Understanding Fear

As I described in my previous post, one day I realized that we are using fear as our motivation when we are procrastinating. But this thought lead me to searching for even more general aspects of it. To illustrate what I found out, I will divide the topic fear into 3 parts: I will differentiate what fear actually is, elaborate a more traditional approach on overcoming it and finally show you an idea I had on how to treat fears by identifying their source and resolving them that way.

So let’s first take a look at what fear actually is: Evolutionary seen, fear is an important element to survival. We probably wouldn’t have made it this far as a species, if we didn’t have a certain amount of fear of things that are harmful. It’s a way of self preservation to keep us out of trouble. Physiologically our body reacts to any dangerous situation by releasing huge amounts of adrenaline, accessing every last bit of resources and abilities to give us the best chances of surviving this situation. Our nervous system gets shifted into maximum attack mode, sharpening our senses and optimizing our reaction times. Our whole body tenses up, the muscle tone increases and we access any available energy sources. But originally, this reaction was made to save our lives in situations where we were under attack from an opponent or an animal, or give us the strength to save us from dangerous situations in our environment. This mostly applied to ancient times when we were regularly confronted with these types of situations.  Nowadays, it’s rather unlikely to encounter a sable tooth tiger in our bedroom, or surprisingly find ourselves slipping off a cliff on our way to work. So how do these fears translate into our modern lifestyle?

From experience, most of us can tell that we encounter fear in 3 different kinds of ways and situations. First of all, all of us are afraid when we actually get confronted with a dangerous situation like a car accident for example, that’s where fear actually does what it was designed and supposed to do.  Then, there are  some of us (including me) who completely freak out when we encounter a spider, usually one of the most harmless animals imaginable but we still project our ancient fears on those poor fellows which usually doesn’t end well for them. Those are what we decided to call phobias, most likely rudiments of times when spiders, snakes and small animals were a lot more dangerous and we were a lot more helpless. Now these phobias are just a result of our most essential parts of our brain and instincts that are keeping us alive – not being able to go with time, so as illogical as they may seem sometimes, they are completely natural.

During those encounters, we all have those same sensations of this sudden adrenaline rush and it always feels the same. Knees weak arms are heavy – there’s vomi…no I’d rather not plagiarize anyone here. So shaky hands, sweating and this uncomfortable feeling basically always do the same thing. But what other situations do we see the same reaction in? We’ve all been there. Before a big presentation, anything that has to do with public speaking, exams, dates, decisions of significance for us. So what is the logic behind this? There is no eminent threat to our lives or well being in those situations, so what are we afraid of? I would like to argue that these kinds of fear have nothing in common with our natural reaction to danger or phobias, so I’d like to give them a separate name: Ego based fears

To explain why I chose that name, let me first list you a couple of relatable examples:

  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of rejection
  • Fear of loosing to others, being worse than others
  • Fear of humiliation
  • Fear of being left behind

To show you what these fears have in common, I tried to interpret what they actually mean to us:

When we fail, we are confronted with the thought that we could not be made to achieve what we wanted to achieve, to be inadequate for our dreams.

When we get rejected, it induces the thought that we are not qualified or not suitable for what we wanted to do.

When we loose, we start thinking about the fact that others – possibly everybody else – are better at something we care about than we are – again inducing that we are not good enough for it.

When we get humiliated, it confronts us with how important it is for us to have control of what people think of us, and how horrible it is when we loose that control. We are terrified of the consequences of being excluded because humiliation destroys the carefully built up picture others have of us.

When we get left behind, it means that others don’t care about us, inducing that we are not worth caring about.

Those are just a couple of common examples of what I consider ego based fears and I don’t know about you, but I struggle with all of them. You probably already realized that I highlighted the words “us” and “we”. Apart from my lazy writing style, I actually wanted to illustrate what I mean by ego based, we are afraid of things that can change the way we think about ourselves. It is what we base our self confidence and ego on, what we define ourselves by, our biggest weak points.

Those are the fears that are actually very unnatural, incredibly harmful and ironically the most powerful. They continuously influence our decision making and base their effectiveness on their “incognito” role in our conscience. I think this quote is a great metaphor for how fear works in our conscience:

“The devil’s greatest trick was convincing the world that he didn’t exist”

– Roger “Verbal” Kint

That is why it’s so incredibly difficult to identify them, they are a part of us. So how do we work agains something that is a part of us? I’ll try to answer this question in my next post.

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