Fear. It’s a seemingly ever-present force in our lives.

Fear of failure.

Fear of success.

And the fear of those who are different than us in some way or another.

We talk a lot about fear, but still, we don’t always recognize it when we see it. We don’t know how it sneaks its way into our lives on a daily basis and impacts what we do and how we do it.

But, until we learn how fear shows up in our lives on daily basis, the simple truth is we can’t be effective at dealing with it.

What is fear?

Long ago, we developed a system to keep us safe from threat – bears, tigers, and other things bent on doing us harm. This system, housed in one of the oldest parts of our human brain, continues to play a crucial role in our safety even today.

The challenge is that it’s not really all that well suited for the situations that we face in modern life, and so fear shows up for us in unusual places and unusual times. And because the response is unexpected, we have a hard time recognizing it for what it is – an attempt to protect us.

Unusual Ways Fear May Show Up

Each of us is different, and we all have our own unique way of expressing our fear. It’s important to discover what your own “fear style” is so that you can recognize and address it.

Here are just a few of the possible ways fear may show up. Which ones resonate with you?

Controlling Behavior

For some of us, the biggest fear of all is that we will lose control of our surroundings and something bad will happen. The list of what those bad things might be is widely varied…

If I don’t make sure that my kids always pick up their rooms, they will grow up to be slobs.

And If I let my co-worker spend more time with the boss than I do, she’ll move ahead of me.

If I don’t immediately respond to this email, my client will think I’m not on top of things.

So, we work very hard to control everything about our environment, including the other people in it. The people we are trying to control have a hard time seeing this as fear, or feeling compassion for us. To them, we seem rigid and unreasonable.

We generate conflict, but inside, we can’t shake the feeling that it is solely up to us to make sure everything turns out alright. We try harder and harder to gain back control. Soon, we’re drowning in our sense that we are out of control, all because we’ve failed to recognize our fear for what it really is.

Being Overly Laid Back

Some of us express fear by being overly laid back. We don’t want anything, we don’t express any strong feelings, and we certainly don’t try to do anything outside our comfort zone. Whatever comes our way, we roll with it.

I’ll confess that, as someone who leans toward controlling, I’ve always been a little envious of these folks. But recently, an interaction with a client led me to see that her fear was keeping her from trying. Deep down, she wanted more, but because she wasn’t sure she could get it, she refused to try. Her fear of failure had her frozen.

Other people are frozen by a secret fear of success. For them, the refrain is not “What if I fail?”, but “What if I’m successful? Will I still have time for myself? Will I sacrifice my family’s happiness?” Some of the folks end up self-sabotaging, but others never even make it that far. They simply claim not to be interested in success and turn their back on it altogether.

Relying on “Filler” in Our Communication

I’ve written before about how the words we use can impact our credibility. But for some of us, our own thoughts about our credibility impacts how we speak.

We don’t believe we measure up or that our ideas are worthwhile, and we’re secretly afraid that someone will find us out. So, we wrap our thoughts and opinions in stilted language. We overexplain. We dismiss our own ideas.

People may see us as stilted or stuffy. They may think we ramble. They may think we see ourselves as smart. But for many of us this is just fear sneaking its way back in.


We’ve all known that one person who can’t stand change. The one whose only argument seems to be “this is the way it’s always been done”. But have you ever thought about what’s really going on with those folks?

I believe more often than not, it’s fear. Sure, the status quo may not be great, but it is familiar and known. Any change involves risk – risk that things might not work out as well, that you’ll be hurt, that you’ll be embarrassed. For some of us, that risk is just too great. So, we allow our fear to keep us trapped right where we are.

Fear is part of our experience as human beings, and serves a vital role in our survival and protection. It can show up in many ways in your life.

But, it’s important for us to recognize when the thing standing in our way is fear. Name it. Know it. Understand it, so that you can learn to gracefully move forward in spite of it.