Who is Afraid of FEAR?

Can anyone honestly say that they have no fear? Maybe they have never been afraid of the dark or being run over by a truck on the road, but most of us surely have fears of other kinds? I am one of those people who drive themselves up the wall being scared of big and small things.

I remember how as a child I would close my eyes tightly and begin screaming when my sister tried to scare me saying, ‘Look! There comes the man with TWO eyes, ONE big nose, TWO ears and ONE mouth!’ and I would run for cover. For in my terror, I would not have heard the actual description of the facial features – that of a normal human being. Instead I imagined an ogre with a terrible appearance based on her voice and tone and used to be terrified. It was only after she laughed and pointed the fact out to me that I would see how stupid I had been.

And then there was this large pet dog in the neighbourhood of my childhood. I used to take a circuitous route to avoid confronting it in case it was let loose by its owners. It had the terrible habit of barking up a storm and sometimes charging at an unsuspecting target. I had not heard of it ever biting anyone, but its sheer size and bark were enough to intimidate anyone. My elder siblings told me wisely that dogs smell fear and that if I was bold enough to face them, they would back off. ‘Face that dog? No, thank you!’ I thought and continued to dodge it.

Till one day I was too tired of all the hiding and sneaking and decided to walk boldly while it was around. True enough, it barked and charged and I barely stopped myself from screaming and bolting. After barking while running ahead and after me, it found another target. I was safe! And after that day I didn’t need to hide anymore. For one, it only gave a short bark which I took for a greeting and proceeded on my way. A small but significant victory over my fear and also the proof for the theory that dogs smelt fear!

Recently while reading about fear I discovered some interesting things. Among others, there was this experiment conducted by Charles Darwin, where he tried to prove that many of our fears are wired in our genes. He stood as close as he could to the glass partition separating him from an adder in the London zoo. Every time the reptile lunged at him, he reoiled and stepped back! The experiment brings home the fact that no matter what our reason says (the glass will protect us from the adder), the fear gene coded in our DNA tells us that an adder is dangerous to our life and makes us step back in defence.

Fear is one of the primal reactions of the body like hunger, thirst and happiness. It is a mechanism that warns of potential danger, prompting one to react by ‘fight or flight.’

But not all fears are innate or cause physical reactions. Some are learned, some the result of past experience and others caused by seeing someone else go through terrible experiences. We stay away from lonely streets for fear of being attacked, we avoid areas prone to violence and unrest, we steer clear of ferocious and dangerous animals, we are wary of fire….

So much for real fears. Coming to imaginary ones, children are afraid of the dark because they imagine monsters and ghosts lurking in the darkness. Likewise as adults, we imagine all kinds of misfortunes befalling us and our loved ones and get scared that they might come true. I know of people who are afraid to come out of their comfort zones and familiar surroundings. They don’t want to venture into anything unfamiliar including trying out new food if they are given a choice! The fear of failure or disappointment paralyses them into staying put in their cocoons.

Other negative effects of fear include lying, stealing, violence and worse. When one is afraid of losing someone’s love and approval, they lie. This then leads to loss of confidence and self-esteem and sends the person in a downward spiral. Likewise, fear and its imagined effects can make one strike back violently either physically or verbally, just as a cornered cat does. Bullies fall in this category. Their fear of loss of authority makes them overbearing and even violent at times.

At the other extreme are those who want to prove to the world that nothing scares them and that they can take on anything. So they undertake risks and indulge in dangerous or foolhardy activities that a rational person wouldn’t do. If they succeed, it is fine. If not, they turn phobic, completely avoiding the thing that caused the failure.

While reading about fear, I came across this interpretation of the word. Spelt F.E.A.R., it stands for False Evidence Appearing Real. Given this definition, aren’t most of our fears actually imaginary? We agonise over losing our jobs, of failing in an exam, or in our attempts to do something, or losing a dear one, or having an accident. Ultimately at the root of all fears is the sense of preservation – of one’s life and possessions, of one’s loved ones, career, reputation, future….We then fear facing that fear. It is a vicious circle.

