WoW 113: On the fear and courage cycle [Words of Wisdom]

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WoW 113: On the fear and courage cycle

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Fear is a physiological response to a perceived threat.

Fear is a perception, it is an interpretation of reality. We see something off in the distance in the woods and think it's a bear so we become afraid. But it might not be a bear, it might be just a bush. We feel fear when we think we see the bear, the perceived threat.

Fear is either about a perceived current or future threat. The threat is putting us in danger, to where we feel unsafe.

Fear is physiological. it’s unconscious response, at the level of the nervous system.

Our most fundamental fear in a relationship is the fear rejection.

The stronghold of fear avoids being known.

It avoids intimacy and vulnerability: it hides in the darkness instead of living in the light.

Fear is a thief.

Fear steals. Fear steals your connection with God because when we withdraw from being known, when we avoid connection, we experience deep disruption in our relationships.

The fear cycle is our response to fear.

We get triggered by a perceived threat and then we can have a fear based reaction.

I define a reaction as a typically unconscious, or conditioned response to a trigger. These fear based reactions are often modeled and engrained into us from our childhood. These reactions are often attachment wounds.

Let's take a look at what I call the fear cycle.

The fear cycle consists of a trigger leading to a reaction of either control, fear & worry, or freezing, all of which feed each other.

When we react to a trigger we typically respond in at least three ways.

1. We can try to control the threat.

This is using our power in an unhealthy, manipulative way. We put ourselves first and put others in a one-down position.

We take advantage. We lie, threaten, criticize, and rage.

We do whatever it takes, against our values, to have the power to control the threat.

We know it's control when we are driven by fear, not by love and compassion for ourselves and others.

2. We can move to fear and worry.

This is rumination and thinking through the worst that will happen.

We experience failure in our minds before we ever get there in reality. We feed a spirit of fear and doubt and denial of our God-given strengths, opportunities, and responsibilities.

We go to all-or-nothing thinking or point out the many ways we've failed in the past. This is focused on a future threat. It lacks courage and trust in God.

3. We can freeze.

We become paralyzed with fear and do not move. We can flinch, cower, or become small.

We may look away from the threat as an unconscious way of not appearing threatening, of showing where we think belong in the power hierarchy–at the bottom.

We can shut down or withdraw. We can seek to avoid out of fear. We can have a trauma response of disassociating and becoming disconnected from our body.

When we have any one of these fear based reactions they can feed further fear based reactions. Worry leads to shutting down and avoidance. Or perhaps that worry builds to panicked fear and leads to taking controlling action to try to ensure we are never hurt again.

The Courage Cycle

The courage cycle is part of what I call the flourishing way which I'll share more about in the future. In summary, the flourishing way is a movement away from the 5 strongholds to the 5 virtues. It is a movement of courageous, transformative growth.

When we perceive something, we may not even be triggered because we may see it more clearly for what it is. Where one person, living under the stronghold of fear, might perceive rejection at every turn, the other may not even feel threatened by someone else. We can be in the same situation, and instead of reacting with fear, we can respond with courage.

Let's take a look at what I call the courage cycle.

The courage cycle consists of a trigger leading to a response of either self sacrifice, fortitude, or responsibility, all of which feed each other.

This courageous response can take at least 3 different forms.

1. Taking responsibility.

Instead of withdrawing from a threat, we take ownership of what is ours to own.

We choose patience and faithfulness.

We stay connected to ourselves and the world and step up with responsibility.

We say yes to serving others. We show up. Sometimes taking responsibility means setting boundaries. A boundary is a line we make in order to stay safe.

A boundary is a way to be responsible for our own well being. When others aren't safe, boundaries can help.

2. Fortitude.

We face dangers and threats with taking courageous action. Fortitude does not mean the absence of any emotional disturbance.

Fortitude means living in alignment with our values in the midst of uncertainty and risk.

We may be hurt, we may be wounded, but we stay connected to our values and do the next right thing. We move forwards and take meaningful action.

3. Self sacrifice.

Instead of trying to control others, we love and serve them.

We do for others what we wish they would do for us. We go first. Instead of waiting for the other, we initiate. We lead the way in service and self sacrifice, not looking for anything in return.

Too much self sacrifice and you live in a victim mindset. Too much responsibility and you don't empower others. You can weaponize boundaries but that is not coming from a place of love. All virtues are interconnected, so if you grow in courage you want to also grow in love and prudence otherwise you can become foolhardy and reckless.

Taking courageous action creates opportunity, and more opportunity brings more responsibility and leads to more ways to serve others.


“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

"Mental health, contemporary psychiatrists tell us, consists of the ability to adapt to the inevitable stresses and misfortunes of life. It does not mean freedom from anxiety and depression, but only the ability to cope with these afflictions in a healthy way. “An outstanding feature of successful adaptation,” writes George Vaillant, “is that it leaves the way open for future growth.” Of course, Abraham Lincoln’s capacity for growth would prove enormous."

Doris Kearns Goodwin, ​Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln​


What is your typical fear reaction when you are triggered?

What courageous action do you need to take?

In what way can you take responsibility today?

Who can you serve simply for the joy of it?

What would you do today if you were brave?

(Use these questions as a journal prompt and prayers this week)


Identify and surrender your fears. Feed the courage cycle. It's the best way to love and serve others.

Live wisely,


P.S. In case you missed it, if you're hoping to live a more purpose-filled life, I have a 10 post series on ​Meaningful Action​. Click the link and I'll send an email each day for the next 10 days.



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P.S. In case you missed it, if you're hoping to live a more purpose-filled life, I have a 10 post series on ​Meaningful Action​. Click the link and I'll send an email each day for the next 10 days.

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