Analysis Of Fear Of Self

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

In its broadest sense, fear of self is simply self-distrust. The word faith is descended from a Latin word, fidem, and from an earlier Aryan word, bhid, "to bind." We have seen that diffident signifies, Latin dis, "apart," and fidere, "to trust" — apart from trust. Thus, self-distrust means, not bound to self, self getting away from self. Fear of self is a feeling possessed because self is not well in hand. No one who has self in control can possibly fear himself. The secret of our remedy, then, must be this: resumption of self-control.

For our present purposes, the causes of self-distrust would seem to be evident. Thus:

Self-distrust may be inherited, that is, the conditions encouraging distrust of self are sometimes constitutional;

Self-distrust may also be an acquired trait, for certain natural tendencies may be developed by the habits of life;

Lastly, self-distrust may be an occasional experience only, arising merely in sudden and great emergencies.

Whatever the cause of self-fear, it is surely an enemy, but just as certainly may it be conquered altogether. You are, therefore, invited to eliminate from your life the above-named varieties of fear.


1. FIRST, FEAR OF SELF AS A CONSTITUTIONAL DEFECT. Methods looking to this end should be indirect so far as possible. So long as we dwell on the thought, "I am not confident of myself," we merely sink the fear more deeply and permanently into the soul You are urged, then, to exclude the idea as completely as may be from all your thought. As this is precisely the difficulty, I indicate the requirements which promise practical results.

FIRST REQUIREMENT OF THE INDIRECT METHOD: Improving the Tone-Feeling of The Whole Personality. There are times when the sense of I-am-power regards nothing as impossible. The All-Health has

"Sublimed thee, and exalted thee, and fixed thee In the third heaven."

Says the Vriddha Chanoka of India: "The summit of Meru is not very lofty nor the infernal world very profound, nor the ocean very far to cross, for men who possess energy"— the tone-feeling of power. At times the mood is almost exaggerated, as in the lines,

"I am sublimed! gross earth
Support me not! I walk on air!"

If you would develop this exuberant mood of health and acquire the confidence of its power, you are invited again to adopt the teachings of the two preceding chapters.

SECOND REQUIREMENT OF THE INDIRECT METHOD: Full Assertion of Personal Rights. By this is meant, not an external noise in regard to the matter, but a profound conviction as seen in the paragraph now quoted from the last chapter:

"Reason declares that every human is entitled to his existence simply because he is a human being; that his existence and his individuality indicate his rights, not being those of others, since he is only himself, but for that reason inalienable and by no man to be cut short or hindered; that life in general is planned in the interest of the full rights of everything possessing a phase of conscious existence; that the world is planned in the interest of living things, and, therefore, of the human individual; and so, that every soul is entitled to claim whatever belongs to him, but that this claim can only be made good by the confident spirit and by intelligent effort."

This great Declaration of Rights may be appropriated by frequent repetition of the following condensed form:

"I am a human being, and, consequently, a legitimate part of the Universe; and therefore a part of the present world; and thus a part of this nation; and so a part of the city in which I live; and, of course, part of my immediate neighborhood. I belong here. These things are no truer of president or king, or of star or system or galaxy, than they are true of me."

If, now, you will begin with the smaller of the above relations, and carry the thought that you are a legitimate part of things on through an ascending scale, meanwhile mentally asserting your rights, you will find the spirit of courage surely unfolding within yourself. The process is indicated below:

"As such a part of things, I am entitled to certain inalienable rights. If I exist for these spheres, they also exist for me, as well as for others: the neighborhood, the town, the state, the nation, the earth, the Universe. My individuality is, therefore, as valid as that of any other person. I and they are mutually needful. These spheres, from neighborhood to Universe, need me. They draw on me for their aid, since life is a gigantic mutuality. I .may therefore legitimately draw on them as I have need.

All their demands should be according to law; hence my demands shall also be legal and right. I will help to maintain this equilibrium. I belong to all systems. All systems belong to me. Fearless on this double truth I take my stand."


Cultivation of Vital Belief in Self. Your chief trouble, perhaps, springs from perpetual insistence on the idea of self-distrust. Nothing could be more prohibitive of the courage-feeling, or, indeed, of the successful action of personal powers. Here is a bit of genuine science: "Strong (wrong) feeling about one's self tends to arrest the free association of one's objective ideas and motor processes." Thus, one is paralyzed by fear or overcome with joy. If you incessantly insist that you cannot be or do, you arrest ideas of success and you pauperize muscles, nerves, and mind. If you cultivate the feeling of confidence, you dethrone the feeling of weakness, and you let loose strong ideas of success, and thus all powers spring into readiness for action.