The normal instinct of a person is to avoid confronting it. However, when we reach a stage when we have no choice and nothing to lose, comes the resigned thought: ‘Ók, so it is going to happen. Now how do I face it?’ Believe me, it is such a relief to come to this decision. I should know – after all, didn’t I dare the dog? Another very potent force that can dispel anxiety and F.E.A.R. is faith. It can do wonders to control unbridled anxiety and calm the mind.

Drinking Mountain Dew certainly won’t help overcome fear!

While on fears, extreme or irrational fear of, or aversion to something, that interferes with our daily lives, is called phobia. It is also known as anxiety disorder. Talking of phobias, did you know that a phobia of oneself is called Eremophobia? There is an entire list of interesting phobias here. Go on, read it.

It is not just dogs but even other predators can smell fear. And by predators I don’t just mean animals and beasts, but even human beings. Some take pleasure in inflicting hurt and it is easy to hurt someone who gets frightened easily. In fact, it is not even necessary to hurt a person directly, but by just holding a threat that might never be carried out, or hurting someone the person loves can achieve the same effect. Isn’t that how criminals and prisoners of war are made to confess – with a mix of dangerous threats and third degree treatment?

While fear is normal in most circumstances, F.E.A.R. is certainly not. So get a handle on it and the odd phobia too.

Do read my good friend Indu’s wonderful post on fears and phobias for practical tips.

Homepage image courtesy: Swati Maheshwari

48 comments

  1. Yiu had me from the word GO. The moment I read–

    I remember how as a child I would close my eyes tightly and begin screaming when my sister tried to scare me saying, ‘Look! There comes the man with TWO eyes, ONE big nose, TWO ears and ONE mouth!’ and I would run for cover.

    … I was absolutely floored.

    What an eloquent example of what FEAR really is! And how we manufacture monsters in our heads and then shrink in horror from them… sometimes all our lives… while our days slip by unlived.

    You must write more on this topic. How beautifully you’ve gone to the heart of the matter in this post. Just, totally, LOVED it.

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    1. Reading your comment made me feel so happy, Dagny! I used to be known as the scaredy cat in the family.Everything had me running scared. A lorry or bus in the distance would make me scramble for the farthest corner of the footpath, I would have fingers stuck into my ears the moment we came near a railway station – so scared I was of the whistle of the engine! Darkness of course made me shiver in fright. But the turning point came with the episode of the dog. Incidentally, my sister made me hide under the table with more such ‘scary’ descriptions 😀 How easy it must have been to scare me and give her hours of fun at my expense! But she was the uncomplaining friend who came with me when I had to go to the bathroom at night, bless her 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Enjoyed reading this post again, Zephyr!
    Much of the problem comes from not being able to distinguish between fear and phobia, I feel. Not so easy at it seems…….

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    1. You are right, Manju. Fear can be real, but phobia is mostly in the mind and the imagination. Thanks for reading it again and taking the trouble to comment too 🙂

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  3. Not proud of it, but I’ve been branded as a fattu by my entire family since childhood. I shivered in my sleep for more than a week after seeing some 3rd grade Ramsay horror movie, I had someone walk up with me to the loo at night till I was a teenager, I almost fainted when I had to give a presentation even when I had friends in the audience, the list goes on.

    You’re right, most of these fears are imaginary. All we need is the courage to contain our anxiety and let pure logic take over. Yes, dogs smell fear and so do human beings who love to bask in the foolish control it gives them over others.

    I’m amazed how much you read, research and analyse before writing a post Aunty. I’ve always been a fan of your writing, informative yet non-preachy and interesting. Nice post! 🙂

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    1. First of all, there is nothing to be ashamed of our fears. The important thing is to acknowledge them and then face them. While tangible fears are easier to confront, as in the case of dark, dogs, cats etc., the intangible ones like the fear of a calamity or the fear of losing a loved one, are harder to overcome. This is because they are rooted in our imagination, or F.E.A.R! So we have to counsel ourselves that they are not about to actually happen, but prepare ourselves by taking suitable steps and precautions to prevent them.

