The Fear Factor in Relationships


None of us need new ways to screw up our relationships.  The way in which we mess things up is working just fine.  Most of us tend to fail in the same ways over and over again.  It is part of our hard wiring that has happened over our entire lives.  We have learned how to deal with pain, in mostly unhealthy ways.  At the core of our behaviors that cause problems in our lives is fear.  Fear is what drives us to do and say things that mess up our relationships.  These fears have been embedded in us over a long period of time and when certain buttons are pushed, the fear rises up and out rushes our response to the heat or pain we are experiencing.  Our emotions are an indicator of what is going on inside of us.  They are like warning lights that something is not right.  Fear will amplify those emotions to the point of no return.

So the question we need to ask ourselves is what do I do when I am afraid?  What is my typical reaction when my fear button gets pushed?  Here is a list of some of the most common unhealthy reactions we have:

  • Withdrawal – You avoid others or alienate yourself without resolution; you sulk or use the silent treatment
  • Escalation – Your emotions spiral out of control; you argue, raise your voice, fly into a rage
  • Try Harder – You try to do more to earn other’s love & care
  • Blaming – You place responsibility on others, not accepting fault; you’re convinced the problem is the other person’s fault
  • Exaggeration – You make overstatements or enlarge your words beyond the bounds or the truth
  • Denial – You refuse to admit the truth or reality
  • Defensiveness – Instead of listening, you defend yourself by providing an explanation
  • Passive-aggressive – You display negative emotions, resentment, and aggression in passive ways, such as procrastination and stubbornness
  • Complaining – You express unhappiness or make accusations; you criticize, creating a list of the other person’s faults
  • Anger and Rage – You display strong feelings of displeasure or violent and uncontrolled emotions
  • Humor – You use humor as a way of not dealing with the issue at hand
  • Sarcasm – You use negative humor, hurtful words, belittling comments, cutting remarks, or demeaning statements
  • Minimization – You assert that the other person is overreacting to an issue; you intentionally underestimate, downplay, or soft-pedal the issue
  • Rationalization – You attempt to make your actions seem reasonable; you try to attribute your behavior to credible motives; you try to provide believable but untrue reasons for your conduct

There are many more I could list, but I am sure there are several responses in here that we all can claim as to how we respond when the heat is turned up in our lives.  These responses usually bring the same results, however we continue to use them in our conflict situations, because we truly believe we are doing the right thing.  We are trying to get the other person to stop whatever behavior triggered the fear inside of us.  Unfortunately each of these reactions only tends to poke at the fear inside the other person, which causes them to respond in one of these ways as well.

So around we go doing this dysfunctional, awkward, relational dance with the people around us.  The fears we experience are a result of lies that we truly believe.  Some of the most common fears that cause these reactions are as follows:

  • Rejection – The other person doesn’t want me or need me; I am not necessary in this relationship; I feel unwanted
  • Disconnection – We will become emotionally detached or separated; I will feel cut off from the other person
  • Failure – I am not successful at being a husband/wife, friend, parent, coworker; I will not perform correctly; I will not live up to expectations; I am not good enough
  • Inadequate – I am not capable; I am incompetent
  • Invalidated – Who I am, what I think, what I do, or how I feel is not valued
  • Unloved – The other person doesn’t care about me; my relationship lacks warm attachment, admiration, enthusiasm, or devotion
  • Judged – I am always being unfairly judged; the other person forms faulty or negative opinions about me; I am always being evaluated; the other person does not approve of me.
  • Ignored – The other person will not pay attention to me; I feel neglected

There are many more fears as well, but again I think each of us can identify several fears we struggle with.  As we identify these fears and begin to understand the lie behind it and what is going on inside of us when these fears rise up, we can begin to change the way in which we choose to respond.  This is called self-awareness.

The best way in which to overcome these fears is by growing closer to God and fully understanding how only He can meet the deep emotional needs that we all have.  Our fears will never go away, but we can learn to turn to God when they pop up and lean on Him for the strength we need to respond in a healthy, humble way.  The best way to fight fear is with fear.  What I mean by that is when we have a healthy fear or reverence for God it helps us to have more courage in the face of the inner fears we have.  The fear of the Lord is what sets us free from the fear of man, finances, death, divorce and the future.

The Bible says that fear and love cannot cohabitate.  So when our hearts are filled with God’s love we have the power to react or respond in a different way.  We can hold our tongue, listen and try to understand, ask questions to clarify, wait for the right time to confront, seek help from others, admit our part, ask for forgiveness, grant forgiveness, use words that are positive and encouraging, use body language that is open and loving.  Fear is all about ourselves, while love is all about other people.  Fear is inward focused while love is outward focused.  Every time we face a fear we have an opportunity to trust God or trust ourselves.  When we trust God, even when we don’t know the outcome, we grow closer to Him and farther away from those fears.

So what is keeping you from surrendering everything to God and trusting Him?  What is keeping you from fearing God more than man?  What emotional wall are you hitting repeatedly that causes fear to rise up inside of you?  What reactions need to be changed in order to improve your relationships?

The list of reactions and fears came from Gary Smalley and his book – “The DNA of Relationships.”

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