The Three Faces of Fear

The Three Faces of Fear


Fear usually triggers one of three reactions: control, anger or withdrawal (the latter two actually being forms of the first).

This is a key insight for improving both your self-awareness and your other-awareness: whenever you encounter control, anger, or withdrawal, it is usually a sign of fear, either in yourself or others.

Once you understand this, you will be better prepared to resist the temptation to react defensively to the presenting behavior of control, anger, or withdrawal, and instead respond wisely to the real issue: fear.

Remember the Titans

This principle is vividly illustrated in the highly acclaimed movie, Remember the Titans.

The film chronicles the desegregation of the football team at TC Williams High School in Richmond, Virginia in 1971. As you watch the following interaction between athletes Gerry Bertier and Julius Campbell (played by Ryan Hurst and Wood Harris), notice how each young man displays signs of control, anger, and withdrawal (if a video screen does not appear below, click here).

Can you discern what fear might have been driving this interaction?

In real life, Gerry Bertier was paralyzed in a car accident at the end of the 1971 season. Before the accident, he and Julius had overcome their differences and became close friends. As a result, Julius was devastated by his friend’s injury. As you watch the following scene, notice what Gerry admits was the real source of his initial hostility toward Julius (if a video screen does not appear below, click here).

“I was afraid of you, Julius. I only saw what I was afraid of. And now I know I was only hating my brother.”

Minister to the Real Issue

Store this revelation away in your memory. And the next time you encounter control, anger or withdrawal in a relationship, look behind these behaviors to discern the real issue. More often than not, it will be a hidden concern, anxiety, apprehension or other form of fear. Instead of defending yourself, try something like this:

“I’ve just realized how concerned you must be about [describe the issue as graciously as possible]. I’m sorry I didn’t see this sooner. Please help me to understand more clearly how you’re feeling so we can work together on this.”

The more quickly you address others’ fears with the gentleness, kindness, and love of Christ, the more often you’ll often see a positive result, for …

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7).

– Ken Sande

Reflection Questions

  • Think of the last time you tried to control a relationship, reacted with anger, or withdrew from someone. What was the reason? The outcome?
  • Think of someone who responds to you with control, anger or withdrawal. What concerns, anxieties, apprehensions or other forms of fear might trigger that behavior? The next time this happens, what would be the best way for you to respond?
  • Meditate on 1 John 4:18 and 2 Timothy 1:7. How can these promises guide your attitude and behavior the next time you encounter control, anger or withdrawal, whether in yourself or another person?

Permission to distribute: Please feel free to download, print, or electronically share this message in its entirety for non-commercial purposes with as many people as you like.

© 2015 Ken Sande

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12 Responses to "The Three Faces of Fear"
  1. Thanks for this helpful article addressing fear head-on.

    Over the past decade I have worked with some of the most interesting and successful people in the world. You may be an entertainer taking home $35,000 per hour. You may be a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. You may be a Wall Street corporate merger guru. Still, you have to understand, quickly recognize, and know how to defeat the top 5 professional fears.

    They are:
    1. The fear of silence
    2. The fear of sharing
    3. The fear of selling
    4. The twin fears of rejection and failure
    5. The fear of success

    Not surprisingly, most (not all) successful individuals initially assume they are the exception to the rule. “Fear? Who me? No way.”

    “No fear” isn’t just a Millennial motto for the adventurous. It’s a way of life. I know all this, yet yesterday I got hit with 1 of the 5 professional fears and responded 180 degrees opposite of what I know to do in such situations.

    I still believe “No fear” is a way of life, but it’s an imperfect way. Every time we give into fear, we need to humbly acknowledge it, remind ourselves what to do next time, and then move toward that “next time” as quickly as possible.

  2. According to the Bible references, we need to make love our first reaction to confrontation although that is easier said than done. I would have to say that I usually control or withdraw in situations like that.

