Solving Negative Fears And Bringing Beneficial Fears Into Balance

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” — FDR during World War II.

There are people who have panic attacks who are so very fearful they are unable to get out of their home. They may depend on their family members to communicate to the outside world while they stay “safely” at home. Most of us may see the irrationality of such fear. However have you ever had a fear that caused you to lose your concentration, that caused you to lose sleep at night, and that caused you to be losing your peace of mind?

In the field of psychological science there is an entire category of specific fears labeled as phobias.

In the 1500’s, there was the introduction of the word “hydrophobia”, the fear of water. This was a time of great religious persecution. A person could be drowned by zealous mobs or burned at the stake, for being thought of as a witch or sorcerer.

In the 1870’s Dr. Westphal introduced the word “agoraphobia”. It originally was understood to mean “the fear of squares or open places.” This fear was initially noted as evident in the setting of market places or places used for public assembly. One celebrated meeting place of the ancient world was the Agora in Athens. Hence the prefix “agora” was used to describe a fear that was originally keyed to places of assembly. Like the Forum in Rome, the Agora in Athens was a place for an assembly of people. The word “agora” comes from the Latin word “ageirein”, meaning assemble, which is related to the Latin word “grex”. The Latin word “grex” means flock from which the English word “gregarious” is configured. The word “gregarious” is descriptive of a person who likes to socialize (likes to be with a flock).

In the latter half of the 1800’s there were some new configurations of many more words descriptive of fears.

In the 1870s, there was the introduction of the word “claustrophobia”, the fear of enclosed places, the opposite of agoraphobia. Agoraphobia eventually came to mean (primarily) the fear of open places, not just the market places.

During the 1890’s there was the introduction of the word “acrophobia”, the fear of heights. The prefix “acro” is from the Greek “akros” meaning topmost.

Some phobias are very specific. For example, triskaidekaphobia is fear of the number thirteen.

What are some of the ways people overcome their fears?

Passive Awareness:

In using passive awareness the person experiencing the fear must transcend the direct effect of the fear by gaining insight into the irrationality of the fear and thereby becoming free from the fear. Obviously this method is the least likely to be used for one reason. Most people suffering from a specific fear for any length of time are not likely to have or attain insight into a fear they have become entrenched in. In other words, they are too close to the fear to free themselves from it. The time when passive awareness can be most helpful is with individuals in which the fear has just begun to have an inordinate effect on their life.

Systematic Desensitization:

In systematic desensitization there is a gradual withdrawal from their fear by a series of small steps that are designed to desensitize a person to the experiences they consider to be negative. For example, a person who suffers panic attacks may be unwilling to communicate with the outside world in any manner. This person will be encouraged to step outside their house two steps and turn around and go back inside the house. Next they will be encouraged to step two steps outside their house and wait for 15 seconds then return to the house. Next they will be encouraged to step all the way to their front gate and wait for 20 seconds and then return to the house. This gradual guidance, successive approximation, will continue until the individual is walking around outside and beginning to communicate with other people. This gradual re-introduction to the outside world may take days or weeks to accomplish. The important thing to remember is, in most cases, rushing the person will very likely make their fear worse.

Positive Practice:

In positive practice the fear is extinguished through the use of training which can be self-directed. A man with the fear of heights may climb five floors up and look down and continue looking down until he feels calm in spite of being up so high.


Watching someone else face a specific type of fear can have a profound effect on someone who is trying to overcome the same fear.


When someone successfully overcomes a fear, friends and associates can offer encouragement by giving verbal praise for courage or faith.

The Greek “phobos”? from which we get the word phobia can mean flight or that which causes flight. It can mean fear, dread, and terror. It can be a negative fear (as in 1 John 4:18,“…no fear in love….”). Or it may be a positive fear, a reverential fear of God (as in Romans 3:18,”…no fear of God….”). This fear of God is a healthy dread of displeasing Him, just as you might dread to displease your earthy parent.

The basic Greek “phobetron” ?is terrors. It is configured from “phobos”. A modified form of “phobetron” is found in Luke 21:11. “And great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven.” The word for fearful sights was “phobetra”? ??In Old English, before the 1200’s AD, the English verb for fear was the same as in use today. However, the noun meant “sudden terrible event” and only after the 1200’s AD did the noun start to describe the human reaction to sudden terrible events instead of the events themselves.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).

The word here for “fear” is the Greek “deilias” from the word “deilia”, meaning fearfulness, denoting cowardice. It is never used in a positive sense.

What is the fear of the future? It is worry. How may we avoid worry?

“…seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).

“Do not fret, then, over tomorrow…” (Matthew 6:34, The Knox Translation)“…for tomorrow will bring its own anxieties” (Matthew 6:34 Twentieth Century New Testament).

Are we willing to have a healthy fear of God?

Adam and Eve might have learned their lesson. But their son, Cain, did not have respect for God’s authority. Cain brought plants (fruit of the ground) as an offering to God (Genesis 4:3) Cain was disobedient, after knowing what God expected. The “way of Cain” is to say, in essence: “God, I’ll worship You the way I want to worship You, not the way You want me to worship You.” The way of Cain is to have no fear of God, no reverence to God. Jude warned us to avoid the way of Cain (Jude 11).

Wily Elder (Ocala)

Behavior Science

Bible Answers


Arndt, William F., and Gengrich, F. Wilbur, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, London, University of Chicago Press, 1957.

Ayto, John, Dictionary of Word Origins, New York, Arcade Publishing, 1990.

Dewey, Pam, Outside The City, Charlotte, Michigan, Shelter In The Word, Vol. 1, Number 1, 1998

Stevens 1550, The Englishman’s Greek New Testament, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1970.

Vaughan, Th.D., General Editor, The Word, The Bible From 26 Translations, Gulfport, MS, Mathis Publishers, 1988.

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