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The Five Stages of Fear
Today is one of the more "important posts I've ever written". If you get what I'm about to describe, it can and will change your life for the better. It certainly has mine. You've probably heard about the five stages of grief, but learning the five stages of fear is much more useful and applicable to your life on a regular basis.
-By Caleb Jones
Here they are, listed in descending order.
Stage Five - Actualization
Actualization is the absence of fear. During stage five, you are happy, cheerful, and confident. You honestly feel like your life is moving in exactly the direction you want. Stage five is a great place to be...if you can get there.
Stage Four - Coping
(Just to be clear, that's coping as in "cope", not "cop".) During the coping stage, you have real problems, but you're dealing with them. Most importantly, you know you can deal with them.
You're not as happy as you were in stage five, but you do have your problems under control. You look forward to the day when they are resolved, which you know they will be. You consider your problems nothing more than a temporary annoyance.
Stage Three - Striving
Now things are starting to get bad. During stage three, you're really struggling. You're being dragged down by stress, fear, and serious frustration. Sometimes during the striving phase you're successful at dealing with your problems, but often you're not.
The body seriously depletes vitamin B during stage three. You're often a bundle of nerves, and your overall level of energy drops. Everything becomes a huge effort for you.
Stage Two - Inertia
This is when your problems become so overwhelming you start to consciously avoid them. You wake up and just want to go back to sleep. You start inventing reasons to be unavailable. You spend more time wasting time (TV, video games, drinking, etc). Everything starts to slide in your life and get worse. Your body starts getting sick and manifesting other health issues just to avoid your problems. Due to this avoidance behavior, your problems not only grow, but also multiply like fast-growing weeds in a garden. During stage two, you've pretty much given up. Your problems have "won".
Stage One - Panic
In stage one, your problems are so significant that you are blindingly striking out emotionally at people. Your ability to think rationally is completely gone. You're now an animal. You're yelling, screaming, threatening, attacking, or crying. You've lost it. There's no reasoning with you. You look and act insane, and you don't care. All you want to do is be mad and lash out.
How The Stages Work
Each stage is a range in and of itself. You could be on the lower end of stage three, while your best friend could be on the upper end of stage three, almost to stage four. You can picture the five stages as five ladders each lightly touching each other at the ends.
Stage one is the exception to this; either you're in stage one or not. Either you're screaming at someone for some irrational reason, or you aren't; there's not much room for range. I suppose we could get really picky and say there are different "levels" of screaming at someone, but you get my point.
Reading through the above stages, you probably placed yourself into one of them pretty fast. You read a stage and immediately said, "Yep, that's me." That's usually how the five stages work. Since fear is created by problems, and since problems are such a consistent and all-encompassing force in our lives, you will usually find that your given stage describes your life as a whole.
However, sometimes the five stages of fear are isolated within certain areas of your life. Using myself as an example, I'm at stage five in terms of women, family, and overall happiness. I'm at the upper edge of stage four in terms of my business and financial goals. Not too shabby. Yet I often drop down into stage three with my physical fitness.
So on the overall, I'm doing pretty well. Yet if you segment things out, there is still at least one area of my life that I consider to be in the "lower stages" (i.e. stages three through one).
This may describe you; some areas of your life that are experiencing upper level stages, other areas that are lacking.
One great exercise for you more emotional types is, whenever you're experiencing a negative emotion, ask yourself these two questions:
"What am I afraid of?"
"Is it really that big of a deal?"
I've written a lot (most of it still unpublished, part of the book) about jealousy management. Much of jealousy management is simply asking those two questions. Let's say you're married, and you know for a fact she loves you, but you find out she's had sex with another guy. Let's also assume that a condom was used when this happened.
Whether she's cheating on you or you're in an open OLTR marriage is irrelevant...you feel jealous, at least a little. Biologically, irrationally, and very inaccurately, you feel threatened, hurt, disrespected, and possibly even insulted.
But then you ask, "What am I afraid of?" Remember, you know she truly loves you. So is she going to leave you and run away with this guy? Let's also assume this guy is a pussy beta or an angry Needy Alpha (which I can tell you from vast personal experience is indeed the case 99% of the time). The odds of her actually leaving you are now even lower. Where then, is the threat?
Then you ask "Is it really a big deal?" Your feelings might be a big deal to you at the moment, but in the grand scheme of things, this thing barely matters. She loves you, she had sex with some other dumbass, no one got an STD, and she's still with you. It's not nearly as bad as your first emotional reaction falsely indicated. Emotions are great, but they are often very inaccurate gauges of reality, and the more negative they are, the more this tends to be true.
