Fear as the opposite of love

This harmful meme about fear has been circulating for at least half a century because it is partly true, but not in the way you might think.

Hatred is Indeed Not The Opposite of Love

The meme that fear is the opposite of love is partially a reaction to the tautology that hatred is the opposite of love. Seeing hatred as the opposite of love is not very useful because it’s just another way of saying “the lack of love is the opposite of love”. In order to get back to love, we have to address that which is causing love to leave or ‘flee’ our awareness in the first place. And in order to explain why this happens, we need to understand the cause.

A Note on the Limited Importance of Understanding

I find it important to note first of all that understanding a cause and addressing a cause are two entirely different matters. Understanding a cause might not  by itself — help us to address a problem at all. Furthermore, understanding a cause is not even always necessary to address it.

For instance, most people today understand that the cause of death from falling is gravity. However, understanding this doesn’t make falling any safer. Nevertheless, people have successfully prevented death caused by gravity even without knowing about gravity at all. For a long time, humans incorrectly assumed that the world is flat and that the universe has a unidirectional movement bias. Without the ability of humans to prevent death from gravity before understanding it, you and I probably wouldn’t have been born.

An understanding is only helpful to the extent that it leads to doable actions that improve our felt quality of life.

When it comes to love and relationships, merely diagnosing a problem without proposing any doable strategy to overcome it is not just unhelpful, but might even make matters worse.

Why Would Fear Be the Opposite of Love?

An observation that seems to point to fear as the cause of a lack of love is that hatred can often be traced back to some deep fear. But even while hatred may always be caused by fear, that doesn’t mean that fear always gives birth to hatred, nor that fear always blocks our experience of love. It may only do so under certain mental-emotional conditions.

Fear may lead to desperation, and as I explain in “The Guilt Delusion: A Recipe for Love that Dissolves Hatred, Greed and Cruelty” — desperateness may block our experience of love when either

  1. we already lost our sense of oneness, or
  2. we believe that we will be safer by perceiving guilt in ourselves or others, for which the assumption of separateness is required.

A citation often mentioned together with the idea that fear is the opposite of love comes from Chapter 12 of “A Course in Miracles” (ACIM). I emphasised the key sentence with boldface:

Fear is a symptom of your own deep sense of loss. If when you perceive it in others you learn to supply the loss, the basic cause of fear is removed. Thereby you teach yourself that fear does not exist in you. The means for removing it is in yourself, and you have demonstrated this by giving it. Fear and love are the only emotions of which you are capable. One is false, for it was made out of denial; and denial depends on the belief in what is denied for its own existence. By interpreting fear correctly as a positive affirmation of the underlying belief it masks, you are undermining its perceived usefulness by rendering it useless. Defenses that do not work at all are automatically discarded. If you raise what fear conceals to clear-cut unequivocal predominance, fear becomes meaningless. You have denied its power to conceal love, which was its only purpose. The veil that you have drawn across the face of love has disappeared.

A Course in Miracles Chapter 12, I.9.

I don’t know whether the idea that fear is the opposite of love originates from the misinterpretation of this text. I personally doubt that the whole idea solely originates from any one book. However, the fact that this ACIM text is so often cited in relation to the meme does bring to light an important misunderstanding around how fear can make it more challenging to experience love.

When Fear Leads to Separateness

Fear doesn’t have to prevent us from feeling love. Humans are not limited to having only one emotion at a time. It just seems like that when emotions overwhelm us; when we hardly have the mental space to even accommodate our awareness of a single emotion.

The danger in seeing fear opposed to love is that it may cause us to fear our own fear, which may increase our desperateness, from which we may resort to guilt as our habitual means for security. This only reinforces the sense of separateness that prevents us from experiencing love.

If I think it is wrong to feel fear, or to not feel love, I am using guilt as a deterrent to try to change myself into what I am not. This thinking comes from the ego: “If I don’t love, I may harm others for my own benefit, which is wrong”. The ego doesn’t allow the sense of oneness to see that any benefit to ourselves is a benefit to others, and any harm to others is a harm to ourselves.

It is impossible to truly benefit yourself while harming someone else, even if you tried. Another way to describe this is with Marianne Williamson’s concept of Divine Compensation. There is nothing wrong about feeling fear, even if it were the opposite of love. Because there is nothing inherently wrong about not consciously feeling love. There is nothing you should change about it and there is nothing you can change about it. At least not consciously.

Wanting to change anything to what it is not is the real opposite of love. This desire comes from our trust in guilt, which is the best way we can secure ourselves while being in a mental-emotional state of separateness. Relying on guilt for our security leads to the only fear that does oppose love: the fear of love itself.

When we think we are at our strongest if we perceive wrongness, unconditional love becomes our greatest threat.

Love as Our True Invulnerable Self

According to ACIM, love is much more than just an emotion. ACIM claims that love is the very ‘substance’ of what or who we are. Denying facts cannot undo them. Therefore, if it is true that we are indeed love, love remains, even when we are feeling fear. Fear merely masks our sense of love, if we let it.

The reason that ACIM mentions fear in relation to love relates to its two core axioms:

Nothing real can be threatened.
Nothing unreal exists.
Herein lies the peace of God.

A Course in Miracles, Introduction

According to ACIM our identification with our bodies prevents us from remembering that we are love. Our bodies are vulnerable to pain, sickness and death. Our bodies depend on the concept of time. Our bodies are separate. But if we are love instead of our bodies, then time and suffering doesn’t apply to what we really are. Our love-Self cannot get sick or die, is not divided into individual bodies and is not separate from God.

