When an error light is on in your car, you have to identify what the problem is. When you figure out what is wrong, you are able to fix it. In your car, the cause of the problem is usually very clear. Your coolant level is low, so you need to add coolant to fix it. Your brake pads are worn, so you need to replace them. It’s that simple. Unfortunately, the opposite is usually true when it comes to problems with how you feel.
When you have a problem and feel bad, angry, depressed, or irritable, you have to identify why you feel that way. When you figure out what is wrong, you are able to deal with it. The majority of the time, however, it is not clear why you feel bad, so you don’t know how to deal with it. In fact, many times the reason for the way you feel may be disguised as something else. Therefore, identifying the root of the problem and dealing with your emotions is far from simple. Nine times out of ten, the root of a problem is much different than what it seems to be on the surface.
Fear is one of those feelings than can be very tricky to identify. Fear is often disguised as other things. Have you ever heard the phrase that all anger comes from fear? That’s because anger is a psychological defense for fear. Fear is also disguised as jealousy, hate and dislike to name a few. The following situations illustrate this point.
You and your best friend have a problem. Your best friend failed to show up at an event that was very important to you. On the surface you identify the problem by saying you are extremely mad at your friend. You, therefore, deal with your problem by lashing out in anger or punishing your friend somehow. What you don’t realize is that the root of your problem is really that you are afraid, not angry. Deep down, you fear that your friend does not care about you. You fear losing your friend. You fear loneliness, rejection, social isolation. When you identify your problem correctly, you can then deal with your problem in the correct way. Instead of lashing out in anger and making the problem worse, you can tell your best friend that he or she hurt your feelings and made you question the strength of the friendship.
Besides anger, jealousy is another emotion that fear is disguised as. For example, everyone at the office likes Jill, except for Judy. Judy works with Jill every day and gets to know her well, but forms an intense jealousy. She picks fights with Jill and tries to sabotage her work. Deep down, however, it is not jealousy, but fear causing Judy to feel this way. Judy is afraid that she does not measure up to Jill. She thinks people like Jill better than her. She thinks Jill will take her position away from her and she will be demoted. She even fears that her own spouse would prefer Jill over her. In this way, her jealousy is actually fear.
Your likes and dislikes of others can also be fear incognito. When you get to know someone and form a dislike for them, what you may be experiencing deep down is a fear of them, not a distaste. That is not always a bad thing though. Take this situation for example. John is the life of every block party. Everyone seems to think he is happy-go-lucky except for his neighbor Joe. Joe forms a distinct dislike for him. Deep down, however, it is not dislike, but fear. Joe really gets to know John for who he is, and learns that he lacks morals and values and often makes poor life-choices. Joe fears that John will have a bad influence on he and his family. That fear is disguised as dislike, so Joe keeps his distance. In this way, fear is actually a good thing. It is a form of self-preservation. This makes sense because fear is the basis of the fight or flight response which determines our very survival.
Psychologists always seek to reveal the root of problems for good reason. You can do the same by learning to identify your true feelings and where they come from. If you can recognize fear and distinguish it from other emotions, you will be better able to understand and deal with all of your problems in a healthy manner.