Fear Factor

Fear is one of the five emotions in the 2015 Pixar/Disney animated movie, Inside Out. He is the purple one and the self admitted coward, afraid of everything, unlike his friends, Joy, Anger, Disgust, and Sadness.

Fear is an emotion that’s been hardwired in our brains – for the purpose of survival (thank you amygdala!). But I’m wondering how necessary fear is now that we are no longer defending ourselves against animals in the forest!

The girls I work with often have a lot of fear – it’s not obvious fear but rather presents itself as avoidance, anxiety, worry, judgment, self doubt, and uncertainty. They are afraid to try new activities or new ways of doing things and they are very worried about not “getting it right”. In short, they are fearful of not being – enough (smart enough, pretty enough, talented enough, skilled enough, fast enough, etc.)

I wonder…if we could provide girls with another option for fear. So, instead of the automatic fear response (“uh oh, I can’t do that”), we can teach the learned love and appreciative response (“I’m going to try and see what I can do”).

Fear so easily hijacks and dominates girls’ brains but if we can help them see fear as a choice and they can choose a better way, we may create some pretty bold new girls!

Here are some ideas for helping girls deal with fear:

  • Have conversations about fear and ensure she knows it is NORMAL to be afraid and facing fears takes practice – keep the conversation open and on going.
  • Do NOT dismiss, discount, or minimize the fear she is experiencing, “You are not afraid….it’s no big deal.”
  • Instead, use your empathy skills and understand her fear, “That does sound scary – that must be tough for you”.
  • Try to discover what, exactly, she is fearing – fear is so general and non-specific; the more specific she can get, the more likely she can face her fears (examples: “I am afraid of failing”, “I am afraid it will be too hard”).
  • Encourage her to be friends with fear, even give fear a name (“Oh hello Fiona – I see you have come to visit!”). Making fear “fun” can help her get more comfortable with fear.
  • Ask her to consider shifting from fear to love and appreciation so instead of feeling afraid of a big project, asking her to see it as an opportunity to appreciate the learning experience.
  • Help her break down big fears into smaller, manageable steps to manage her fear and learn from this powerful feeling – if she has a big fear of trying a new afterschool activity, start with visiting the venue and feeling more comfortable with where she will be involved.
  • Explain the difference between a real fear like the fear of failing a test (which she may have done before) and an irrational fear such as fearing a worse-case scenario like falling flat on her face while performing in a dance recital (which she may have never done before but feels real to her).
  • Notice and affirm when she does something she fears and shows courage and bravery (you can use this later when she has a new fear by saying, “Remember when you faced your last fear?”.
  • Help hear appreciate and love instead of fear so that if she is afraid of a loud and outgoing girl at school, she can observe her and learn to appreciate this girl’s ability to connect with others (and maybe she can take some pointers – doesn’t that seem much less scary?).

Fear is a common and powerful emotion but instead of letting fear drive girls’ behaviours, let’s have fear serve as a reminder to be fearless!

For more information on dealing with fear check out: