Fear in small and healthy dosage is good because it keeps us well and alive. If you are in the jungle and hear the slightest rustling sound, there are two possible reactions. If you believe it’s just the wind and it turns out untrue, you are lunch. On the other hand, if you believe it could a predator and take appropriate actions, you may save your life. In either scenario, you’d be better off keeping alert. We humans are hard wired to be on constant lookout for the purpose of survival.

There are two types of learned fear that we all adopt in childhood before the age of six. They prove to be the greatest obstacles to success and happiness in adult life. One is the fear of failure and the other is the failure of rejection.

Children come into this world with the natural impulse to touch, feel, smell and explore. If they get discouraged, yelled at or even punished whenever they try to do something led by the impulse, they are likely to conclude that it’s because they are incompetent or incapable. This feeling that “I can’t” soon turns into the “fear of failure.” These children tend to be clingy to their caregivers in a social environment, or afraid to speak up in class or terrified to take any kind of risk.

When parents make their love conditional upon the child’s performance or behavior, the child internalizes the message that he has to do what pleases his parents in order to be loved and accepted. The feeling that “I have to” eventually turns into the “fear of rejection.” These children grow up to be overly concerned or even obsessed with the opinions of others, especially with the opinions of their parents, spouse, boss or friends.

My grandmother was a courageous woman who also had many self-limiting fears. She brought my mother up fearful. Being the target of the inhuman Cultural Revolution made my mother dreadful not only of failure and rejection, but also of persecution and not surviving to see the next day. Together, they passed the fear to me and I passed it on to my children, especially Jane, my oldest.

Here are some of the deep-rooted false beliefs that have held me back most of my adult life:
– I’d never be able to ride a bike because the few times tried, I fell off and got hurt
– I’d never learn how to swim because I might get drowned
– I am a terrible driver because I have no sense of direction
– I wouldn’t be an effective manager because of the language barrier and my distain for corporate politics
– I’d never be a good mother because it was hard for me to love and accept my children unconditionally
– I wouldn’t be a desirable wife because living with me could be exhausting
– I’d have to continuously please my friends for them to like me

Today I don’t know how to ride a bike or swim because of fear. I’ve passed numerous opportunities for promotion in the name of opting for flexible work schedule, even though I was told I could have both. But I no longer have any doubts in my mind that I am the best mother for my children (although not perfect) and the most wonderful wife to my husband. I am also convinced that I’m likeable just the way I am. True friends accept and love me instead of what I do or say.

The bad news about the learned fears is that they were formed at a very young age. The good news is that if they were learned, you can unlearn them. One of the requirements for becoming a positive and authentically happy person is to clear our mental blocks and deal with any fears that cause us to settle for far less than we are capable of. One of my life goals is to identify each of the self-limiting fears and overcome them one by one. To me, that in itself will be the single biggest accomplishment of my life!