You are therefore invited to think "power in self," to insist upon self-power, to make believe and "work up" an abiding conviction of adequate power — all the power you need — as surely your present and permanent possession. In order to this, I suggest two things:

First, the Affirmations. You are urged to find opportunity, alone and undisturbed, each morning, to assert, with intense earnestness:

"I can become whatever, in fair reason, I ought to be. Therefore, I will be, and am now becoming, precisely that,"— naming the ideal desired.

"I can do whatever, in fair reason, I ought to do.

Therefore, I will do, and this moment I am developing ability to do precisely that. I am power!" You should always think the specific achievement.

Much of this, to the average "common-sense" man, may appear to be excessively foolish. Nevertheless, we all know that "there are crises where a fact cannot come at all unless a preliminary faith exists in its coming" (Professor William James), and the regime suggested is exactly calculated to develop right conditions for the preliminary faith. When one persistently asserts self-confidence, one soon begins to believe that he has it, and if a man believes that he is confident of self, he certainly possesses self-confidence.

Secondly, the Practicalization. Following the hour of quiet, yet intense assertion of confidence in self, you are urged to make practical corroboration of the faith claimed, and never to exhibit any contradiction whatever. You must treat yourself and your assumed ability, without any exception, as one live hypothesis. You cannot overestimate the power of this self-suggestion. Professor Jean Finot writes, in regard to illness: "Does not psycho-therapeutics, the new departure in medicine, teach us that certain illnesses disappear as if by enchantment as the result of constantly repeated suggestions? Dr. F. Regnault relates that in treating a hypochondriac he advised him to write on the wall every evening the words, `I am happy,' and to go off to sleep in full view of them. After a few weeks happiness began to steal into his spirit." Surely, not less may be expected from the regime here indicated.

If the work involved should consume a year, your time would be well spent. I have found that a few people fail to secure the full benefits of the Power-Books, as I certainly desire they may, because they imagine that real practical results may be derived from a mere reading of these works, and are unwilling to pay the price of all improvement, honest effort. You are urged, then, to begin now to saturate your consciousness with the above affirmations, always treating them as live hypotheses, always exercising patience with lapses and panics, but always, everywhere, acting as though you were an incarnation of unlimited self-confidence.

FOURTH REQUIREMENT OF THE INDIRECT METHOD: Reticence Concerning All Fears of Self. Confession to others of self-distrust tends to retain the idea as a living thing, which is precisely the end not sought. You are urged to avoid all conversation on the subject, resolutely banishing the thought from your mind; to cease confiding your trouble to friends and advisers, and, above all, to think and acknowledge no more the fact of any past failure or defeat — unless strict justice to others may require. The world may well be left to its own discoveries in this matter. On the other hand, it is perfectly legitimate that you do your utmost to convince the world of your confidence in the powers you possess. When a man succeeds in this effort, the world wants him. That person lacks good judgment who advertises self-distrust yet at the same time dreams of success.

FIFTH REQUIREMENT OF THE INDIRECT METHOD: Cultivation of The Habit of Self-Courage. Habit is king in every life, either for good or for evil. Wrong habit is the lawless despot; good habit is constitutional monarch. This brings us to,

II. SECONDLY, FEAR OF SELF As AN ACQUIRED HABIT. The four preceding regimes are altogether applicable to acquired self-distrust, and should be freshly referred to at this point. In addition, we must remember that one's want of self-confidence involves a confirmed way of thinking and feeling distrustfully of self, and one sovereign remedy for the difficulty consists in building up an opposite habit — a confirmed way of thinking and feeling courage as actually a personal possession. Such building process may be indicated as follows:

First, want of confidence may have become a habit of thought and feeling with you because of long experience in failure. In treating fear as thus induced, you should observe the directions above given, and add thereto the following:

Experience is a wise teacher if correctly interpreted. But misinterpreted experience often teaches lies. The successful student of experience needs about as much wisdom as experience. The trouble with experience is the fact that our opinions are so thoroughly mixed up with it, since it never exactly repeats itself. When a given phase is mastered, it immediately becomes obsolete. I think little of mere experience as a teacher. Life's real teacher is reason. The failure to regard reason-experience tests in our deductions and plans gives rise to certain errors which demand, now, a brief attention, as follows:

It is Error to Confuse Personal Impressions With The Real Lessons of Experience. Impressions ten thousand "come to us," and it is valid to follow them when reason asserts nothing contrary or appears to run with them; otherwise impressions are as useless as tea-grounds. Impressions of failure are especially untrustworthy. Observe, then, A. — For example, a school-teacher has the feeling that her admonitions have passed unheeded, and she is discouraged. She is wrong. One young listener swung that day into upper currents of success. You said that a certain picture which you produced was a failure, but a little later a person blessed with insight ignored all your other work for just that canvas. You declined a "job" or responsibility last year because you did not feel yourself "up to" it. Then the other man, who had accepted, failed to do the one little thing which you know how to do, and this little thing was the key to that situation.

