We Have Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself

1.14.16 fearFDR called it correctly – fear can be a formidable enemy, derailing many good plans and ideas, curtailing potential.  Yikes! – I’m scared!  But what am I specifically scared of?  And more importantly, how do I overcome my fears?

There are several data reports that have surveyed people’s fears, ranking the top fears, with each survey showing different results based on the individual pool of respondees.  So I figure, why not make a composite list of the top surveys, giving some non-scientific but interesting results to work with.  Here then are your top 30 fears, in order:

FDR called it correctly – fear can be a formidable enemy, derailing many good plans and ideas, curtailing potential. Yikes! – I’m scared! But what am I specifically scared of? And more importantly, how do I overcome my fears?
There are several data reports that have surveyed people’s fears, ranking the top fears, with each survey showing different results based on the individual pool of respondees. So I figure, why not make a composite list of the top surveys, giving some non-scientific but interesting results to work with. Here then are your top 30 fears, in order:

  1. Spiders (bugs)                                              16. Blood, needles
  2. Public speaking*                                         16. Strangers*
  3. Heights                                                          16. Clowns
  4. Flying                                                             16. Ghosts
  5. Death                                                             16. Going crazy
  6. Snakes                                                           16. Cowardice*
  7. Open spaces                                                  16. Being poisoned
  8. Germs                                                            16. Getting old
  9. Darkness, dark holes                                     16. Thunder & lightning
  10. Loneliness*                                                  16. Failure*
  11. Drowning, open water                                    16. Rejection*
  12. Intimacy*                                                       16. Commitment*
  13. Dogs                                                              16. Money issues
  14. Monsters, demons, zombies                          16. Sickness
  15. Closed spaces, claustrophobia                      16. Terrorism

(*social fears involving others – communication related issues)

Let’s analyze this list. Of the top ten, two – bugs and snakes – are inherited from our Neanderthal ancestors. Bugs, especially spiders, are logically harmless (except the rare poisonous spiders) yet we react with fear, loathing, and distaste to all spiders. Even people who don’t fear spiders, tolerate but don’t necessarily bear them any affection. It’s not in our DNA to allow any creepy crawly on our skin; nature built that fear into our systems as a self-protecting automatic reflex. Ditto snakes, which presented grave danger to our ancestors. The dislike of snakes is largely universal among the greater population.

The logic that the fear is unwarranted with these two fears cannot override the strong emotion. Besides, there is no need to develop an affection for spiders or snakes, which would serve no purpose; these two fear are not hurting or helping, they just exist, as remmants of our historical past.

What about the two social fears on the top 10 list – public speaking and loneliness – ? With these two, there are ways to overcome them, as both can have a big negative impact on the quality of life. The fear of public speaking causes you to not speak your mind, to not stand your ground or take a stand in the first place. Being asked a question in a public gathering is difficult, and forget about giving any kind of group presentation, large or small.

The fear of being left alone goes against our very dominant desire for group affinity. We crave group acceptance and inclusion as we are social beings who can’t survive without the cooperation, company and attention of others. This very real fear is another communication problem which is also fixable and very much worth fixing. Changing the base traits of a socially broken personality is not easy, and takes time, but it’s worth the results if the hard work to bring about change is put in.

The rest of top ten fears are behavioral – you can control the situation and change your own reaction.

The bottom half of the list of 30 are noteworthy but ‘minor’ fears, meaning not uncommon but also not prevalent. So if you are experiencing any of these specific fears, rest assured that you’re definitely not alone (and you thought your boyfriend was the only one who feared commitment!) but you’re also not in the majority either.

So what does all this tell us about our fears? Looking at the overall list, it’s noteworthy that human fears fall into 3 broad categories: about 1/3 are around something bad happening to you; another 1/3 are behavioral, you doing something that causes negative consequences; and the final 1/3 are largely irrational involving nothing that you can do anything about. Fear is largely about not having, giving up or losing control. And we hate not being in control.

Fears are part of our makeup to protect us against danger, a survival mechanism to keep us on our toes when danger arises, thereby keeping us safe by getting us to quickly take evasive action. Fear of strangers helps the elderly avoid the con artist at the door or on the phone trying to scam money. Fear of the unknown, skepticism helps to resist that too-good-to-be-true offer in the mail, on the internet, or on the phone.

While logic tells us that we should just face our irrational fears instead of letting emotions rule, taking that action easier can be said than done. Exposure to the fear, with hopes of adapting and desensitizing to it, is not always the way out of being fearful. Adding specific tools designed to help increases the likelihood of success.

Live life, with due caution but not scared.

 

 

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