IDENTIFY YOUR CORE FEAR
1. IDENTIFY THE CONFLICT: Identify a recent conflict, argument, or negative situation
with your spouse, friend, child, neighbor, coworker, or whomever – something that
really “pushed your buttons” or upset you. Think about how you were feeling and how
you wished the person would not say or do the things that upset you. You might have
thought something like, If only you would stop saying or doing _____, I would not be
2. IDENTIFY YOUR FEELINGS. How did this conflict or negative situation make you feel?
Check all the apply-but “star” the most important feelings:
___ Unsure ___ Uncomfortable ___ Frightened
___ Apathetic ___ Confused ___ Anxious
___ Puzzled ___ Worried ___ Horrified
___ Upset ___ Disgusted ___ Disturbed
___ Sullen ___ Resentful ___ Furious
___ Sad ___ Bitter ___ Other: ______________
___ Hurt ___ Fed up ___ Other: ______________
___ Disappointed ___ Frustrated ___ Other: ______________ ___ Wearied ___ Miserable
___ Tom up ___ Guilty
___ Shamed ___ Embarrassed
3. IDENTIFY YOUR FEAR: How did this conflict make you feel about yourself? What did
the conflict “say” about you and your feelings? Check all that apply, but “star” the most
; “As a result
OR of the conflict,
* I felt…” What That Feeling Sounds Like
Rejected The other person doesn’t want me or need me; I
am not necessary in this relationship; I feel
Abandoned The other person will ultimately leave me; I will
be left alone to care for myself; the other person
won’t be committed to me for life.
Disconnected We will become emotionally detached or
separated; I will feel cut off from the other person.
Like a failure I am not successful at being a husband/wife,
friend, parent, coworker; I will not perform
Helpless I cannot do anything to change the other person or
my situation; I do not possess the power,
resources, capacity, or ability to get what I want; I
will feel controlled by the other person.
Defective Something is wrong with me; I’m the problem.
Inadequate I am not capable; I am incompetent.
Inferior Everyone else is better than I am; I am less
valuable or important than others.
Invalidated Who I am, what I think, what I do, or how I feel is
Unloved The other person doesn’t care about me; my
relationship lacks warm attachment, admiration,
enthusiasm, or devotion.
Dissatisfied I will not experience satisfaction in the
relationship; I will not feel joy or excitement about
Cheated The other person will take advantage of me or will
withhold something I need; I won’t get what I
Worthless I am useless; I have no value to the other person.
Unaccepted I am never able to meet the other person’s
expectations; I am not good enough.
Judged I am always being unfairly judged; the other
person forms faulty or negative opinions about me;
I am always being evaluated; the other person does
not approve of me.
Humiliated The relationship is extremely destructive to my
self-respect or dignity.
Ignored The other person will not pay attention to me; I
Insignificant I am irrelevant in the relationship; the other person
does not see me as an important part of our
4. IDENTIFY YOUR REACTIONS: What do you do when you feel [insert the most important feeling from question #3]? How do you react when you feel that way? Identify your common verbal or physical reactions to deal with that feeling. Check all that apply
but “star” the most important reactions:
* Reaction Explanation
Withdrawal You avoid others or alienate yourself without
resolution; you sulk or use the silent treatment.
Escalation Your emotions spiral out of control; you argue,
raise your voice, fly into a rage.
Try harder You try to do more to earn others’ love and care.
Negative beliefs You believe the other person is far worse than is
really the case; you see the other person in a
negative light or attribute negative motives to him
Blaming You place responsibility on others, not accepting
fault; you’re convinced the problem is the other
Exaggeration You make overstatements or enlarge your words
beyond bounds or the truth.
Tantrums You have fits of bad temper.
Denial You refuse to admit the truth or reality.
Invalidation You devalue the other person; you do not
appreciate what he or she feels or thinks or does.
Defensiveness Instead of listening you defend yourself by
providing an explanation.
Clinginess You develop a strong emotional attachment or
dependence on the other person.
Passive-aggressive You display negative emotions, resentment, and
aggression in passive ways, such as procrastination
Caretaking You become responsible for the other person by
giving physical or emotional care and support to
the point you are doing everything for the other
person, who does nothing to care for himself or
Acting out You engage in negative behaviors, such as drug or
alcohol abuse, extramarital affairs, excessive
shopping or spending, or overeating.
Fix-it mode You focus almost exclusively on what is needed to
solve the problem.
Complaining You express unhappiness or make accusations;
you criticize, creating a list of the other person’s
Aggression or abuse You become verbally or physically aggressive,
Manipulation You control the other person for your own
advantage; you try to get him or her to do what
Anger and rage You display strong feelings of displeasure or
violent and uncontrolled emotions.
Catastrophize You use dramatic, exaggerated expressions to
depict that the relationship is in danger or that it
Numbing out You become devoid of emotion, or you have no
regard for others’ needs or troubles.
Humor You use humor as a way of not dealing with the
issue at hand.
Sarcasm You use negative humor, hurtful words, belittling
comments, cutting remarks, or demeaning
Minimization You assert that the other person is overreacting to
an issue; you intentionally underestimate,
downplay, or softpedal the issue.
Rationalization You attempt to make your actions seem
reasonable; you try to attribute your behavior to
credible motives; you try to provide believable but
untrue reasons for your conduct.
Indifference You are cold and show no concern.
Abdication You give away responsibilities.
Self-Abandonment You run yourself down; you neglect yourself.
5. Look at the items you starred in response to question 3. List the three or four main feelings.
These are your core fears:
Core fear #1 _______________________________________________________
Core fear #2 _______________________________________________________
Core fear #3 _______________________________________________________
Remember that most core fears are related to two main primary fears:
1. The fear of being controlled (losing influence or power over others).
2. The fear of being disconnected (separation from people and being alone).
More men fear losing power or being controlled, and more women fear being disconnected from relationship with others.
6. Look at the items you starred in response to question 4. List your three or four main
reactions when someone pushes your core fear button.
Reaction #1 _______________________________________________________
Reaction #2 _______________________________________________________
Reaction #3 _______________________________________________________
Your responses to these exercises should help you understand your part of the Fear Dance: your core fear button and your reaction. Remember that it’ very common for your reactions to push to core fear button of the other person in the conflict. If the other person can figure out his or her core fears and reactions, you will see clearly the unique Fear Dance the two of you are doing. But even if the other person isn’t able to be involved in the process of discovering his or her part of the Fear Dance, you can take steps to stop the dance.
Source: Dr. Gary Smalley, The DNA of Relationships