      Oh yes, those base humans can control others through implied threats causing their ‘victims’ to fear them.

      As for researching and reading for my posts, it is necessary when it involves such topics, as I am not an authority on them, see? So even when I can write about them with my experience, I would first like to find references that corroborate or negate the conclusions I have drawn 🙂 I am gratified that you like my writing. Thank you 🙂

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  4. I do have fear instilled in me, owing to bitter past experiences…fear of failing and bullies. I fear dogs and freak out at the sight of birds…read hens. It sends a chill down my spin. I fear failure. I will try to take a leaf and face my fears ingrained in my psyche.

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    1. Most fears are remain with us because we don’t face them squarely. It is not so hard to overcome them, believe me!

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  5. Nithin Suresh · · Reply

    Hi Zephyr!
    Fear is a primate instinct in us.. In fact, I believe, it was a necessary thing for our great stone age ancestors to survive.. Fear must have driven them away from Danger and helped them to stay safe.. Thus, it is one of the basic instincts ingrained in our system and it is practically impossible to drain it away like Mr. Darwin discovered with the adder..Those who claim to be fearless are just turning away from it as if it doesn;t exist..

    However, we have to conquer many of the Fears in our Lyf, so as to move ahead.. Success can be achieved only if the Fear of obstacles are removed.. Like, in your case, the fear of the Dog had to be conquered one day or the other in order for you lead a peaceful Lyf..

    Thus, I believe that many of the Fears have to be conquered one way or the other to succeed in Lyf, though it is an inevitable and inseparable part of our Lyf..

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    1. Fear indeed is ingrained in our genes, as other studies have also established. And yes, one has to get over them one way or the other to get on with the business of life.

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  6. Grond · · Reply

    When some sensory input hits our senses, and the mind evaluates is as something being afraid about, an emotion that makes you unsure of yourself arises, with a deep sense of aversion to the input and the surroundings. This manifests itself as fear.

    Once you understand why there is aversion to the input, and that it is not the input that is creating that emotion, but your own mental logbook, you realise that well, while caution may be the prudent thing to do, being afraid isn’t really the solution. You have to become aware of the FEAR, get the reality in, and rewrite the logs.

    The dog that you wrote of may be the sweetest dog in the world, who’ll hug you and smother you with love, but just because you’ve logged dogs as something worth being afraid of, you’re scared of this guy too, and he’ll not get a chance to show you the truth. If the dog actually is scary and dangerous, it makes sense being cautious around it, but not being afraid.

    I was never really afraid of heights, but having never tried anything remotely close to it, I was deathly scared of walking down the scaffolding connected to a under-construction 30-storey tower, that too in the dark at 3 AM. There were two things that I was aware of: If I didn’t go down, I’d have to wait till 9 AM when the cranes started working that I’d be able to get down safely without effort; and that everything was safe, it was only my apprehension in never having done this before that was holding me back. But once I tried it, I got used to it and got over all my fears at one go. I’ve never been afraid of heights, windy cliffs, or unknown pathways since then.

    Since then, maybe before that, there’s this mental switch that turns on when the fear emotion raises its head in my mind. That switch allows me to look at things passively or objectively, evaluate the amount of caution and prudence that I need to put in, and then, just plunge into it without overthinking. Overthinking is another thing that typically stops people in their tracks: So once I’ve thought just enough to be aware of things, I stop using excessive grey matter over it and just start doing it. Helps.

    Sorry for the extremely delayed reply – I just got enough spare time today to read and comment at peace.

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    1. Sorry, Harshal for this very delayed response to your beautifully analysed comment. I had published my new post on the same day and somehow this comment slipped out of my memory. Sorry, again.

