top of page

Let's talk about fear

Being scared is part of being alive. Accept it. Walk through it. - Robin S. Sharma

Google explains the word ‘fear’ as ‘an unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm’.

I doubt there’s anyone who doesn’t understand the meaning of the word ‘fear’. Absolutely everyone, from a 5 y.o. child to an old person, will relate to this word. Everyone will remember moments of fear in their life. Yet do we really understand what fear is?

Imagine someone who has nothing to fear and never experienced fear. For example, someone immortal who doesn’t experience pain or death, and doesn’t have mental biases, all those insecurities and so on. Or imagine someone from a different universe. Whatever. Someone who doesn’t understand what fear is. How will you explain fear to this person?

You have never experienced true fear until a poster falls off the wall in the middle of the night. - Unknown author

To start with, fear is an emotion caused by the threat of danger. But the danger can be very real or totally unreal; yet it doesn’t matter to the person who fears. Fear of the dark can be as unpleasant and overwhelming as fear of job loss or fear of a dentist.

Secondly, fears – even of real dangers - are very subjective. Some people fear death and car accidents. Some are afraid of flying. I know someone who doesn’t go on a plane, at all, if this can be avoided. They’d rather jump in a car and drive hours to a conference instead of spending an hour on a plane. Yes, death is imminent, and planes and cars crash. Yet some people don’t care. Some people fear getting old. We all get old. But others are quite relaxed about this. We can argue about reasons, mental biases and unhealthy thinking patterns helpfully inherited from our parents. Yet, for someone who never experienced fear, this gets really confusing. Why?

Because fear is an emotion and is therefore irrational. One thing is to know that we are all going to die and another thing is to truly fear death.

I threw a boomerang many years ago. I now live in constant fear. - Unknown author

Once I said to my husband what kind of funeral I wanted when I die, that’s if I die before him, which is highly unlikely given he’s 11 years older than me. He went into a panic mode for a week. It was then when I realised that not only he feared death, but he feared death as a topic, period. Also, he was insulted that I thought he was going to die first.

So, I talked to my daughter instead. She looked at me with her cold green eyes and said pragmatically that she’s happy to do as I asked, but I had to remind her when she’s older. Then in a couple of days – obviously after she had some time to reflect on our conversation – she asked when I was planning to die. I said I didn’t know, obviously. She said that I shouldn’t die until I find her a husband. Then she added – not that I don’t love you mum, but you know what I mean. I knew exactly what she meant.

Any fear – real or unreal - is an irrational emotion. As someone who was seriously truly and desperately afraid of the dark for almost 20 years, I can say that no amount of positive self-talk, meditation and rational explanations help.

How do we know that we experience fear? Like with any intense emotion, we experience physical symptoms; we go pale and white, or we almost faint with fear (literally legs going numb), heart is racing and so on. We overreact – we either fight or run or freeze or faint. It’s hard to fake fear. Have you ever tried convincing someone in that emotional state that their fear is unreal and irrational? I’d love to see that.

Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision. - Sir Winston Churchill

One might argue that fears are caused by traumas, especially in the childhood. For example, someone who has been in a car accident may be scared of cars for the rest of their life. My mother’s friend was attacked by a big dog when she was a child, so she started stuttering since then and was scared of dogs for years to come. But some people get attacked or have a very difficult childhood or go through car accidents relatively unscathed mentally and emotionally.

One might say that emotions are an expression of thinking patterns – often inherited from family and childhood, but sometimes they are thoughtfully planted in us by other people or media. But this doesn’t explain how two siblings exposed to the same unhealthy family patterns, grow up to have different fears, or one being more fearful than the other. Or how people exposed to the same propaganda have totally different opinions on the matter.

r fears are no doubt caused by unhealthy thinking patterns or other mental triggers – which are often so hard to uncover that we need therapy to sort them out. Often those fears will be so deeply buried that the thinking patterns won’t be even obvious, they will go deep into how we identify as a person. Sometimes victims of sexual abuse will develop overeating habits subconsciously trying to stay unattractive to the opposite sex. Sometimes it's even less obvious: there hasn’t been abuse, yet we develop unhealthy dating habits because deep inside we aren’t ready for a relationship. Instead of understanding why, we blame our dating partners that they aren’t fit for purpose.

All this drives me to a surprising conclusion that we experience fear for a reason. No, it’s not about instincts keeping us safe. Instincts are different, they are instantaneous and help us in life threatening situations. I’m talking about more profound feeling of fear which often doesn’t make sense.

How can an unpleasant emotion like fear – and ‘unpleasant’ is somewhat of an understatement – how can this emotion be useful?

Imagine not having fears, not even one. Imagine you’re invincible, you’ll never die or get an injury, you’ll never get sick. Imagine you don’t get attached to anyone, therefore you’ll never fear losing a loved one or being abandoned, or being betrayed. Imagine not fearing for your future (having more than enough money for example). Imagine not having doubts about anything or anyone. Imagine smiling when others cry because you simply can’t relate to their fears and troubles. This sounds to me very much like a psychopathic personality.

I’m not saying we should live in fear. I think we should work through our fears. We overcome fears by uncovering the underlying thinking patterns and unhealthy associations. Once we’ve lived through the emotional experience, we transfer this experience into our rational mind, in the form of facts, so our mind becomes more flexible, with a broader perspective. We can now relate to other people’s similar fears as we know exactly what it feels like, we develop empathy. We move from being very selfish to become a bit less selfish. We become wiser and kinder.

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear. - Mark Twain

Someone (from another universe) who never experienced fear because they’re immortal and don’t attach to anything, can’t take the credit for being like that. Someone who experienced fear, lived through it and overcame it, has become a much more resilient and powerful personality. But more importantly, they’ve become prepared to extend their focus of attention outside themselves and better relate to the external world.

Fear is temporary. Regret is forever. - Unknown author
bottom of page