Overcoming Core Fears: Three Steps to Embracing Fear as a Beacon of Growth

In our increasingly fast-paced, productivity-obsessed world, it’s common to operate out of fear, nature’s essential and rapid motivator. This influences our definition of success. Maybe your core fears got you where you are today, meticulously playing it safe, following the rules, and doing everything you’ve been told you should do.

You’re realizing letting fear run your life comes with a price—the ghosts of unrealized dreams and anxiety. Where have you been holding back? What potentialities have you been obsessing over lately? Below, you’ll find three steps toward the other side of fear. Then, it’s up to you to choose your guide. Faith? Or fear?

You can override your fear instinct—introducing neuroplasticity.

Deep within our brains resides the small almond-shaped cluster of neurons that processes and acts on fear called the amygdala1. It’s one of the first to develop because of fear’s core role in our evolutionary survival. It is hard-wired close to our brain stem for a rapid physical reaction time. While this has served us for millennia, the situation is a little different now. Fortunately, we’ve developed another cluster of neurons to override it, the conscious reasoning part of our brains or prefrontal cortex2.

Approaching predators have been replaced by deadlines, tribal exile by losing followers, and starvation by stumbling during a presentation with promotion implications. Amidst all of these back-alleys of apprehension, our seat of conscious reasoning provides a beacon of hope. With patience, practice, and empathy, we can start to understand the source and intentions of our fears. As a result, we start to overcome them and form new associations, memories, and evidence to the contrary.

I want to acknowledge readers in survival mode. Meeting your physiological and safety needs is foundational to self-actualizing work. You’re meant to thrive, and the world deserves to experience your genius. Keep moving forward.3

Our Childhood Environment, Fear, and Personality Development

Our core fears stem from a place deep within us. A moment or series of moments disconnected you from the essence of safety, love, and trust you came into this world with. Maybe you were abandoned, ignored, bullied, or acknowledged only for your accomplishments. There are so many ways your childhood holding environment can break down, and when it does, your subconscious says, “I’ll never feel like this again.” This forms your personality—a strategy to remain whole and avoid your core fears and the feelings associated with this loss.

You might be thinking, “In comparison, my childhood was great.” As a child, experience is relative. The world is an incredibly small and fragile place. It took me 30 years to become aware of my strategy, the root of my core fears, and the needs I have to pay particular attention to providing for myself. It’s never too late to get curious about who you are.

I always look back positively on my upbringing. There was so much love, yet there’s always a loss of holding environment somewhere when we dig deep. Here are a couple of the specific fears that formed the foundation of my operating system.

My Core Fears and Their Self-Aware Perspective

The fear of being exposed and abandoned for who I truly am: Witnessing my mother experience the abandonment of being a single parent led to a lack of trust. I kept one foot out the door in relationships and developed a chameleon-like aptitude for blending into different crowds. I learned to become who I think people think I am, or want me to be.

The self-aware perspective: The love I want is for who I truly am, and I’m not responsible for others’ perceptions, actions, or emotional states.

The fear of failure because perceived success is what garners love and attention: The unsolicited reemergence of the side of my non-present family always surrounded academic, athletic, and community accomplishments and acknowledgments. This sent a message to my subconscious, “You must be visibly successful to be loved.”

The self-aware perspective: I’ll find fulfillment through internally motivated progress in the face of failure, and I’ll never experience it from a lens of vanity.

Honoring and Integrating Your Fears

My subconscious has the best intentions: help me never feel this sensation again and move toward satisfying my core need—to be loved. Recognizing these intentions, we can learn to honor and integrate our fears, take the wheel, and satisfy our core needs in healthier ways.

Anxiety occurs when we allow fear to rule our lives. Our strategies nefariously make their way into how we navigate our lives even decades later. “The work” is developing a deep awareness of our nuanced reactionary tendencies and exposing their roots. With self-awareness and self-knowledge, we can recognize why our fears are protecting us and then integrate them by developing fear’s trust in our ability to meet our core needs. Our greatest virtues are on the other side of our fears.

Three Steps to Develop Your Relationship with Fear

1) Mindful Reflection

Recognize and acknowledge the programs running your operating system to overcome them. Your core fears are at the root of them. Clarity around this intricate relationship requires intentional periods of self-reflection through practices such as meditation, journaling, therapy, or coaching.

You must take the time to understand the way you navigate your life without judgment. Identifying the foundational fear to the subconscious patterns and beliefs that govern your decisions and behaviors requires patience and discipline. Through consistent practice, you can discern irrationalities in the motivations driving your fears, and start to mindfully confront them with those motivations as an ally.

Set an intentional time to pause, reflect, and ask yourself the following questions. When do I first remember feeling this fear? Who is this fear preventing me from becoming? What would I be doing differently without this fear? Understanding it’s here to protect me, what (feeling) is the fear trying to protect me from? What is the worst thing that could happen, and how would I reflect on that five years from now?

Commit to your inquiry process. The key is the consistency with which you practice versus the intensity or duration of the practice. Make reflection a consistent part of your personal and professional life.

2) Small Measured Risks

Once you’ve identified the core fears and their motivations, it’s time to honor their intentions, and nicely ask them to rest in the passenger seat. Once you’ve taken the wheel, it’s time to start safely and gradually acting in the face of them.

Start small where the stakes are lower so the fear can begin building trust in your ability to protect your inner child. You’ll notice your passenger get less jittery and reactive, and become more resilient and curious about what’s on the other side of itself.

For example, if your fear is of public speaking, start with sharing your presentation with an overly positive and supportive friend. Then, share it with a friend who will provide more direct, unbiased feedback in supporting your success. Then start with sharing it with an online support group or another small group forum. You see where I’m getting at.

The more reps you get when the stakes are low, the less your fear’s intensity will be as the stakes get higher, enabling you to discover what’s on the other side of them. It could be your greatest opportunity and deepest fulfillment.

3) Develop a Support System

Different from a network of supporters, a support system is exactly that: a system of people, environments, and a foundation of personal values. A support system holds you in unconditional positive regard.

The people understand you at your core and pick up the phone when you reach them. Environments are supportive of the conditions that help you operate at your best energy level. Personal values help you keep the promises that you make to yourself, increasing your self-trust factor. With an intentional focus placed on developing this system, you’ll put your fears at ease, as you’ll always have a net to land on and feel whole.

The keyword here is “develop”. You’re not entitled to a support system. You have to nurture it consistently. You’ll never know how much you need to nurture it until you need it. So, make it a regular practice.

Embracing Fear as a Beacon of Growth

Honoring and integrating your fears through consistent practice, self-knowledge, and developing an intimate relationship with them enables you to reframe their purpose in your life. Your fears and subconscious programming may have held you back to keep you safe, but through that, they’ve inadvertently developed some of your greatest strengths.

Make engaging with the practices above a part of your lifestyle. Through understanding and engaging with them, your fears will learn to trust you and clue you into the next steps of realizing your true potential. The journey through fear is not a battle to be won, but an ongoing process of self-discovery, befriending, and employing them to your cause. What fears could you honor and integrate to support your journey?


  1. LeDoux, J. E. (2003). The emotional brain, fear, and the amygdala. Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology, 23(4-5), 727-738. (LINK)
  2. Quirk, G. J., & Mueller, D. (2008). Neural mechanisms of extinction learning and retrieval. Neuropsychopharmacology, 33(1), 56–72. (LINK)
  3. Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-396. (LINK)