Two Types of Fear Holding You Back (and How to Conquer Them)

Sad man holding his head in his hands by the shore

We all experience fear. It’s something from a more primal part of our brain, designed to keep us out of potentially-dangerous situations. For our ancestors, this was a great advantage—it kept them cautious in the face of real danger.

For us? Not always.

Fear can potentially get you out of danger, but if left unchecked, it can also keep you from taking risks to achieve your dreams. How many times have you looked at something you really wanted to do and backed away from fear of failure?

The worry over consequences that may or may not be there can be a crippling force that holds us back.

Here, we look at the two types of fear that you may experience on a daily basis, and what you can do to conquer that fear.

Two Types of Fear

According to the book What Happy People Know, all fears stem from two fundamental beliefs.

1. I am not enough

Woman in workout class looking anxiousOr, in terms that may seem more familiar: “I’m not good enough.” For our ancestors, this was about capability; if you weren’t smart enough or strong enough, you could die.

Today, this fear can translate to something similar (you might not be good enough to reach your dreams), but it can also represent something much more deep-seated—that you aren’t worthy of those dreams. Some aspect of your personality, your habits, or something else negatively impacts your feelings of self-worth, making you feel as if you’re “not enough.”

This fear can negatively impact our relationships as well as our goals. If we’re not good enough for our desires, why would we be good enough for another person? We start to believe that if others see our darkest parts they’ll reject us, and so we hide them behind a smiling mask.

2. I do not have enough

Sad girl looking longingly at couple walking by

This fear, much like the previous, goes back to our ancestors. For them, it was the fear that they would not have enough food or water to survive. For us, it’s morphed into an insatiable feeling that we won’t be happy until we have more. We constantly desire “more,” but that doesn’t just relate to our physical needs; we want more money, more prestige, a bigger house or a better car.

Unfortunately, this fear can leave us feeling trapped.

You may think, “I won’t be happy until I achieve this dream, or am making this much money, or until I’m recognized by everyone around me for my hard work.” And once you finally get what you wanted—if you get it—there is always another thing to strive for… another thing you “need” to be happy.

Fear is part of being human, and there are plenty of times it’s justified. However, when you become consumed by fear, it can keep you from reaching your goals.

How to Conquer Your Fear

These two primal fears can be pretty overwhelming. Thankfully, there’s a step-by-step process that can help you overcome them.

War correspondent taking pictures among soldiers in combat1. Recognize your fears for what they are

Fear can often disguise itself behind negative self-talk. Your comments of “I’m not a nice person” or “I’ll never have enough money” are deeply rooted in these two primal fears. The first step to overcoming them is to understand where negative thoughts come from, and where they might lead.

2. Understand that everyone feels fear

Neither of these problems—not being good enough and not having enough—are unique to you. It’s normal to worry about people liking you or to be concerned over financial desires, and beating yourself up over thoughts like these is just going to make the problem worse.

3. Counter those fears with self-compassion

When you notice fear starting to take hold, remember to be kind to yourself. Create an inner-dialogue that’s self-affirming and lessens the impact of fear.

Let’s look at an example. Say you’re someone who volunteers a lot. It started because you were concerned about others in your community, but you keep taking on more and more. You’re overworked, but you’re too afraid to say no—what if others look down on you because you took time for yourself? If you have free time, wouldn’t it be selfish not to lend a hand? How could you ever live with yourself otherwise?

Notably, there’s a similar problem in the workforce—you may feel compelled to take on more work than you’re capable of handling to avoid the social stigma of being lazy or unmotivated.

The first step is to look at why you’re afraid. In this case, it’s because you’re worried that you “aren’t enough,” and that you won’t deserve other’s love if you don’t give back.

The second step is to notice how many others around you feel the same way and do the same thing. Talk to people, and try to see how they handle it.

"You are enough" written on pageNow counter those fears. In this example, a compassionate counter is that working too much can cause burnout. Everyone needs to have time for themselves because it’s necessary to recharge. By lessening your workload, you can do a better job on the things you do take on.

Don’t be too hard on yourself if you slip up. It happens to everyone; if you keep taking baby steps, you’ll eventually be able to face your fears.

The thing about fear is that it’s unique. There’s not a ‘one size fits all’ strategy. What works is going to depend on your situation, your personality, and what you’re afraid of.

The important thing is to first identify your fear. What is it that scares you? Why does it scare you? Then you can figure out a strategy to tackle it.

Leave Your Fears Behind

Man calmly jumping off of waterfallFear is human. As long as we live, there will be things that terrify us and frighten us into inaction. In this way, we’ve hardly changed since the Stone Age.

Thankfully, we have a few advantages our ancestors didn’t.

Some of the world’s greatest accomplishments only happened because people overcame their fears and took a risk. It’s okay to be scared; just don’t let those fears hold you back.