You see, then, it is very likely that your impressions of long failures are false. They may have been false in some instances. You may be legitimately tempted to hold them false all along. You must now resolve to discount all mere impressions of failure.

Observe, again, B — But let us assume that-your feeling of failure has been correct. Why should it be otherwise? You have always invited failure by believing failure and declining opportunities. Whatever you undertake is performed with the mood and belief that you are not quite equal to it. Why should you be equal to it — or to anything? Success is not a bully to force favors upon you.

I observe persons who are learning to swim. One cries, "Oh, I never can do it!" and he never wiall accomplish the simple task. The other laughs: " Why, sure; it 's perfectly easy!" and becomes amphibious.

You are invited to reason in all matters of this kind somewhat as follows: "In almost all cases of my supposed failures I have been more or less mistaken. Though I permit want of self-confidence to continue, I shall certainly be equally mistaken in future instances. As I have had success, to some degree, while actually believing otherwise, my mistaken impressions will accompany some success in coming cases. Yet a greater measure of success would certainly have been mine had I more thoroughly believed in myself. I am resolved for these reasons to banish all self-distrust."

And, again, observe, C— You should recall instances wherein you permitted timidity to rule, some other person took your place and succeeded, and you afterward felt entirely confident that you could have done equally well. So, you are invited to burn the lesson into the soul:

"I stepped aside. This man undertook the work and won. I know I could have matched his success. My confidence seems always to come too late. Hereafter I will summon confidence at the opening of opportunity, and I will stand aside for no human being in the world."

But, observe, once more, D You should recall the successes of your life. Always has self-fear disturbed you, yet you have been compelled to undertake many things, and have actually gotten through some of them with credit. Let this fact have due weight:

"I have feared my own ability, but have now and then succeeded, nevertheless. If I have done so in spite of fears, I can do so again, in spite of fear. But if I can occasionally succeed in spite of fear, I can do much better and more easily without fear. I will henceforth forestall fear by emphasizing in thought what I have already accomplished."

Yet now, observe, E — But the failure still remains. The sole question now is: "Shall I continue to be bound hand and foot by the past, or shall I bury the yesterday of my life and live royally the present?" Assistance in answering this question has in part already been given, but a further resource may be indicated: "I have certainly failed somewhat in the past. I still live, however. My failures have not annihilated me. I can but try again, and, if failure ensue, then I can doggedly try again, over and over and over. I fear to suffer — what? The fear of my fear of failure. But the more I persist in doing what I fear, the less I shall suffer, and so, the less I shall fear. In the end I shall be rid of fear altogether. The only real evil which can come to me in this matter is that of total surrender. Always will I stand for another effort. If you take this position, you are more than half victor, even now.

Or, observe, further, F — Your trouble is Iargely the fact that you think only of your failures, and you magnify them because you do not compare them with failures in other lives. You should remember that some degree of failure is the common lot of all men.

"All the world fails at times. On every hand around me are people who now and then do poor work, miss the mark, come short of perfect success. Yet this fact does not seem to discourage them; they go right on believing in themselves and achieving success. Why should I torture myself by emphasizing my share of failures? If others can forget that they have failed, so can I. So will I."

Furthermore, It is Error Improperly to Estimate the Factor of Success. Precisely here it is that many people encourage the feeling of defeat. In morals a man's conscience may become super-sensitive; so our ideals may overtop the practically possible. There are those who are so finicky about dress that they never feel well-dressed, or so pernickety in affairs that they are always dissatisfied with their own efforts. It is a mistake to define success, in any particular matter, as well as in the larger life, in such a way that it becomes improbable at the start. You should not measure success for yourself by the best thing the ablest man can accomplish. "Hitch your waggon to the stars," to be sure, but every human being has his special star; there 's his "hitching-post." Because you may not win jury cases as did Choate, nor speak with the eloquence of Webster, nor pile up millions with Cresus, every effort you make brings up the feeling of incompleteness. I believe this to be wrong. You have the nature which any man has—human; you have a name, a place, and a work in this world, with every other person. Your kind of success awaits you. That is enough. That success is great enough and will call for all you are; stand for that. Personally I am entirely content to win the largest success my capacity and life demand. I want no other. This success promises to keep me very, very busy and always absolutely hopeful. That is my message to you.