According to ACIM, to believe that we are separate from God of which fear is just one symptom — is the cause of guilt, and guilt causes fear of the punishment of God. Trying to get rid of this guilt by projecting guilt onto others is the cause of hatred.

This metaphysical theory is the real reason why ACIM mentions fear as the opposite of love and as a symptom that we have lost our connection with love. Because if you would believe that you are love and not your body, then you would see nothing as a threat. Then you would have nothing to fear. This is why ACIM says that fear is part of our denial of the truth of what we are: love.

To be sure, I’m not choosing sides here. I am not going to argue that ACIM’s metaphysics are true and any other view isn’t. The only point I’m trying to make here is that, if these metaphysical claims of ACIM are lost on you, then ACIM’s real point about how fear conceals love would have been lost on you as well.

Fear Conceals Unconditional Love, Not Special Love

ACIM’s take on fear is not that if you’re afraid of one specific person, you’re just going to have a problem with loving that one person. Love for particular aspects of one particular person is what ACIM calls special love. What ACIM is trying to say is that being afraid of anything will block your awareness of your unconditional love for everyone.

For instance, being afraid of missing your bus is going to prevent you from unconditionally loving your spouse in that moment. Any kind of stress in your life is going to compromise your sense of love for anyone, indiscriminately.

Perhaps the real-life experience that might give a glimpse of what ACIM is trying to say about fear can be obtained from literature and history.  It appears that, when the human experience is most powerful, it is when we find that love is more relevant than life. Martin Luther King Jr. even went as far as to say:

If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Other examples of people experiencing love as more important than life are the famous story of Romeo and Juliet and the not-so-famous historical account of the monk Telemachus who gave his life to stop Rome’s gladiator games. Would you say that Telemachus lost because he died, or that he won because his actions did indeed trigger emperor Honorius to ban the gladiator games?

Should you aspire to be a suicidal maniac drunk on love and afraid of nothing? The main risk with that is that it will probably be counter-productive. If you cannot accept yourself as someone who feels fear; as someone who doesn’t consciously experience love as more important than life, then you are wanting to be different than how your are. That is just going to conceal your experience of genuine love even more and will likely cause you to project your lack of self-love in your perception of others. In other words:

Wanting to be more loving than you believe you are might actually cause resentment and hatred and keep you locked in a vicious circle.

The Shadow of Love

Guilt, or the idea of wrongness, is the real counterpole of love because guilt is love. Or rather:

Guilt is the shadow of love cast onto the illusion of separateness.

When we are in a mental-emotional state of separateness, we believe that one person can gain while another loses. This idea of separateness blocks our conscious experience of love. However, our connection with love is never lost, it just takes on a completely different form in our consciousness that hides where it comes from. A disruptive form of a valuable yet unacknowledged aspect of ourselves is also called a shadow.

When we see our actions as lacking in love while being in a mental-emotional state of separateness, we judge ourselves as an unloving person. By subconsciously knowing that love lies at the core of who we are, while consciously believing that we have been unloving, we don’t consciously experience the love that lies at our core, but instead feel a deep pain of having betrayed or lost the core of who we are. This pain is also known as the feeling of guilt.

The reason that the pain of guilt can be so intense is because of the importance of our need to experience our true loving self. Which we can never do as long as we remain in our mental-emotional state of separateness. In order to avoid the pain of guilt without overcoming separateness, we seek refuge in guilt-avoidance strategies such as trying to be a ‘good person’ or trying to perceive others as even worse than we regard ourselves.

The convenient part of guilt is that, as long as we all live in separateness, we can actually use our guilt-avoidance strategies to influence each other to live relatively harmoniously together — most of the time  even without consciously loving each other. Both love and her shadow guilt can be a source of security. In my blog Security from Love or Guilt: A Side by Side Comparison I give an overview of the important differences in properties and consequences between security through love and security through guilt.

Facilitating Oneness and Love in Someone Else

The good news is that we don’t have to worry that fear makes people hateful, and we even don’t need to worry about people being hateful. All we have to do is help people overcome their sense of separateness so they don’t have to rely on guilt for their security.

The bad news is that nobody can overcome separateness through thinking. We cannot stop anyone from believing in wrongness. We cannot even do this for ourselves. Thinking that there is wrongness in believing in wrongness may hide your belief in wrongness from yourself, but it can never overcome your pattern of thinking in terms of wrongness.

As ACIM writes, the only way to overcome fear and a lack of love is to “supply the loss”. When we supply the love of which someone’s awareness has been lost, their “Defenses that do not work at all are automatically discarded”.

Overcoming Our Own Separateness

But how do we bootstrap ourselves out of separateness when we are the ones who lost our awareness of love and are already relying on guilt?

Maybe we can slowly build trust that love is more powerful than guilt, by trying to observe without judging whether we are thinking and acting out of guilt. To find compassion for our choice of judging wrongness as the best way we can secure ourselves and others while still being in separateness.

In other words: By making a habit of doing a reality check. Not to judge what is the ‘true’ reality, but merely to see which of the two realities you have subscribed to in any given moment: A reality of Separateness and Guilt or a reality of Oneness and Love. Just to check the reality-choice-fact of your experience in the moment, without trying to change or escape it in any way.