Earlier this week I began a miniseries on fear. I left you pondering how we might dethrone fear and end it’s rule in our lives, and we’ll get there. But first, we need to define a few terms.
For one thing, fear and anxiety are not the same thing. Knowing the difference is really important as we journey out of bondage.
As existential theologian Paul Tillich points out, fear has definite object, whereas anxiety is more vague. But I want to go further with that thought:
- Fear has an object located in the present. Snakes. The dark. Falling. Closed spaces. Spiders. These are objects. There’s nothing vague about them.
- The objects of our fear must be present to elicit the fear. A hiker with ophiophobia (a snake phobia) isn’t afraid until a snake appears on the forest path ahead of them. When the snake slithers away, so does their fear. If you’re afraid of the dark, you’re fine in the light. And so on.
- Lastly, our fears have very real potential to control us. If you’re afraid of snakes and I placed one outside your door, I could use that fear to keep you indoors. That’s the nature of fear. We’re often controlled by what we fear.
Anxiety obviously grew up in the same dysfunctional family as fear, but it’s a different creature entirely.
- Whereas fear has an object, anxiety has a subject. As you know, subjects are more vague than objects are, which makes anxiety harder to get a handle on.
- While the object of our fear is located in the present, the subject of our fear is located in the future. Fear of snakes is stirred up with a snake on the path in the present. Anxiety about snakes is stirred up by thinking about encountering a snake in the future. This has more to do with getting bitten (the subject) than the snake itself (the object). Fears are always about what’s present; anxiety is always about what isn’t… yet.
- While fear controls us, anxiety is worrying about us losing control—or things we can’t control, or being unable to control something.
- The subject of anxiety—the something we can’t control located in the future—is an outcome: rejection, failure, embarrassment, winning the argument, saving the day, disappointing others, getting hurt, repeating history.
Well, when I define fear and anxiety this way, you probably realize which of the two you struggle with most. Which is important, because the differences between fear and anxiety mandate a different approach for each. Most of my life I’ve tried to deal with them the same way and have been stymied in my progress as a result.
Secondly, it’s critical to realize that fear and anxiety both hinge on the control issue. Think about a common fear (an object) or anxiety (a subject) you struggle with often. Do you have it clearly in mind?
Declare this out loud to yourself: “This (fear, or anxiety) is a control issue.”
Good for you. You’ve taken the first step.
Tune in tomorrow as we get down and dirty with a path out of fear and anxiety.
Does this resonate with you? Have you ever clarified the difference between fear and anxiety? Please share below…