I tweeted the word picture on the left and felt proud to share my new understanding. Historically, I associated my internal angst to my circumstances and sought relief by working really, really hard trying to control life—to no avail.

For decades fear dominated my inner world. I was afraid of failing. I was afraid of missing game winning shots on the basketball court in front of thousands of fans. I was afraid of what others thought of me, my clothes, hair, car, house. I was afraid of not being able to make money and support my family. When I had money, I was afraid I would lose it. I was afraid of looking like a fool. I was afraid of speaking in public; I wouldn’t raise my hand in class because I didn’t want to look ignorant and foolish or be criticized for my opinions and perspective. I was afraid of being called incompetent as a business owner and entrepreneur. I was afraid of being rejected by bankers, women, business associates. My list of fears was virtually endless.

Fear is a word I comfortably used to describe my inner world, and the world seemed to understand what I was saying.

But then . . .

In response to my picture quote tweet, I received the following direct message:

“Hi, Bruce. Just curious. Is fear the same as anxiety? Maybe one is mind made and the other a natural response to a real threat out there.”

At first, I felt defensiveness rise (my habitual response), but I quickly came to my senses when I realized my feeling was coming from my thinking. I remained open because I wanted to learn from this gentleman.

“Is fear the same as anxiety?”

His question pierced me. My initial response was: I see your point, words can be tricky, and thanks for the clarification. I meant fear, which is created by our thinking (not our innate fight or flight response).

I thought the conversation was over.

But he continued.

“My sense, Bruce, is I feel anxiety and misinterpret that as fear. So I hear players say they fear going left or missing a putt, but by pointing to the difference between anxiety (thought constructed) and fear (instinctive/no thought), they see a choice is available when feeling anxious.”

Boom. I got it.

My whole life I had mislabeled my anxious feelings as fear.

This simple (and all too common) error increased my inner turmoil. My internal perception of various social situations felt like a “natural response to a real threat,” but I was mistaken. My felt experience was an illusion created by my thinking. Being fearful of what someone thought of me is much different than feeling fear when an intruder enters my home.

IMG_2253The difference between fear and anxiety: The human fear response is instinctive, natural, and meant to keep me out of harm’s way; this response is free of thought.

I can choose to distrust and/or ignore my moment-to-moment thinking (the source of my anxious feelings), but I cannot choose to ignore my innate fear response, which is actually a divine gift.

No, fear is not the same as anxiety.

Thank you, friend, for kindly and compassionately pointing this out to me.