Fear has two roles: to protect us from being hurt by letting us stay in the comfort zone, the situation that we are familiar with and feel comfortable and to stop us to be, do and have everything we want in our life.
These two basic roles of fear you can find well expressed in Abraham H. Maslow book “Toward a Psychology of Being” where he explains very precisely the process as ”This kind of fear is defensive, in the sense that it is a protection of your self-esteem…We tend to be afraid of any knowledge that could cause us to despise ourselves, or to make us feel inferior, weak, worthless, evil, shameful…We also tend to avoid personal growth because this, too can bring another kind of fear…This is the struggle against our own greatness…Thus to discover in oneself a great talent can certainly bring exhilaration but it can also bring a fear of the dangers and responsibilities…The moment of fright is understandable, but it must be overcome”.
Your comfort zone is what you are comfortable with, where you feel safe, even if it might actually feel very uncomfortable. I know cases that people stay in marriages that don’t work, non-inspiring and satisfying jobs, situations where they feel humiliated or belittling just because they are afraid of the new and unknown conditions. They prefer the “devil” that they know instead of the one they don’t know.
Let’s dig a little deeper. Fear’s number one job is to guard and protect us against any negative feelings, keeping us safe inside the comfort zone, the zone that is familiar to us and the place we feel safe. When we were children, our comfort zone was our mother’s lap and we kept returning there any time we felt threatened and were looking for safety.
When we grow up, we keep staying in our comfort zone as we feel safe there (if you become a shy person, this is your comfort zone and any time you are threaten/triggered to be exposed to other people you prefer returning to your comfort zone, even though you start to realize that this stops you from being the person you dream to be).
One of my clients is a shy person, as her character was developed this way since childhood. She wants to grow and become a different person, but unconsciously she stays in her comfort zone, as this is the best place she knows to be safe. It took a couple of coaching sessions that helped her to move out from her comfort zone, stretch herself through different choices until she expanded to a wider zone, where now “risk” could replace the “comfort zone”.
Our intention was to stretch more, allowing the comfort zone to expand until it could overlap the stretch zone that now is appearing as our comfort zone.