You are invited, then, to scrutinize the italicised aphorisms which follow. Success for you is what your endowments call for — no more. (I do not say, your opportunities: your endowments are capable of creating opportunities). The concrete thing you have done may be very ordinary as compared with what some other men can do, but it is not at all ordinary for you. What you really do may be a greater success for you than what others do is for them, because it costs you more than it costs them. Your failures may mean more on the right side of life than other men's successes may mean. You have "felt" "failure" because you have not attained ideals, but your exalted ideals are your best capital. Two things you do not know: the ideals of some successful people may not be near as high as yours are — and their ideals may be so high that their successes are to them comparative failures. Still, they fight on. It may be that your unconscious success has been just this struggle to climb the, to you, impassable. You must learn to define success with elements furnished by your own nature, character, talents, efforts, life and ideals.

Failure 's a toss:
Venture or loss
On what a man can do, little or much.
Surely success is it —
Plenty or less is it —
When all a man can do's put to the touch.

What is success?
Doing no less
Than what a man can do, little or much.
Here is my toast, Sir—
This be your boast, Sir:
"All a man can do, put to the touch!"

If you will earnestly comply with the above suggestions, the part which experience plays in your want of confidence may be entirely eliminated. The past is to be heeded only as it may profit the present and the future. The chief consideration furnished by the past is the fact that the bulk of its failures has been due to self-fear, not to lack of ability, and these pages are designed to disclose that fact and thus to destroy the foundation of fear. You have built these foundations — no one else. It is for you to annihilate them. Fear can only stand as you maintain it. Fear is solely your own creation. You did not inherit it; you merely inherited, perhaps, some of its conditions, and all these conditions you alone can uproot from your life. This fear has no substantial reality apart from yourself. When you withdraw your support, it will disappear.

And yet, so large a subject is fear, further difficulties confront us. We have still to consider,

III. THIRDLY, FEAR OF' SELF ARISING FROM SPECIAL EMERGENCIES. It may be that we are now arrived at our main trouble. We are confident enough, possibly, under ordinary circumstances, but now and then some unusual contingency brings the thrill of fright. Let us note one or two examples.

First Example: Self-Fear in View of Particular Kinds of Work to be Performed. The work is, say, a school examination; a hard piece of ditch digging; an unusual specimen of architecture; a sudden call to boss a gang of men, to run a locomotive, to amputate a limb, to try a law case, to preside over a meeting, to address an audience. The opportunity is declined, "for fear." Another person accepts, and he succeeds. You say, " What presumption!" and you are right in your verdict. He is really no abler than the decliner — except in this respect: he never consults a fear. In thousands of cases, the difference between men is just foolish fear.

Second Example: The Unforeseen Occasion. To some people this is always fearful. They are groove-people, old-shoes people, back-yard people. A new regime, a new method, a new style, a new man, is wanted in the exigencies of life. The person in charge, who is familiar with and a slave to the old ways, glimpses the ghost of the New, and he proceeds to brood and worry until panic overwhelms his soul.

Third Example: New Responsibilities. With many people these phases of life are forever dreaded. All the world is saying: "Construct this delicate instrument; take charge of this heavy task." Weaklings decline while the Courage-Man breathes deeply, swears in gutturals and puts himself under the task, indifferent to responsibility, but vastly mindful of the thing to be done. Then others whisper: "That fellow does n't know enough to be afraid." But he certainly knew enough to take the open door. The other people knew just enough to fear the responsibility — and lose.

REMEDIES. Now the remedies for all this emergency-fear are simple, plain, practical — and as difficult as you care to make them.

Note, First: A true distinction is to be made between self-fear which deludes and defeats, and that fair and wise estimate of self which declines rashness, and thus prevents defeat, refuses to undertake what it knows itself unfitted for, and so enlightens judgment, and in the long run advances self-interest. But it is not fear that determines the matter. In the one case, fear rules; in the other, reason reigns. The man must, of course, himself decide, but those who are troubled with self-distrust would better adopt the principle — Take less counsel of supposed reason and more of en-forced courage. In the one case, for example, the surgeon declines to operate because the work lies full in the public eye — and that fact frightens him. In the other case, he declines because he has never performed any operation of the kind and a brother surgeon who is present has operated in many similar cases and with success. Nevertheless, he who always declines under such circumstances can never begin. I know a young physician whose first case was supposed to be deadly contagious. The "other man" forsook the family for that reason. My little doctor would have essayed the cure of Death. In his courage he forgot self-estimate, and he brought the patient through — a case of measles. Then he was called to assist in a case of amputation, and the surgeon in charge took fright and surrendered to the beginner, who performed the operation with success. To-day he practises a high-class office specialty. Self-fear never yet achieved a correct estimate of self.

