Fear

Posted: May 28, 2011 by Isaac Cross in Learn Something, Philosophy

Fear is not a natural response to a stimulus. It is a learned response. It is the ability to recognize danger and then choose to flee from it or confront it.

We feel fear when the world has taught us that something is dangerous. That something is painful. That something should be avoided if possible.

It takes a long time to deprogram a fear, longer if that fear is deep-seated. So to suggest that a fear is something that someone should “get over” disregards the significant effort necessary.

Image from Futurity.org *

What’s more, fear exists for a reason. It protects us… though, unlike other reflexive responses, it is not meant to protect us from what will certainly happen, but rather what could happen. It is an emotion based on pattern recognition and perceived threat. And the degree of the fear is the body’s way of gauging whether a risk is worth it.

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What’s more, fear is a physiological response. The amygdala (the part of the brain that controls both fear and anger) flares up when confronted by something threatening. It happens in everyone, from a 5-year-old child to a battle hardened veteran. When this happens, the body begins to produce certain chemicals (primarily peptides and hormones) which alter your state of mind. However, those who have been properly conditioned (such as navy seals, et al.), show a reaction in another part of the brain as well. When the rostral anterior cingulate cortex is stimulated in conjunction to a perceived threat, it is able to suppress (though not prevent) the activity in the amygdala and control the emotional and chemical reaction, therefor maintaining normal brain function, even in the face of significant danger.
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Fear, like every other emotion, serves a purpose. And someone who dismisses it out of hand is dismissing and denying a part of themselves.

As psychologist Danial Goleman (1996) put it: “Emotions make us pay attention right now – this is urgent – and give us an immediate action plan without having to think twice. The emotional component evolved very early: Do I eat it, or does it eat me?”. The emotional response “can take over the rest of the brain in a millisecond if threatened”.

Should we acknowledge and own our fears? Absolutely. Should we dismiss or disregard them? Never.

References:
Goleman, Daniel. 1996. Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Bantam. New York City. ISBN 0553375067

Image:
From a futurity.org article about those who suffer from a specific anxiety disorder and  how it connects to perceived threat.
“When most people view a disturbing scene on TV or see a scowling face in a crowd, they can quickly get over it by thinking a few reassuring thoughts. But for people with social anxiety disorder, calming down is more complicated than muttering a mantra.”

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