Lastly, the more emotional your personality is, the easier it is to drop down in to lower stages. Some of this is unavoidable. It's very difficult for very emotional people to be happy all the time even if everything in their lives is perfect. (I have strongly argued that these kinds of people actually like being upset/fearful/jealous/sad sometimes, but that's a debate for another time.)
The Deadliest Stage
Here's the interesting thing. Most people can avoid stage one. No one wants the social rejection from looking like a psychopath all the time, so most people do indeed do enough to stay out of panic mode.
It's actually stage two that's the deadliest stage, and the stage that causes the most problems. If you look back on your life and identify the worst problems you've ever had, it's likely because you spent too much time in stage two. (Though it's also possible stage one has screwed things up in your past as well.)
This is definitely true with me. I don't think I've ever been in stage one, and I've lived a pretty good life. However every major life problem I've ever had, and I mean every single one, was because I allowed myself to wallow in stage two.
Stage two is very human...in a bad way. We all have a natural tendency to do nothing when the pressure is high. There are people out there who literally live their entire lives in stage two, occasionally bouncing up to stage three for brief periods. I've been in relationships with women like this and have worked with men like this. It's painful to watch.
One of the greatest skills in life you must master is to train yourself to overcome your natural tendency to do nothing in a crisis, and act to fix it instead. This can be hard, especially if the crisis seems too big, or if the crisis is in a life area you're not very skilled in. You must train yourself to do this nonetheless.
You'll never be perfect at it. I'm certainly not. But if you get decent at this, you'll find that there will never be a problem "too big" for you.
Your endgame goal is to get your overall life into at least the upper echelons of stage four, and then never drop below that. One could argue that being in stage five is a bad place to be, since if you have no problems there is no growth (the "comfort zone"). I agree with the gist of this argument but not the practicality. The ideal life is one where you are happy all the time, but at the same time are pursuing challenging goals that excite you. You're happy, motivated, hard-working, but there is no real fear. Sounds good to me.
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lazy guy 2013-10-05 07:10:29
Fascinating stuff BD, and so worthwhile. Thanks BD. I wonder why such good info is so esoteric. Is this material your original thinking? I guess the word fear is considered pretty much synonymous with pessimism. Anyway I see that your essay illuminates the fact that the way a man anticipates his future conditions, options, results, etc. makes a huge impact on how he feels now and his choices & behaviors now. One of General Colin Powell's favorite mottos is "Optimism is a force multiplier." I have learned that keeping my mind positive, optimistic, confident, etc. is very worthwhile, because that leads to me getting much better results than I get from being negative, pessimistic, etc. However it's often a struggle, a real challenge, to keep my mind positive like that; to stay out of the negative mentality. I guess a man simply must be determined to make it a habit; be vigilant; maintain that mentality consistently; don't slip, etc. ... ? One thing I've learned is that a negative self-perception (self-scorn or excessive self-criticism) undermines self-discipline and increases self-restricting choices, leading to pessimism & self-pity, and then you're in a self-perpetuating cycle of a negative mentality. So for me, trying to maintain a positive self-perception is a good start, but apparently it isn't enough. So BD & other readers, if you have some good advice about how a man can keep his mentality very consistently optimistic, confident, etc., let's hear it.
William W. 2013-10-05 08:52:56
I agree with lazy guy -- this stuff is so good it makes you wonder if BD is really this insightful, or if he's borrowing and maybe modifying ideas from some other genius. I think keeping ourselves at stage 4 or 5 is made difficult by how isolated men tend to be in our current culture. It's tough to get together with other men who understand this stuff, and keep each other encouraged and pumped up.
obeyx 2013-10-05 10:28:09
Agree with this post I really needed this! I've noticed that people in general are so addicted to comfort and security they never strive to get out of stage two and go with the flow with their boring and miserable lives. I'm 19 and currently live my mother and attend school. My 45-year old single mother is very hard worker but also very hard headed and tells me what I should do and how I should live my life, while she watches soap operas such as young and restless and shows similar to CSI everyday after work with no social life or interesting hobbies. She sits in bed and dreams of an alpha male who will sweep her off her feet and you wanna know how I know she desires an alpha male? Me: Hey mom when are you gonna start dating again? Mom: When you and your brother you move out! Good luck finding an alpha male in your early 50s Amazing how people are addicted to comfort and can't face their fears.
