Upon awakening from a nightmare one morning, I hazily realized I’d discovered a possible analogy for thinking about the nature of fear within the human mind.
There exists a nearly endless amount of phobias which people experience on a daily basis. Among some of the most prevalent fears are: the fear of death, flying, heights, snakes, insects and spiders, drowning, needles, enclosed spaces and strangers (xenophobia).
And let us not forget social fears, too. For many, social fears can conglomerate into neurotic social anxieties. People (including myself, sometimes) often worry about what other people are thinking of them. Such unnecessary anxiety, especially prolonged, can result in a shortened life-span.
I believe it’s beneficial to remember that nearly all fears are unnecessary, if not outright harmful to our long-term health.
Fear is built into our genes. It is an emotional trait which evolved perhaps hundreds of thousands of years ago, functioning as an essential tool for survival. To this day, whenever a possible threat to our safety arises, we experience fear, and thus are motivated to enact a fight-or-flight response in regards to the threat.
But much of our fears today are worse than worthless — they shorten our life span with needless stress, and arguably puts the survival of our entire species into question. After all, wars of mass destruction are waged due to underlying emotions of fear. Entire populations have been destroyed due to fear; lives taken, land stolen, kingdoms and countries usurped. The history of fear is older than the history of man, stretching all the way back to our proto-human ancestors.
Based upon the nightmare I had, here is an analogy for understanding the nature of fear inside the human mind:
Imagine a haunted house attraction. You go inside the house and discover an assortment of threatening figures. There are ghosts, demons, witches, axe murderers, and men with chainsaws around every dark corner.
It is easy to see why a haunted house attraction can be a frightening experience. Yet, if we understand that the supernatual and/or murderous subjects of the house are merely paid actors, elaborately crafted plastic dummies, or holographic illusions, then we will understand that the fear we are experiencing is superficial. Thus, we become less afraid with the knowedge there is no real threat or danger at all.
The fears we commonly endure throughout our everyday lives are of the same illusory quality as the false demons in the haunted house attraction. Therefore, if we realize our fears are only frightening if believe in them, then we can choose not to believe in them. This way, we take away their power and their hold on us.
Things are scary only if one believes them to be scary.
Let’s say you have social anxiety. You’re afraid of what your neighbor is thinking about you. You’ve noticed that he has been giving you “dirty looks” on a regular basis.
The underlying fear in this scenario is of not being accepted for who you are. Not being accepted, or loved, can be frightening. It’s often a fear rooted deep within one’s early childhood.
Yet if we examine your fear of what another human being is thinking about you, you’ll recognize there is no need for it, and the fear is baseless. What your neighbor thinks about you is none of your business. What you think about you is your business.
Now, it’s true that fears of all sorts requre far more than a mere intellectual rationalization in order to be overcome. It also requires emotional acceptance and recognition, and a willingness to be open to new perspectives and change.
Fears are rooted within intense emotion, thus must be understood at that emotional level, as well as on the intellectual plain of understanding.
I certainly don’t underestimate the value of sitting with one’s fears and accepting them for what they are, as opposed to resisting them. By accepting one’s fears, we are acknowledging the problem, which is always the first step to changing anything.
We must acknowledge our fears and not deride or beat ourselves up for having them. We must understand that we share the same or similar fears with many other people on this planet, and that fear is a natural aspect of being human.
Fear is just as natural, just as normal, as the sun dawning in the east.
When grappling with fears, we can begin by accepting them. We can also intellectually recognize they are merely illusory demons of the haunted house attraction inside our minds.
The clinking of chains and the groaning of the undead is ourselves — we clink the chains, and we groan like undead.
Yet what we are, objectively, are merely human beings — an ever fallible prey to our ancient emotions, with deeply rooted needs to feel safe and loved.
In addition, I would very much like to hear from fellow readers, writers, and bloggers as to their opinions on the vast subject of fear. This short essay is only one man’s opinion. Perhaps I am wrong, and have mistaken the nature of fear? Or underestimated it in some way?
Please do leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!