Posted by: Debbra Dunning Brouillette | May 27, 2010

Fear is a four letter word

Fear. It’s a four-letter word that I try to eliminate from my vocabulary — and from my mind, as well.

I guess everyone has fears, innate ones that keep us from danger, subconscious ones borne of long-forgotten experiences, and nagging ones that creep in to haunt us when we are feeling weak and vulnerable.

Most of our fears can be traced to fear of the unknown. When we allow “what ifs” to invade our minds, logic goes out the window and our thinking becomes irrational. What if the plane crashes? What if this pain turns out to be a terminal disease? What if I make this choice and later I wish I would have made that one?

I’ve never forgotten a quote I saw years ago that had been carved into a wooden mantelpiece in the dining room of an historic inn north of San Francisco.

It said:

Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered. No one was there. – Anonymous


When I allow myself to “go there,” and that little “fear gremlin” takes hold of my thoughts, I try to remind myself of that and to embrace what it means. Faith vanquishes fear. It disappears and can’t exist in its presence. Faith gives us courage.  It says in Psalm 31, “Be of good courage…” and, while I’m not sure who said this, I love it:

“Courage is fear turned inside out.  It is impossible to be courageous if at first you weren’t afraid.”

Am I still afraid sometimes? I’m human, aren’t I?

Once men are caught up in an event they cease to be afraid. Only the unknown frightens men.
–  Antoine de St. Exupery (French aviator and author of the novella “The Little Prince”)


Antoine de St. Exupery was right. Once you have moved beyond paralysis – a state that fear can sometimes put you in – you are in action. Once you are “caught up in the event,” you are no longer afraid. Or if you are afraid, you can feel the fear fading away, as you stay with whatever it is you are fearful of.

Stephen and I diving in Cozumel (2006)

I remember being afraid of learning to scuba dive, and recently wrote about the experience in my tropical travel column ( While my fears were real, I conquered them one step at a time, and felt stronger afterward. The unknown had become the known. Fear fled.

Becoming scuba certified taught me a huge lesson about how to face fears. From that time forward, I have approached potentially fearful things differently. Here are some suggestions:

Eat the elephant one bite at a time. (or should I say, “Eat the shark one bite at a time” to stay with the diving theme?) This cliché applies to many things in life, and it also applies here. One step, one day, one bite at a time. I did this when learning to scuba dive, as I conquered my fear of learning the skills one at a time: treading water, the pool swim test, taking my mask off underwater, buddy breathing, etc.

Research the heck out of whatever you’re fearful of. This is my approach and may not work for you. For me, however, the more I know about what I’m afraid of, the more I can replace the “unknown” with the “known.” Knowledge is power.  For example, viewing the statistics surrounding your chances of dying in a plane crash versus your chances of being in a fatal auto accident, may help you deal with your fear of flying.

Replace fear with courage and confidence. Once you have a handle on what this “fear gremlin” is made of, you can kick it to the curb with confidence. You can arm yourself with knowledge, look back on the one-bite-at-a-time experience you’ve gained, and emerge with newfound strength and courage.

The next time you feel fearful, remember the acronym: F.E.A.R. = False Evidence Appearing Real. Don’t allow yourself to buy into false evidence that is appearing real. It’s sometimes so close to real that you can taste it, touch it, feel it in your bones. But 99 times out of 100, it’s not, so give whatever you are fearful of the “truth test.” Is it a legitimate fear, or something that you’ve mostly conjured up in your mind?

Stand strong in faith. If you are a person of faith, you can rely on God to help you cast out fear.  You can have an assurance that although fear may knock at the door of your mind, it cannot gain entrance and take up residence. Fear and faith cannot be companions.



  1. Very nice!

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