Bound by Fear

Bound by Fear — I proposed that fear comes in two flavours: 1) fear of the OTHER, and fear of the SELF. Let me note that both capitalized words differ from their “small” counterparts.


Me? I’m not scared! Not a bit!

Fear and Loafing

Two weeks ago, I quoted Nietzsche,

He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Aphorism 146

The Will for Freedom and the Wish for Restriction

Back in 1983, I submitted my Masters’ Thesis. It was titled, “The Fear Factor,” and it’s kind of interesting, all 205 pages of it, not that I look at it often. The Nietzsche quote reminded me of the “thesis of the Thesis,” that fear keeps us stuck. Until we learn to see through it.

I proposed that fear comes in two flavours: 1) fear of the OTHER, and fear of the SELF. Let me note that both capitalized words differ from their “small” counterparts.

  • Small “other” is everything that is not me.
  • Large “OTHER is a largely subconscious “set” of culturally installed beliefs about the big, scary world. Depending on the neurosis of my family and tribe, I may fear the world at large, or only specific elements of it.
  • Small “self” is our public persona. It may be “that which I know about myself,” but is more likely, “That which I choose to reveal about myself.”
  • Large “SELF contains the small self, PLUS the subconscious and unconscious realms, or the Shadow (according to Jung.) In other words, the SELF is the abyss.

I paged through the Thesis, and one quote stood out:

…there are fears of being sabotaged in one’s free will by inner enemies; or being restricted and constricted in one’s autonomous initiative; and, paradoxically enough, at the same time of not being completely controlled enough, of not being told what to do.”

Erik Erikson, “Identity and the Life Cycle,” p.77

This is the principal paradox — how to move past being stuck.


Many of my clients assure me that what they crave is the freedom to be themselves. They tell me how important it is for them to express themselves, to be creative, to “let their song out.”

Being a Simple Zen Guy, I invite them to go right ahead.

And out come the excuses, starting at the level of the OTHER.
“But what will people think?”
“My partner is very insecure, and (s)he will not like me doing that.”

[Someone] needs to do [something] first!” And tellingly, “If I do that, people might figure out who I really am.”

This is fear of OTHER dancing with the wish for freedom.

Our tribes taught us well—they kept us “safe” by insisting that “It’s a scary world ‘out there.’ ” Our eyes therefore tend to look externally first. And here’s a twist. The external OTHERness that we fear also includes our fantasies.

Many are the clients who hold themselves in check by telling themselves “scary stories.”

What if I pick something, and something better comes along?” (And they’ve even imagined what “better” looks like—it’s populated with imaginary people who are perfect…)
“I already know this won’t work out.” (Again, an overactive imagination…)

What seems to be missing from their equation is the realization that what goes on their heads is not real! It’s not called an imagination for nothing. When you tell yourself stories, and scare yourself, the inescapable truth is—it’s imaginary!!!

In all cases, sinister motives are projected outward onto anOTHER, and one stays stuck, BUT with someone to blame.

Questions, Questions

I have a couple of clients who endlessly ask questions. What will happen? What’s the point? How’s it all going to turn out? I keep saying that I have no clue, and the best way to find out is to just do the thing…

One client said, “I want to [fill in the blank] but if I schedule it, I’ll not have the freedom to do other things.” Yet, when she does not schedule it, she does not do it. Freedom, my ass. If I do what I say I want to do, I must (if I am an adult) accept the consequences. Singing the “I want to be free!” song while doing nothing, means that you do nothing!!!

The other side of the OTHER coin is wanting to be told what to do.

The problem with this request to be told, or directed, is that is never genuine. If you tell them, then you are to blame when things go wrong, or are to blame if it goes right and wasn’t a big enough charge.

All of this is a distraction from the main event.


In Zen, we sit and stare into the void.

We see that others, in a sense do not exist, or are simply a distraction. This is not so for the majority, who are addicted to their fear.

We have been taught to look outside for confirmation, approval, meaning, and sense of self— “Always hold an adult’s hand when crossing the street…”

We have been taught this because our “parents” were afraid of the void, afraid to stand forth, afraid to be real, afraid to confront the “imaginary demons” that populate the void.


This cultural conditioning is so powerful that fully 95% of the population never confronts it. A few issues ago, I made mention of the “leap of faith,” and often say to clients, “You can’t make the leap in two jumps.” One client recently wanted to “Go back and forth.” In other words, to keep what she has for security, while pretending to “on the other side.” It’s sort of like what you see 2‑year-olds doing—they run ahead, “ignoring” the parent’s call, yet endlessly looking over her shoulder, checking. And then scurrying back when the distance becomes “too much.

The real game

social mask

The real game is the internal one. The game is this. My social self (the tribally approved version of me) is a mile wide and an inch deep. It’s anchored, in BODYWORK, as illustrated to the left.

Beneath the surface is the “meat” of me—the stuff that I’ve been taught to repress, ignore, or deny the existence of .

This is the SELF— or what Ben ‘n Jock call the authentic self, what Jung called the Shadow. We have been conditioned to fear the SELF, and to avoid even acknowledging its existence.

Yet, here lies buried our passion, creativity, juice, and verve (as well as a lot of wacky, weird, evil, twisted stuff. We do not have to enact any of it, BUT we do have to see it, own it, and choose to let it remain background.)

If we do not do our Shadow work, if we do not dance with our void, the material contained therein will endlessly “pop up” in things we judge about ourselves and others. This “barely hidden” material will pull us to block ourselves—we expend much of our energy holding this energy and material at bay.

Over the next week or two, let’s look at ways to get into this stuff.

Make Contact!

So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Go to the top of this article, click on the title, and leave a comment or question!

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

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