The Three Faces of Fear

Fear usually triggers one of three reactions: control, anger or withdrawal (the latter two actually being forms of the first).

This is a key insight for improving both your self-awareness and your other-awareness: whenever you encounter control, anger, or withdrawal, it is usually a sign of fear, either in yourself or others.

Once you understand this, you will be better prepared to resist the temptation to react defensively to the presenting behavior of control, anger, or withdrawal, and instead respond wisely to the real issue: fear.

Remember the Titans

This principle is vividly illustrated in the highly acclaimed movie, Remember the Titans.

The film chronicles the desegregation of the football team at TC Williams High School in Richmond, Virginia in 1971. As you watch the following interaction between athletes Gerry Bertier and Julius Campbell (played by Ryan Hurst and Wood Harris), notice how each young man displays signs of control, anger, and withdrawal (if a video screen does not appear below, click here).

Can you discern what fear might have been driving this interaction?

In real life, Gerry Bertier was paralyzed in a car accident at the end of the 1971 season. Before the accident, he and Julius had overcome their differences and became close friends. As a result, Julius was devastated by his friend’s injury. As you watch the following scene, notice what Gerry admits was the real source of his initial hostility toward Julius (if a video screen does not appear below, click here).

“I was afraid of you, Julius. I only saw what I was afraid of. And now I know I was only hating my brother.”

Minister to the Real Issue

Store this revelation away in your memory. And the next time you encounter control, anger or withdrawal in a relationship, look behind these behaviors to discern the real issue. More often than not, it will be a hidden concern, anxiety, apprehension or other form of fear. Instead of defending yourself, try something like this:

“I’ve just realized how concerned you must be about [describe the issue as graciously as possible]. I’m sorry I didn’t see this sooner. Please help me to understand more clearly how you’re feeling so we can work together on this.”

The more quickly you address others’ fears with the humility, gentleness and kindness, the more often you’ll often see a positive result.

– Ken Sande

Reflection Questions

  • Think of the last time you tried to control a relationship, reacted with anger or withdrew from someone. What was the reason? What was the outcome?
  • Describe someone who you’ve seen handle significant concerns or fears without resorting to control, anger or withdrawal.
  • Think of someone who has responded to you with control, anger or withdrawal. What concerns, anxieties, apprehensions or other forms of fear might trigger that behavior? The next time this happens, what would be the best way for you to respond?

Permission to distribute: Please feel free to download, print, or electronically share this message in its entirety for non-commercial purposes with as many people as you like.

© 2015 Ken Sande

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