencing similar situations before, or they may say positive affirmations to themselves to boost their confidence.
Relaxation: Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga can help people manage their fear by reducing physical symptoms like anxiety or tension.
Seeking support: Some people cope with their fears by seeking support from others. This may include talking to a friend or loved one, joining a support group, or seeing a therapist.
What if I’ve tried to overcome my fears but still can’t seem to?
Overcoming fear is a process that takes time and persistence. If you’ve tried to overcome your fears and are still having a hard time, don’t give up! Here are some things you can try:
Seek professional help: A therapist or counselor can help you identify the causes of your fears and develop a plan to overcome them.
Practice self-compassion: Remember that overcoming fear is hard work and that it’s okay to struggle with it. Be kind and patient with yourself as you work through your fears.
Reframe your perspective: Instead of seeing fear as something negative, try to see it as an opportunity for growth and learning.
Try a different approach: If one strategy doesn’t work, try another. Everyone is different, so it’s important to find the coping mechanisms and techniques that work best for you.
Are there benefits to facing our fears?
Yes, there are many benefits to facing our fears! Here are just a few of them:
Increased self-confidence: When we face and overcome our fears, we prove to ourselves that we’re capable of more than we thought. This can boost our self-confidence and make us feel more confident.
Improved problem-solving skills: When we face our fears, we often have to find creative solutions and think outside the box. Over time, this can improve our problem-solving skills and make us more adaptable.
Increased resilience: Facing our fears can be tough, but it can also help us develop resilience and coping skills that we can use in other areas of our lives.
Improved relationships: When we face our fears, we often need the support of others. This can lead to stronger relationships and a greater sense of connection with others.
Greater sense of fulfillment: When we overcome our fears and achieve our goals, we often feel a great sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. This can improve our overall well-being and happiness.
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