When Should You Conquer Fear?
Do we have to conquer fear? I've gone through some changes in my life recently that have me thinking about fear. In particular, how we react to feeling afraid. Why are some fears considered perfectly acceptable, while others fill us with shame and demand action? Being afraid of an aggressive animal, an impending surgery, or a loved one experiencing harm are all considered rational and acceptable. Yet we tend to hide our fears of social interaction, object/behaviors that feel uncomfortable, or people who affect us. So, what makes certain fears unpalatable? What makes us decide a fear is unfounded or embarrassing? Why are some fears allowed, while other fears must be conquered?
The Origin Of Fear
Fear can be divided into three categories:
- Biological response -- Our bodies are programmed to react to things we see as threats. This is commonly called "fight or flight." For example, if you see something quickly moving towards you, your body will react (often before your mind) and you will flinch, move, cower, etc. This pre-programmed fear is often attributed to survival and/or evolution.
- Traumatic memory -- When we experience something difficult or painful, it often changes the way we feel about future situations. For example, someone who experiences a very painful breakup may develop a fear of commitment.
- Social/cultural influence -- "If you don't get a good job, you're a failure." "If you're not thin enough, nobody will be attracted to you." We often adopt the common-held beliefs of our surroundings. (Unfortunately, we tend not to question the origin of these beliefs, which tend to be created by industries that monetize fear.) This means we also adopt the fears that come with these beliefs.
Who Am I?
While the source of fear is important, it's equally important to examine our reaction to fear. Humans subconsciously respond to fear based on self-identity. In other words, we have a secret voice within us that constantly whispers "What does this mean about me?"
For example, being afraid for a loved one's wellbeing could mean we are caring, a characteristic many of us desire. Being afraid of one's boss, however, could mean we are cowardly, something most of us do not want to be. Without realizing it, we allow ourselves to harbor the fears that add to the version of ourselves we like, while telling ourselves we must purge the fears that mean we are someone we don't like.
When to Conquer a Fear
We can explore whether to conquer a fear by turning up the volume of that secret inner voice. One way to do this is by asking ourselves reflective questions. A few might be:
- Does this fear affect my quality of life?
- Would conquering this fear create an important change for me?
- Do I believe this is a valid thing to be afraid of or am I being told it's scary by someone who benefits from this fear?
- Does this fear come from something in my past? Do I need help confronting it?
- What would happen if I let myself stay afraid?
Reflective questions allow us to externalize our fear and study our relationship with it, letting us make a rational decision.
So, returning to my initial question, should we conquer fear? The answer will be different for each of us–fear is a natural, universal piece of being human, and we each have the right to choose what to do with it. Perhaps the question we should be asking is not whether or not to conquer fear, but how we can use fear to reflect, learn, and grow.
Mahrer, B. (2019, May 16). When Should You Conquer Fear?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 16 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/buildingselfesteem/2019/5/when-should-you-conquer-fear
Author: Britt Mahrer
I appreciate your reflection on this, particularly the notion that fear is a personal experience. We so often assume that the way we experience emotion is a universal experience. Yet each of us has lived a unique life–why wouldn't our emotion contain some of the very uniqueness that makes us who we are? Thank you for your insightful comment.