Blackdragon 2013-10-05 11:12:40
I got the basics from Roger Dawson and modified heavily. He got it from somewhere else; exactly where I couldn't tell you. The core of this is actually pretty old stuff, going back to the 1980s. (The best stuff never changes.) Good stuff, I agree. It's helped me a lot over the years.
lazy guy 2013-10-05 12:20:57
P.S. FWIW, I wasn't wondering who deserves the credit for the ideas in BD's post, I was just wondering why I never ran across such helpful info before now. Also, re my comment about viewing yourself too negatively, I should have included that it leads to depression, which is part of that whole domino effect that tends to keep itself going & going inside you... William W's point about how isolated men can be in our culture and what a difference it makes to be isolated or have contact with like-minded men is a good one, and probably part of the answer to my question about keeping your mind positive. I see men let great old friendships fade away and die because the guy fills his time with whatever is in his face right now, 24/7, a lot of it trivial stuff with no lasting value. Too bad we aren't all taught that great male friendship is worth paying the price to have it and maintain it over time...
Jon 2013-10-05 12:56:39
This is an important post. I actually printed it out for future reference. I can see jealousy and anxiety as being fear of loss, but it seems like sadness occurs after the loss has already happened. Do you think the fear in that case would be that you won't be able to replace what you lost?
Blackdragon 2013-10-05 13:06:00
I can see jealousy and anxiety as being fear of loss, but it seems like sadness occurs after the loss has already happened.Actually, no. In most cases of jealousy or anxiety, nothing horrible has actually happened yet. A woman sees a comment on your Facebook and gets jealous. You have to give a speech next week and are anxious. In both cases, nothing has actually happened, at least not yet. The jealousy/anxiety are simply fears about what might happen. Even in my cheating example in the article, the man hasn't actually lost anything; it's about what might happen in the future.
William W. 2013-10-06 16:32:44
@lazyguy: I think you're right about depression. My guess is that once you descend to level 2 you enter a state of learned helplessness, which leads to depression. The wikipedia article is pretty good: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learned_helplessness What's interesting about research on learned helplessness is that it appears getting out of it is so difficult that one has to be *forced* into acting differently -- or at least that's true for the animals on which the research was done -- maybe us humans can think our way out of it -- maybe not. Avoiding stage 2, therefore, is really important since it's so damn hard to get out of.
playtrip 2013-10-07 14:37:35
Valuable information. I could've used this advice a month ago when I found out my wife cheated on me. It might've changed things. Instead I overreacted, and damaged any chance of reconciliation. Then again, after reading the monogamy post, maybe I'm not so sure. After 25 years she probably wouldve scratched that itch again....and again..... HA!
Tin Man 2013-10-10 12:41:02
I agree - the "bunny routine" or "deer in the headlights" is the one that gets most people. With almost any situation in their lives. That's why so many people say after the fact "I knew that was going to happen" or "I had this feeling..." - we are so conditioned to feel uncomfortable (and not in a good way) that we have a problem getting to action. What's interesting, is that everytime I have decided to take action (either as I see something "bad" coming, or after it) the situation usually gets resolved very quickly. Taking quick decisive actions - will produce better results. There's a phrase in the technology circles about "good enough" - that it's better to release your product/service at the good enough phase, then improve over time - than to wait until you think it's ready. Our lives should be lived like that - we are all good enough to get started today - start, then improve over time.
Shanghai Bobby 2015-11-12 19:22:40
Hey BD, This is probably one of the most accurate descriptions of fixing worries/fears I've seen/read until today. It actually reminds me of a good quote Floyd Mayweather once said about just taking things one day at a time. I'm very guilty of letting one thing compile on top of another, even though most of the time they have no relevance to each other whatsoever. For me, the trick to not go completely apeshit is to do what you said about rationalizing whether the matter is really that bad (i.e. somebody you love died), or whether you're just over exaggerating the matter. I also find in the midst of going nuts, often taking a walk outside to feel the fresh air, do nothing, think nothing and just breathe helps too. Thanks for the awesome tips! Cheers, SB
joelsuf 2018-10-15 22:52:00
As someone who has bounced between stage 1 and 2 his whole life, I can definitely say that this is one of BD's most important articles. My mid 20s were probably the worst five years of my life. I was in stage 1 for two or so years straight, then I was at stage 2. And now I'm just being able to maintain stage 3. Stage 1 is has very very long term effects. See a counselor immediately if you are in stage 1.