According to Psychology Today, fear is a vital response to physical and emotional danger. If we didn’t feel it, then we could not protect ourselves from legitimate danger. Life and death can hinge on our fear and our reactions to it. Our survival rate would be extremely low if not for the fear that helps us to regulate our behavior during moments of crisis. Fear is not our problem.
Natural Functioning of Fear
Our problem comes when the fear engine kicks into high gear, often due to past experience. Almost all fears we have of situations that are not life-threatening are what psychologists call “conditioned response“. Something happened somewhere in our past that now triggers a fear response in us. On a basic level, for example, an experience I had with a snake has led to a dislike and sometimes fear of snakes. I don’t shriek and run the other way, but I am also not likely to approach it. When I go camping with our Boy Scout troop and I happen to spot a snake, someone will invariably ask me what kind of snake it is. My response is always,
“I don’t know, I did not get that close!”
On another level, past experiences with risk situations that led to devastating results can create conditioned responses in us that lead to fear. People with Reactive Attachment Disorder develop an overwhelming fear of bonding relationships with people because of past experiences where trusted relationships betrayed them or took advantage of them or abused them. Others, on a lower-level, have a past romantic relationship that ended badly and avoid future romantic relationships. An employee encounters a boss who berated them or humiliated them when they came up with a creative idea and develops the fear of making a contribution.
Even more so, our mind has a natural tendency to protect us in every situation, even to the point of creating scenarios that don’t even exist just to keep us from placing ourselves into potential danger, whether real or not. Fear and resistance build up. Every time we go to stretch ourselves – to push out of our comfort zone, to take a risk – we start to imagine all the things that will go wrong. We will be publicly humiliated. The newspapers will carry front page headlines documenting our failure. Our boss will fire us. Our family will disown us. Our friends will make fun of us. We will sit on the curb broke, destitute, with no future prospects and no hope. This one failure will destroy us!
False Evidence Appearing Real
While not entirely accurate, it’s a good start towards working on our fears. When we understand that often our fear is based on situations that are imagined, we can begin to put them into perspective. Once we regain perspective, it becomes easier to work past the fear and take the risks we need to take to succeed in life. So the key is not to conquer fear, because we can’t. Fear is a natural part of our body’s system and we cannot get rid of it. What we can do is learn to manage it, to work with it, and work beyond it.
In the posts the rest of the week, we will examine ways in which we can manage our fears and be productive.
- What are some ways you deal with fear now? Post your comments here so you may be able to help others.