Fear Itself

We have nothing to fear but fear itself. ~ Franklin Delano Roosevelt

How many times have your thoughts skimmed over this quote from FDR without giving it much thought? Here’s the full quote …
We have nothing to fear but fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

The quote is an inspiring warlike challenge to pick yourself up by the bootstraps, stiffen your upper lip, and go on, laddie, go on.

In my opinion, he’s almost got it but not quite. There are many things to fear beyond fear itself. As primitive humans we feared the predator in the dark. It was a reasonable fear and that fear kept us alert and able to respond. Now the predators are more likely to be other humans rather than a sabre-tooth tiger.

Things that used to go bump in the night. Sabre tooth tiger vs modern tiger. The front teeth were 11″ and roughly the same size as the teeth found on a 9-ton Tyrannosaur Rex.

Now we fear things that are much less toothy and muscular – losing our job, not making rent, becoming ill, losing our loved ones. We fear loss. Whether it’s reasonable or not. The grasses stirring along the path might not be a tiger – but they might and best to respond as if it were true. Our modern fears have no similar appropriate response. Instead, they are ongoing invisible stressors that deplete us – the more we fear and worry, the more depleted we are and less able to respond to reality.

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

Franklin’s wise wife offered an answer. We accept fear. We stop and look it in the face. If the worst comes to be, well then it does. We survive and move on.


When I was in my early 20s, newly engaged to my first husband, I got myself a deck of tarot cards – my first ever! I threw the cards according to the instructions and the reading indicated that my soon-to-be-husband was going to die. There are times when a reading will make sense, there are other times when it feels like a gong has rung inside and I know for sure it’s a major truth. My first reading was a gong reading.

My husband was a sport pilot, he loved to fly. I was (still am) deeply afraid of flying. I begged him to give up flying and that sweet man did. Six months later, four months after our wedding, he died in an unexplainable scuba diving accident.

I learned many things from that experience. One was that fear can be reasonable, can be faced, and the outcome can be survived.

The Devil is the card of fear – of the “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts“. He is not the Christian devil, he is the monkey we place on our own back (or that was placed there long ago by parents, teachers, or others). We carry him with us and he whispers in our ears about all the ways we should fear because, essentially, we’re not good enough. He whispers only lies. It’s the only story he knows.

You’ll notice the two people who are chained are not chained to him, but to the stone he perches on. You’ll notice the chains are loose enough they can take them off and walk away. Except they are afraid and so they stay … until they are ready to turn around and face that fear.

You’ll notice that we can’t see whether the devil is chained to his stone, his story, and his role, chained to his own fear.

Like Mrs Roosevelt, this reading suggests that we stop, turn, and face our fears. that we take the time to know our fears. The Hanged Man tells us there is something we must learn from our fear – something that will give us a valuable clue or insight before we move on. You can dialog with your fears either in your imagination or in your journal. I do this often and have had some very valuable insights that shifted the course of my life.

Until we move on, what should we do? The Two of Pentacles says, learn to keep our balance when we are immersed in fear. When we face what frightens us the most, we practice our balance. We breathe, trust, shift our posture until we feel the firm foundation beneath us. FDR, the president who knew personally what it meant to be be paralyzed by polio, told us that “fear is a whisper that paralyzes” but if we face that fear, take the shaky steps to turn around and see it clearly, we can free ourselves.


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