Own My Growth

Helping folks with practical tips to manage themselves better

We All Have Three Levels Of Fear


A couple of days back, I wrote about how defining the fear is an essential first step to overcoming fear.

I had a reader reach out to me wanting to check how we can define our fears, particularly when the mind is in the grip of some anxiety. Her question specifically was this. “How do I define my fear?”

To address this question, I will pick up on the key ideas from a great book on the psychology of Fear titled, “Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway,” written by Susan Jeffers. According to Susan, we all process our fears at three levels.

Level 1- Fears That “Happen” And That “Require” Action

The first level refers to the surface level story we tell ourselves when we fear something bad. For e.g. “I want to make a career change but I am not sure if the time is right”

Our Level 1 fears can be broken down into two categories. I am giving some examples of these two types of fears. 

Fears about thing that could “Happen”Fears about things that require Action 
Ageing, some terminal illness or becoming disabledMaking wrong decisions or Making a mistake When doing something
Being Alone or Children Flying the nestChanging career or jobs
DeathEnding or starting a relationship
Natural Disasters or AccidentsBeing Assertive or getting into a conflict
Loss of financial securityPublic speaking
Losing a loved oneAccepting a mistake
Level 1 Fears

I am sure you can add your own fears under each category. But, don’t also be surprised if there is a voice in your head saying, “these are exactly the fears I have.” Everyone suffers fears. They are not unique to anyone. Some are comfortable to admit to having fears, many are not.   

 Level 2- Fears Of Our Ego

Unlike Level 1 fears that are at the surface, obvious, based on the situations we have to deal with in our daily lives, Level 2 fears are more deep-rooted and operate at an emotional level. They relate to how our ego processes everything happening at the surface. The level 2 fears look something like this.

Fear of RejectionFear of Success
Fear Of FailureFear of being judged
Fear of showing weakness or being vulnerableFear of Loss of Image
Level 2 Fears

The level 2 fears are deeper, having to do with our inner states of mind rather than the external situations. They pertain to our self-image and our self-belief. These fears represent the root causes for our Level 1 fears, and they can explain why we struggle with anxiety across different scenarios in our life.

For example, if your ego is sensitive, always worried about rejection, you will see your fear of rejection manifest across almost every facet of your life. Rejection is rejection wherever it happens. So you will be afraid of losing friends or not being selected at interviews, or public speaking, because all of them carry the possibility of rejection.

It is these deeper fears that insidiously pull us back from engaging the world with confidence.

Level 3- Fear Of Not Being Able To Handle It

Level 3, according to Susan Jeffers, distills our Level 1 and Level 2 fears down to one simple underlying fear.

A fear that says ” I CAN”T HANDLE IT !!”

At the core of all our fears is this one underlying fear that we can’t handle whatever curveballs life throws at us. This looks pretty simplistic, right? How can we say that all our fears boil down to this one fear?

Here’s how. All our Level one or level two fears can be rephrased this way.

  • I CAN’T HANDLE terminal illness or disability.
  • I CAN’T HANDLE being alone when my kids leave me.
  • I CAN’T HANDLE getting old or dying.
  • I CAN’T HANDLE the responsibilities of success.
  • I CAN’T HANDLE failure.
  • I CAN’T HANDLE being rejected
  • Or I CAN’T HANDLE being judged etc…

Our level 3 represents the most fundamental form of all our level 1 and level 2 fears.

If we knew in our hearts that we could handle anything that came our way, would there be anything to fear about? The answer for all of us will be unequivocal- There would be nothing to worry about if we had the self-assurance to handle anything that life dishes out.

In Summary

Thanks to the pointed query posed by this reader, the conclusion on how to define our fears is this. Don’t struggle if you are finding it hard to define your fear. Every time you feel afraid about something, remember that at the core, your fear is just a feeling you have that you are not good enough to handle it.

The bottom line is that the source of your fears is not external. To overcome your fears, you don’t have to control or conquer the world. To deal with your fears, you just have to develop the mental muscle to say,” I can handle it.”

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