Fear as a Springboard for Personal Growth

I’ve always been a cautious type, and my caution has generally served me well throughout life. I haven’t landed in a lot of uncompromising or dangerous situations. My fear, on the other hand, has held me back—in one area of my life, specifically. I’d go so far as to say that it’s perhaps even kept me from creating the future I most long to live.

Talking with a friend recently about why I haven’t fully taken an important step in my personal life, I pointed to my longstanding fear of being all alone as a primary reason. “That’s not the only reason you haven’t fully taken the step, Portland,” he reminded me, wisely. “You haven’t taken it because, if you did, you’d have to grow.”

His remark kind of stopped me in my tracks. I knew he was right. I see fear as an obstacle in my life—a stone blocking my path—but what if it were, in fact, a compass pointing me towards the cusp of my greatest personal growth?

That’s how Lissa Rankin sees it. Author of The Fear Cure, she says our fears—if we’re willing to become intimate with them—are gateways to possibility and fuel for spiritual growth. Lissa believes our fears can actually lead us into futures that are brighter than we could ever imagine, because they point us in the direction of what most needs healing in our lives. When we heal our fears, “we can become who we truly are at our divine essence,” she says. “This is a journey, and on the other side of it lies true freedom, the freedom to make life a playful, mysterious, magical, miraculous dance.”

Lissa isn’t talking about quelling the fear of walking down a dark alleyway or swimming in the ocean at night. Those are true fears. “They’re a blessing,” she notes. “People born without the ability to feel fear don’t survive very long.”

What she’s talking about are false fears, which can be a portal into greater personal growth, even though they plague us with anxiety and obsessive thoughts more often than not. “They’re the ruminations of the mind,” Lissa notes, “the imagined potential fears in the future, like fear of running out of money, your partner cheating on you, your friends turning on you, or getting passed over for the promotion.”

How can you know if false fear is running your life? “If you trust your mind to make your decisions and you think you’re able to control life by strategizing, analyzing, striving, and micromanaging every little detail so you can avert danger,” Lissa explains, “then fear is probably running your life.”

Lissa believes that most false fear stems from these four assumptions:

  • Uncertainty is unsafe.
  • I can’t handle losing what I cherish.
  • It’s a hostile universe.
  • I’m all alone.

What’s the solution if your life is being driven by false fear? The Fear Cure. “It’s sort of a misnomer,” Lissa admits. “It’s not that we need to cure fear. It’s more about letting fear cure you. The real Fear Cure is about becoming intimate with your false fears and using your fear as a trailhead to get to know yourself better, so you can heal whatever trauma might lie at the root of your fears. Your fears give you a gateway to knowing and loving all the parts of you that went through hard stuff—and all of us have been through hard stuff.”

Here are some of Lissa’s favorite ways to heal false fears and spur greater personal growth:

Let your fears become a guidepost to deeper intimacy and healing.

“Identify something you’re worrying about,” Lissa explains. “Just close your eyes, open your heart, and let your fear know that you’re here to help. Ask which scared part wants to show itself. See what arises, and notice whether the fear takes any shape, form, or image. Reassure that part of you that you’re glad it’s here and you’re there to help it relax. It may not trust you, but that’s okay. Stay present with it. Ask what it’s afraid would happen to you if it quit doing its job. Listen to what it wants you to hear. Tell it you appreciate its care and how hard it’s working to keep you safe.”

Next, she says, ask the fear how old you were when it got its job. See if it answers your question or even shows you a memory. Tell it that you get how important it was for it to do its job back when you were young. Let this part know that you understand how tired it must be from trying so hard to keep you safe. Ask it what it might rather do if it didn’t have to do its job anymore. It may resist, so stay with the resistance. “Let it know you’re not going to make it quit its job, and it doesn’t ever have to go away,” Lissa says. “You’re just offering to take over its job.” Your fear will relax and give you space once it knows you’re ready to do what it takes to heal.

The part of us that can take over our scared part’s job is the Inner Pilot Light, which Lissa refers to as “the ever-present spark of divinity within us all.” Developing a relationship with our Inner Pilot Light, she insists, deepens our personal growth because it heals our fears. When we strengthen our connection to this inner spark within, we “feel safe to become intimate with our fear, so the Inner Pilot Light can heal what lies at its root.”

Let your fear write you a letter.

“Clear your mind and sit down with a journal or piece of paper,” Lissa says. “Without thinking about it, grab a writing tool and let your fear write you a letter. Don’t think! Just let this be an automatic writing process. If you feel inspired to do so, respond to what Fear wrote, only write back from the loving presence of your Inner Pilot Light. Reading the letter and responding from the loving presence within helps to enhance our connection to the wise and divine part of ourselves.”

Draw your fear.

“Pull out all your favorite art tools and go to town,” Lissa suggets. “Ask your perfectionist part to relax and give you some space, since this is not about making pretty art. Make it playful and stay open. See what arises from this space of emergence. When you’re done, use it as an oracle. What can you interpret from what fear has shown you? For extra credit, try drawing your Inner Pilot Light too.”

As we begin to heal our false fears and trust our Inner Pilot Light, Lissa says our fearful assumptions can begin to shift toward these four courage-cultivating truths:

  • Uncertainty is the gateway to possibility.
  • Loss is natural and can lead to growth.
  • It’s a purposeful universe.
  • We are all One.

When we begin healing our false fears and develop a more intimate relationship with our Inner Pilot Light, more laughter, more creativity, and more capacity to connect with others are the result. “You can expect to feel guided to your true purpose,” Lissa says, “to have an inner compass you can trust, and to feel the sweetness of realizing you’re the one you’ve been waiting for, that there’s no need to earn the right to exist, that at the deepest level, you’re always safe.” 

Find out about programs with Lissa Rankin at Kripalu.

Portland Helmich has been investigating natural health and healing as a host, reporter, writer, and producer for more than 15 years.

© Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. All rights reserved. To request permission to reprint, please email editor@kripalu.org.

Portland Helmich has been investigating natural health and healing for more than 15 years, as a host, reporter, writer, and producer.

Full Bio and Programs