Childhood can be a truly scary time. And while getting over some childhood fears is just a matter of age and maturity (I’ve yet to meet an adult who’s afraid of slimy, one-eyed monsters in the closet), there are some childhood fears that stubbornly stick around well into adulthood. Releasing yourself from those childhood fears, however, is important if you’re ever going to be able to make real progress towards creating a happy life.
What it means
What exactly does it mean to release yourself from childhood fears?
It means unlearning some of the things you learned in childhood—particularly things that lead you to think a certain way about your surroundings or relationships.
Fears we develop in childhood are formed and/or made stronger by learned thoughts and behaviors, information we receive repeatedly, and evidence we find that supports the fear.
Some of these fears are all too real and develop because of circumstances outside of our control. For example, a child may develop a fear of abandonment if they were abandoned by a parent or caregiver, or if they experience severe separation (such as through death or divorce). Trauma related to abuse or neglect can also play a major role in fears being developed.
There are other fears, however, that are born from the stories we tell ourselves and believe to be true, whether or not they’re actually true. For example, having a bad childhood experience with the dark can lead us to continue to associate the dark with danger; a trauma having to do with water might make us think that all recreational water activities are inherently unsafe.
Just because we’re afraid of these things (and for good reason) doesn’t mean that we need to be. The dark isn’t objectively dangerous, and neither is water, but if we’ve been telling ourselves that they are for long enough, we’ll start to believe it.
Why it’s important to release yourself from childhood fears
Fear is a normal and natural part of the human experience. It’s completely understandable that most people would hang on to fears they developed in childhood, especially if they are born from trauma that was never worked through in a healthy way.
And guess what? I’m not going to force you to let go of a fear you’ve had your whole life. If you believe that your fear of the dark continues to serve you in some way, then that means you aren’t ready to let go of it yet, and honestly, I 100% respect that.
But if you are ready to let go of a childhood fear, if you do feel like you’ve been hanging onto it for far too long, I’ll say this: there’s a reason I use the word “release” to describe what this letting go feels like.
Fear is restrictive. It keeps you from doing something. And even if that “something” is just living a happier, fuller life…isn’t that worth it?
Many of our fears are the product of lies that our brains have been telling us for years. And all our fears are holding us back in some way, shape, or form. And if we can let go of them, we’ll “release” ourselves from the pain and stagnation they cause.
What releasing yourself from childhood fears does for you
Learning to release yourself from childhood fears is important because:
It trains your brain to think differently. The more you practice new ways of thinking, the more inclined you’ll be to think creatively. Instead of getting stuck in routine thought patterns, you can learn to have more control over your thoughts so that you can think in more beneficial ways.
It frees up energy. Fear can be mentally, emotionally, and even physically exhausting. Constantly worrying about the metaphorical monster that’s chasing you will only leave you feeling run down and incapable of facing the next real-world challenge.
It allows you to progress. Like I said, fear holds you back. It might be holding you back from taking a chance on a new job opportunity, trying out a new creative endeavor, or going all-in on an important relationship. Fears that we have held onto since childhood are not doing us any favors.
It builds confidence. Imagine overcoming your worst fear. What would that do for your self-confidence? I know that for me, overcoming any kind of struggle helps me build my confidence, making me feel more capable of tackling more big hardships.
Why it’s hard
It can be really easy to be hard on yourself for holding onto childhood fears. Are you really still afraid of something that affected you…how many years ago?
But before you go beating yourself up about your childhood fears, let me tell you: childhood fears are hard to let go of. Here’s why.
You’re embarrassed to admit the fear.
Part of letting go of fear is first acknowledging the fear. If you aren’t able to acknowledge the fear (out of embarrassment, shame, or denial), you’re never going to be able to overcome it.
It feels like truth.
Releasing yourself from childhood fears is hard also because you’ve practiced thinking a certain way for so long that those thoughts feel like truth. It doesn’t feel like you’re afraid of the possibility that someone might abandon you; it’s more like you’re waiting for the inevitable to happen. Your brain has done a good job convincing yourself of this because…
It makes you feel safe (or other justifications).
Fear plays an important role for the human race. That is, it keeps us away from anything that’s potentially dangerous. Fear makes logical sense in your brain because you see it as a defense mechanism. In this way, you justify your fear by trying to figure out what it does for you. Another common justification for fear is care for others (e.g. “My fear of abandonment means I love the people in my life; if I wasn’t afraid of losing them, it would mean I didn’t love them.”)
You’re not sure where to start.
A childhood fear can feel like a friend—something that’s been with you for a long time, and that protects you in some way. For that reason, it can be hard to let go of a childhood fear, simply because you aren’t sure where to start, or even if you want to start.
How to release yourself from childhood fears
The bottom line is this: no matter how hard it may be, letting go of your fears is worth it. It will help you unlock your creativity so you can create a happier life for yourself and for the people you love. So let’s talk real quick about some things you can try if you’re ready to release yourself from these childhood fears.
Identify the fears
Again, you’ll never be able to get over your fears if you aren’t able to identify and acknowledge them. Your fears are real, and they’re really holding you back. Be brave enough to face them and admit them, even if it’s only to yourself.
Recognize how fear is holding you back
What would you do if you weren’t afraid? How has fear kept you from living the life you really want to live, from being the person you really want to be? As you recognize this, you’ll be more motivated to identify and release your fears.
I’m a firm believer in therapy. I’ve gone so far as to say that everyone needs to go to some form of therapy. (Hey, we all have things we need to work through!) A professional therapist can help you dig into your past so you can get to the root of your fears, and then can help you shift your mindset and change your thoughts so that you can start living a life free from fear.
Significantly different from therapy, coaching is more about actionable strategies and proactive exercises that help you build and live a life you love. Coaching can help you design thoughts that are aligned with your goals and dreams for your life. (Learn more about creativity coaching, here.)
Journaling is an excellent way to document your thoughts and thought patterns, which could help you both identify your fears and work through them. As you write down your thoughts related to your fears, you’re better able to break those thoughts down so you can process them as a curious observer, rather than get lost in them as an affected victim.
Fear exists in the future—it’s centered around what might or will happen. Meditation, on the other hand, is all about bringing your mind to the present. If you can learn to do this, you can practice letting your fear go when you start to feel it, before it turns into a downward spiral.
Surrendering to the universe is about knowing the difference between what you can control and what you can’t control. If something is within your control, you have no need to be afraid of it, and if something is out of your control, being afraid won’t help you avoid it. Learn to surrender. Learn to accept what is, instead of constantly worrying about the fears from your childhood that may or may not actually happen. You’ll be a lot happier as a result.
Taking risks, especially creative risks, can help boost your confidence so you can move past your fear. Try pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. Even if you can only do a little at a time, you’ll slowly start to build confidence in yourself and in your ability to handle fear and uncertainty.
Releasing yourself from childhood fears is a necessary part of living a life free from fear, so that you can focus on creativity and love. Learn to let go. Learn to control your thoughts, and to work through your emotions. Start rejecting your fear, instead of letting it control you. Move on and start living a happier, more fulfilled life. It’s what you (and your inner child) deserve.
Learn to let go of fear (for free!), with Design.org.
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