  3. This is spot on! In my own experience when someone is angry, if I can take my thoughts of “How dare you treat me like this!” and make them obedient to Christ, I often find that it is not always directed at me. When I stop to think this is not how they normally respond, it allows me to explore what it is that they are going through. We can then identify the root of fear and face it together. This turns out to be much more productive and is usually more helpful to both of us.

  4. Recently my daughter has been struggling with not doing well in a class in college. In trying to think about her response of interrupting me when I try to encourage her I had a sudden feeling of hopelessness. I might have whispered just now a prayer for help, feeling complete consternation. I was thinking of how could I love her in this, feeling so helpless myself. Immediately, the thought occurred to me, she keeps interrupting because she does not feel like she is being heard. I can do that. I can listen to her. But I will need to do this prayerfully since my own desire to solve this quickly might drive me to interrupt her. However, remember that love is patient and kind I will definitely pray for patience and kindness. As for the issue being resolved right away, God has his own timetable and is working, I will pray to remember this also.

  5. This has been very insightful for me. From childhood my response to anger has always been to withdraw, usually into a fantasy place of novels. Anybodies anger has always been extremely fearful to me. I think I learned to stifle my emotions but found they manifested in addictive behavior over the years. I became a Christian when I was 34 and God has been working on overcoming my fears continually. By His grace I am now in a much healthier place. I have done a lot of reading from CCEF and the book Running Scared with a group that I led. But I think this lesson has opened up greater depth of understanding for me and I am very thankful.

  6. My oldest son is having issues with his grades and flunking several classes. His father reacts with anger and control. This only makes him not want to talk about the issues that he is having in class. Which makes it really hard to tell if it is because of his eye sight or if he is just not getting what is being taught. My son had a lazy eye and it has affected the optical part of the brain for one eye. I did finally get him to talk to me about it and he told me yes it is hard on him to read, but he is having issues with understanding it also. I happen to have my high school transcript and I showed it to him and explained to him I understand what he is saying and that no one is perfect. I just want him to pass the classes with a decent grade. I also told him that if he needed any help i would try to help him.

    • Thanks Samantha for your comments and engagement on this blog. We are sending you a follow-up email with some resources to help support you.

  7. Often my most difficult and challenging relationships are with family members. Established patterns of behavior and reactions are so hard to recognize and change. I have learned that there will be no forward movement without listening. Emotional responses lead to impasses and more pain inflicted on people. I need to be aware of any fear lurking in the midst of my emotions before I respond. Power, love, and self-control are my free gifts from God to use in difficult circumstances and conversations.

  8. My most difficult and challenging relationship is with my daughter. If I am nice she says I am “too nice”. If I get angry, she says I am always angry. I cannot seem to win either way.
    This course is reminding me however, that my actions and reactions need to be right in the sight of God. I cannot control how my daughter acts towards me nor how she acts, but I can ask God to make my actions and reactions right before Him and then leave the results to him.

  9. I love these movie scenes from “Remember the Titans”…so powerful and moving and self-awareness happens, fear disappears, and a real relationship begins. “…perfect love casts out fear.” The bonds that can be formed with others around us can be just that powerful, and that’s what God wants for us. He wants us to unite in Him. God wants us to experience the closeness and strength of a relationship with Him as well as relationships with others. But we have to let God in. We have to let go of fear. We have to let God teach us and work in us so we can reach out with His love toward others.

  10. This was such a great segment on anger and understanding that fear is a major underlying reason for it. And also control. Not until several years ago did I realize that fear was a reason for anger because I could only see the control aspect of it. It does help me to understand my reactions when people knowingly or unknowingly push my buttons. I do much better when I allow the Lord to lead me, but I still fail when I least expect it. I don’t like the feeling that I need to be on guard when I am around other people. When I relax and just enjoy life and conversations it seems like there is someone who gets upset over something I said…or disagrees with something I have said. I think they interpret differences as a dislike of them as a person. And sometimes I can feel that from others as well. My challenge is to show grace, kindness and acceptance when differences surface.

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