I winced as I stood up. The muscle in my back had been bothering me for two weeks, fluctuating between mildly uncomfortable and gasp-out-loud painful.
My physical therapist brother decided take pity on me and offered to take a look. The painful muscle was on my back, but my brother, operating on his greater knowledge, started treatment on the front instead.
“Yep,” he said after feeling around only a short moment. “I figured the problem was with your psoas.” As he explored and treated the problem a little longer, he wasn’t surprised to discover that the real muscular issue originated with the psoas muscle on my left side.
So the pain I felt was on my back on the right, but the actual cause of that pain was on the front left. Isn’t that strange? Certainly had me fooled.
As I thought more, shaking my head, about the peculiar way the body works—manifesting pain at a different location than the real problem—I realized the same thing often happens with my fears.
I have so many of them—fear of danger, people-pleasing fears, worry of the future, worry for loved ones, stress over daily tasks, and the list goes on. Now that I’m a Fear Warrior, trying to fight and win the battle against my fears, I’m more aware of my fears than ever. And I do my best to tackle them as they come up.
But when trying to conquer a fear, I naturally focus on that fear itself. I shouldn’t be afraid of standing up in front of people, I tell myself. Nothing bad is going to happen.
I tell myself I shouldn’t be afraid of nightcrawlers. It’s silly.
I tell myself I just need to breathe and relax when overwhelmed by to-do list. Everything will get done eventually.
We do need to identify our fears and admit to having them as the first step to fighting those fears. But we’re in trouble if we stop with that surface diagnosis.
I felt pain in my back on the right side, so I assumed that’s where the problem was. I worked to treat that area as best I could. I applied heat packs, put a pillow behind that area, tried to use that back muscle as little as possible.
Some of these measures helped a little, sometimes. But the muscle pain didn’t improve overall and was still there, sometimes exacerbated, every day.
The problem was that I was treating a symptom, not the cause behind the pain.
I tend to do the same thing with my fears. But beneath every fear is a deeper cause. Sometimes, those causes may seem to have nothing to do with the actual fear that results—like my problematic muscle being located on the opposite side of my body.
If we only identify and treat the symptomatic fear, we may see some success, but we will never taste victory. We will never obtain complete healing—the total conquering of that fear.
In fact, we might end up doing more harm than good. Turns out, I had actually hindered the healing of the problematic muscle by some of my treatments in ignorance. Some things I did exacerbated the issue without me realizing it, and I delayed healing by aiming my treatment efforts at the wrong location.
Fear is like that, too. If we stop at a surface-level identification of our fears and try to address them without diagnosing their cause, we might do more harm than good.
If I identify that I’m driven by fear that people won’t approve of me, I might naturally think that the solution is to build my self-esteem. Clearly, I have too low an opinion of myself and too high an opinion of others, since their approval means too much to me.
But if I work to build my self-esteem or to stop caring what others think to conquer this fear, I’ll do far more harm than good. The fear won’t actually go away with this treatment, and it will probably increase (not to mention causing a slew of other issues elsewhere in my life).
I have to look beyond the fear to see the cause underneath. In my case, and probably in the case of many people with this fear, it’s pride. Isn’t that strange?
Much like the real muscle issue located on the opposite side than my pain, pride seems like the most unexpected opposite of the fear it causes. But, as I’ve shared on this blog before, I had to eventually realize and admit that pride is indeed the hidden root of my people-pleasing fears.
So if I were to treat this fear by thinking more highly of myself or dispensing with the opinions of others, that would actually exacerbate the problem. I’d become more prideful, not less. I would continue to battle this fear and maybe lose the fight because I’d be ignorant of the root evil to be defeated.
As I think about this idea of referred fear, I’m astounded by what I begin to see. Every fear of mine does indeed have a hidden cause, often a surprising one.
Most of my fears are caused by a lack of faith, perhaps the easiest cause to diagnose but the most difficult to treat. Others are caused by hidden pride, idolatry, greed, envy, and selfishness. Still other fears of mine need to be examined under a microscope to determine what sin or evil lurks beneath them.
If I want to win this battle against my fears—and, believe me, I desperately do—I’ll have to take the time and expend the effort to diagnosis the root causes of my fears.
It takes courage to dig out those causes, exposing them to the light and to yourself, perhaps for the first time. But only by doing so will we, through God’s power, be able to cure the disease instead of just trying to treat the symptoms for the rest of our lives.
When you identify the hidden causes of your fears, I think the best treatment approach is just as counterintuitive as the rest of this diagnostic process. Don’t get stuck focusing solely on the negative cause of your fear.
I find when I think only about the psoas muscle, even when trying to keep it relaxed or avoid using it, I inevitably end up tensing the muscle anyway. Instead, I have less pain and more healing if I think about the muscles I do want to use. Or, better yet, when I think about getting my whole body in proper alignment and moving in a healthier way.
The same is true for beating our fears. If we focus solely on our lack of faith, telling ourselves to have more or beating ourselves up when our faith doesn’t suddenly strengthen, we’re likely to increase the problem.
Instead, battle a lack of faith by focusing on God’s amazing power, omniscience, love, and mercy. Recite verses that bring home those truths to your heart and mind. Ask God to increase your faith as you review all the many reasons He is worthy of great faith.
We can take this same approach to all the other causes of our fear. We need to get our souls in proper alignment if we want to defeat those fears, once and for all.
As soon as I knew the real cause of my muscle pain and was able to treat it properly, I began to experience healing. Not all the pain went away immediately, but I had confidence that day-by-day I would improve and, eventually, the pain would end because I defeated the cause.
Think the same can’t be done with your fear? Remember this:
One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the Lord your God who fights for you, just as he promised you. – Joshua 23:10
God Himself fights for us. Our victory and healing from every root cause of fear is assured. He promised.
Have you identified the hidden cause of your fear? How will you treat the problem? Please share!