Fear: How it develops and how you can overcome it

by Carmen Visser

Image by Tonik on Unsplash.

According to Oxford Learners Dictionary, fear is “the bad feeling that you have when you are in danger or when a particular thing frightens you".

It is the negative emotion that we feel in a terrifying situation. The objects, beings or states of emotions that place us in those dangerous situations are our fears. You may start to wonder how these fears develop.

Fears can either come from one’s past experience or from learning about another’s past experience. This means that a story or warning from a parent, sibling, teacher or friend could cause a fear of your own to develop. Although, it is not certain that someone telling you a story about a terrifying dog will cause you to be afraid of dogs. It depends on other factors involved, like the role dogs play in your life.

Studies at anxiety.org have shown that several types of literature and media can also develop fears inside of us. Moreover, psychologytoday.com argues that many fears are due to genetic variation, meaning nothing could have stopped them from forming. Most fears come from our childhood. Many fade away, but some do not fade not all. Some stay deeply instilled within us and might even turn into phobias.

Having all of these fears inside of us allows them control over our behaviour and our actions. One example I would like to use includes my fear of escalators. I fear escalators, despite nothing ever happening to me on one and never seeing anyone get hurt on an escalator. This fear of mine leads to me always choosing to take a lift rather than an escalator. Illogical much? Lifts have a much higher possibility of breaking down or creating a dangerous situation then escalators do. Fears can make someone irrational.

Image by Alexander Krivitskiy on Unsplash.

Fears can also hold us back in our lives. They cause us to settle instead of taking risks. They cause us to miss out on big opportunities. They cause us to simply not live our lives to the fullest extent. Monica Berg suggested that we live in self-made prisons, built from our very own fears.

However, some fears are directly linked to our intuition and are needed for our survival. Many call these ‘healthy fears’. They keep you out of direct danger, such as not standing on the edge of a cliff. They are needed and keep us safe.

Having asked all those around me, I have come up with a list of common (and uncommon) fears. They are organised into three different groups:

1. Healthy fears – as mentioned before, these stem from intuition and are a method of keeping ourselves safe. Therefore, healthy fears range from not standing in front of a moving car to not biting your finger off.

2. Material fears – these are fears of actual objects, people or animals that we can see and touch. Some common ones include spiders, burglars, needles, men, snakes and police officers.

3. Invisible fears – although these fears cannot be directly seen or touched, they are just as powerful as any other fear. Invisible fears include public speaking, being forgotten, heights, never achieving goals, vertigo and being the last person alive. Invisible fears are often fear of the unknown. Not knowing how dangerous a potential situation could be is almost more powerful than any other fear.

Currently, we are all living in a period characterised by uncertainty and fear is something a lot of people have become very familiar with.

Although not all fears can be overcome, there is a way to overcome some basic fears. Or, at least to prevent them from making you act irrationally. The first step is acknowledgement and acceptance. Once you have identified your fear, you can work towards diminishing it.

The next step is to imagine yourself in the face of this fear. This allows you to experience it without being in physical danger. Often, this experience lets you find a logical escape from the fear or a simple solution.

The final step is to practise. As a personal example, forcing myself to use an escalator is one way that I am trying to overcome my fear of escalators.

Just a final reminder, having fears does not make you weak. It makes you human and you do not need to overcome all of your fears. Living with fears is common, normal and managing them is often easier than facing them head-on.

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