Note, Secondly: One of the best remedies for emergency-fear is prepared readiness. That kind of readiness depends largely upon the faithful performance of details in the thing now in hand, however minute or seemingly unimportant. Some details are more important than others, but no detail is ever wholly devoid of importance. If one does all things as they arise in the best possible manner for him, when the unforeseen affair comes up, he has already performed a part of it in just these details. It is now only three-quarters, one-half — one-third, new. The every-day best prepares for the unknown to-morrow. If a man knows that he can do his best because he has done his best, he knows that he can do exactly that in the new task. Such a soul says: "I may possibly fail, but I will not fail if doing my best can prevent; and even if I do not attain ideal success, I '11 know better next time.' But the fear-men never know better.

Note, Thirdly: Self-fear has a voracious appetite. It should be starved to death. There is one certain method for doing this — to take the work, meet the occasion, assume the responsibility, whenever opportunity affords, in spite of all trembling diffidence. Every declination due to fear feeds fear. Every under-taking gone into in spite of fear starves fear. Fear feeds only on fear. The rule of wisdom and courage, then, is — Do the thing in hand, without exceptions, for which you fear failure, the dictates of common sense receiving proper consideration. But do not mistake the fear sense for common sense.

Note, Fourthly: All abnormal fears are liars. It should be remembered that I have excluded fear altogether from the category of the friends of man, and have insisted that its place should be taken by reason. Self-fear invariably tends to magnify difficulties. Many people fear work, occasions, responsibilities, because they imagine them to be greater than they really are. Fear never analyzes. Fear always stares at wholes. Herein lies its discrimination from true caution, which analyzes, and, having done so, scrutinizes details. Because self-fear perceives things in lumps or masses, the component parts are lost sight of, and the wholes are magnified. Analyze a piece of work of which you are fearful: it is not this or that detail that disturbs you — it is the miserable whole. But, after all, when you are familiar with the whole, it is just so many details, innocent or decently difficult, yet clearly not insurmountable.

There is a sense in which life loves to impose on the imagination. It has a way of summarizing its tasks, or of characterizing its responsibilities, with so much dignity, with such a vast array of big words, with such a solemn eye turned out to danger (for your benefit) that the man who will attack them seems wonder-fully courageous. Experience always proves that the tasks and responsibilities are merely made up of possible parts easily described in common language.

Take as an illustration, the pages of a college catalogue. Was there ever such another specimen of frightful dignity? Great words, fearful tasks, imposing impossibilities, all set in majestic array, with vistas beyond of deadly professors, bloodless, rigid, merciless, masters of all conceivable knowledge — beasts of prey! Yet what does it all come to in the analysis? Kind-hearted gentlemen, who dislike only the fool and the coward, innocent text-books, not to be swallowed at a gulp, snug work cut up for doing a little every day: one task at a time, one book at a long time, one term at a time, one year at a time — and the thing is done. The remedy for fear in all such cases is the conviction that the whole need not be formidable because it is not to be attacked in the mass, but is merely to be conquered in detail.

It would be a valuable exercise if you would proceed to analyze some one thing you have already accomplished. You now see that this might be a fine specimen of fear-cause if looked at as a whole. It frightened many a soul before you were born. You have mastered it in the details, and you do not fear it at all — on your side of the situation. But that side of the situation is possible to you in any case that will come to you. In every case you have —merely a bundle of "piece-work."

You are, therefore, urged totally to disregard the fear-lessons of experience; to substitute reason for impressions as a guide through life; to estimate your own successes in terms of your own endowments only; to forget your failures entirely; to take no counsel of fear in any special emergency; to minify all difficulties rather than magnify them; —but to make everything you undertake a splendid preparation for new and greater opportunities, incessantly insisting in your deepest soul on this conviction: "I am surely equal now to any demand life may put upon me."

There is a fear of self, however, which requires attention because it weakens courage in the whole personality, This fear is distrust of the moral self. Only at the heart of the moral self can the eagle of courage come to power. Taken by and large, the strong character is at its best when thoroughly conscious of

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