Fear: Toxin or Growth Hormone?

By Shae Hadden | Bio


The algae bloom on the lagoon where I’m housesitting seems symbolic of the state I’m in these days. Long-forgotten, half-hidden ideas seem to be coming to the forefront of my thinking and showing the richness of their colors and their impact on my life. Like my belief that “fear is toxic”. A belief that has been stored for years in my body and which I’m now choosing to let go of.

It’s true that fear triggers certain physiological responses in our bodies: adrenalin gets released, our heart rate increases, and all the normal ‘fight or flight’ responses come into play. And when fear is a constant in our lives, it becomes a constant in our bodies as well. My belief has been that it acts like a toxin, something harmful to our health and wellbeing, something that drains our energy and limits our ‘aliveness’. Over time, it can become a source of ‘dis-ease’.

What I’ve been pondering is whether the fear itself is a toxin, or whether it’s our body’s reactions that are toxic? My experience over the past year has been that my fears about being alone and being sick with some unknown disease actually lowered my immune system and triggered ‘episodes’ of unwellness. When I look back over my life, the cost has been even greater: I have essentially limited what’s possible in all domains of my life based on this belief while acting out a “Superwoman Syndrome” (superhero taking on everything for everyone else) to compensate.

I’ve been wondering what might happen if I changed my thinking about fear and its relationship to toxicity. For example, what if fear is neither toxic nor non-toxic? What if it’s actually healthy and life-saving, perhaps even energizing and catalytic? I look at my cat, who instinctually uses fear to protect his life, and see that this ‘healthy’ fear doesn’t diminish his life or wellbeing. His patterned, learned responses to minor events sometimes trigger a major reaction (like being startled by a particular sound)…just as we humans sometimes ‘overreact’ to certain situations. But they certainly have no relationship to toxicity.

What if fear is simply a deep emotion? What if the physical reactions in my body are just that—physical reactions? What if there is no inherent ‘toxicity’ in what’s occurring either emotionally or physiologically? What if ‘toxicity’ is solely my interpretation of what’s happening?

If I adopt this perspective, then I can no longer, in all honesty:

  • Disown my fears (as in, avoid them because they are ‘toxic’)
  • Live life small by playing it safe to survive
  • Avoid taking risks
  • Stop myself from fully engaging in ‘tasting’ life
  • Blame others for creating toxicity in my environment

One last thought I’m pondering: what if fear is just another manifestation of love? As my ex says, “Love is anything that promotes growth.” And I must acknowledge that facing my fears has certainly helped me grow.

© 2009 Shae Hadden. All rights reserved.

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