I’ve worked as a therapist in the field of mental health for a little over 40 years. Around 25 years ago I had the insight that an inability (or unwillingness) to deal with fear underlies all of our psychological and emotional maladies. At the time it seemed to me a great insight and over the years I’ve revisited that thought quite a lot. The only addendum I’ve had to that thought is that spiritual warfare (the devil) is part of the equation. At one point I’d considered writing a book with the title Fear Is the Key. However, I do touch on this insight and develop it in my book Jesus v. satan: The Message of the Wilderness Temptations.
Let me explain about how I see fear/anxiety figuring in all dysfunctional behavior. Neurosis is all about anxiety. Anxiety is anticipatory fear. It’s what one feels when there is nothing immediately present of which to be afraid. Phobics and obsessive-compulsives are the worst of the neurotics, constantly imagining things that threaten their security. Worry is a term sometimes used interchangeably with anxiety. It’s a pretty much universally accepted truism that all of us “normals” are neurotic to varying degrees. The degree to which we are neurotic depends on our ability to metabolize fear and anxiety. A frightening occurrence is like a jelly donut on an empty stomach. Some people’s systems metabolize it well, but some people are like diabetics and go into shock. Some occurrences are so frightening that some people have a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) years later.
Schizophrenics have an underlying biological predisposition to develop the delusions and hallucinations that characterize that disorder, but their illness is likely activated by the stresses of living, and most of that stress has to do with their fears and worries. The most dysfunctional of schizophrenics are the paranoids. Their lives devolve into a living nightmare of fear with plots and threats everywhere. The “voices” in their head constantly torment them with all that they have to fear.
Personality disorders such as narcissist, borderline, avoidant, dependant and histrionic are folks who at an early age learned that their fears rested totally on their own shoulders. For them, there was no loving and competent parent in either their family or in Heaven. They were in this all by themselves, and so they learned and unconsciously adapted dozens of psychopathic cons and strategies to deal with their fears. These strategies, especially with narcissists and borderlines, involve the manipulation of others. These personality disorders usually behave as though there is only one person in the world: them.
Addicts, be they alcoholics, drug abusers, over-eaters, porn addicts, shopaholics or codependents are all in bondage to fear and are using their addiction to temporarily deaden the pain and avoid facing their fear. We are all addicts to varying degrees, and when we are overwhelmed with fear or anxiety our spirits go into lockdown mode. We shut down our higher thought processes, and we search desperately for any substance, person or habit that will dispell the fear. Our addiction is a faux balm for the wound and a momentary lift in our spirits.
In various ways all of the three wilderness temptations (Luke 4) presented to Jesus involve fear. Fear of hunger (bread), fear of powerlessness and fear of harm (or perhaps more accurately, abandonment by the Father).
The temptation which fascinates me the most is the second. In this test Satan shows Jesus in an instant all the kingdoms of the world and he says, “All this power will I give three, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me, and to whomsoever I will I give it.” Do you suppose any of us are “whomsoevers”? Do you suppose that Satan whispers into our thoughts that we can allay our fears and be “safe” if we can just exercise our power and control those around us?
I believe that the unrighteous use of power and control is the great corrupter of all human relationships, and it all begins with some unconscious deal with the devil. He says enter into a relationship with me, worship me and I will guarantee that everything will be okay–no more fear, no more want, no more danger. War and murder are the most glaring examples of power and control, but most of us have experienced it in a relationship or at our workplace. We have all been victims of “control freaks”—folks who want to contaminate us with their fear like some sort of virus.
How did Jesus deal with Satan’s ruses and his own fear? In every case He answered with scripture. He thrust Himself totally into His Father’s arms. He did it in the wilderness and again the night before the cross. Fear may be the key to the devil’s tricks, but trust in Jesus and His Abba is the answer. Besides fear, the only other basic human emotion is love, and we Jesus-followers know that “perfect love casts out fear.” (I John 4:18).
God help me, and us all, to live that promise out!