      I remember your mental logs analogy in my memory post. In a way our innate fears — other than those wired in our DNAs are all the result of this log, right? I loved the way how you have explained the thought process that needs to evaluate the amount of caution and prudence one needs to exercise to get over a situation that could be potentially scary. Your comments are welcome however late they may be 🙂

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  7. I agree Fear is close to us just like hunger and thirst, and can turn an individual into a maniac. Fortunately, this noun can be tamed or it can be let loose…choices is ours!

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    1. Welcome here, Ruchira!

      We have to learn to tame our fears, for our own sanity, if nothing else.

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  8. I am so late reading this post that I am almost afraid to comment! (commentophobia?)

    Great post- lots of facets of the phenomenon of fear nicely woven together.

    I agree with Bikram- we would not be human if we did not feel fear. However, if we give in to fear all the time, we would not be able to do even the simplest tasks, i suppose…..

    For myself, most of my fears have been not for myself but for my children. Still are, even though they are now grown-up. 🙂

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    1. Like so many phobias, your commentophobia was also baseless, right? 😀 Fear for the safety of our loved ones is indeed topmost on the list of fears for all of us and especially our children. I would go as far as to say that it is a physical reaction — doesn’t our body recoil, our heartbeat quicken and our mouths go dry at the mere thought of any danger to them?

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  9. Thanks I think that even though some fears are more psychological than real, it is good to have that primordial reaction to something that may turn out to be scary or dangerous! Call it instinct, but it is the body’s mechanism for survival!

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    1. The post mostly focuses about the psychological fears, especially those that are fuelled by imagination. The other fears are indeed necessary to warn us of danger.

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  10. Ah fear and phobias — an interesting topic. I think it is impossible not to have fears. Like you pointed out the fears may vary during childhood as compared to when we are adults. One recurring fear for me is losing a loved one. I am also scared of adventure sports, even roller coasters. But in the way I lead my life, I am most often fearless. I follow my heart; I try to do what I think is right sometimes not caring for consequences which to some may be rather a silly approach and have never hesitated to speak my mind. A very interesting analysis there. Always, always a delight to read you, Zephyr!

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    1. Losing a loved one is the topmost fear in most of our minds, even though we know we have no control over death. Like Purba said, grief is more terrifying than death itself. I can’t believe you are afraid of roller coasters! Are you sure you don’t fall in the category of those who want to prove they are fearless and so do things without thinking of the consequences? 😛

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  11. Having a fear makes us more human no? and then of course shows that we have a vivid imagination :):)

    loved the way you wrote this post 🙂

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    1. Imagination is the culprit most of the times for our fears. For when we see a truck coming at us, we don’t just see it hitting us, but all the blood and gore and our loved ones crying over our body…… 😀

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  12. Found In Folsom · · Reply

    I wouldn’t say I am fearless, but I don’t have many fears. It would be a lie if I say no fears totally. But, I do have some phobias. Acrophobia stands out.. I don’t go on roller coaster rides 🙂 I wanted to write a post on similar topic last weekend…we had a small baby snake in our patio. It was wandering to its glory and enjoying the sun bath. The whole crew was watching it from indoors. I say that we will put a towel on it and throw it outside. S would say no..wait. The kids would scream with Fear. Then we called the police, they asked us to contact animal protection. By then, the snake went inside a pipe and was sticking its head out. This guy came and instead of using some trick to pull it out, he stood there and it went inside. He left saying, it’s harmless. We closed the door only to see it wander again in the noon. After a couple of days, I saw something dead on the road. I told the crew that it was that snake. Now, with a sigh of relief, we started opening the balcony door to let fresh air in. Today morning, S said he saw on yahoo that a 12 ft snake was seen in someone’s bathroom. So, the door closes again. Now, you tell me….sorry for spamming your comment box, BM. loved the post! Don’t go disappearing again. Like that baby snake did.

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    1. Enjoyed your tale about the snake! we are all scared of reptiles. Didn’t Charles Darwin prove it by his experiment? So don’t worry. How are we to know which snake is harmless and which dangerous, right? Better be safe than sorry 🙂 Are you sure you have acrophobia? How do you manage to fly then? Maybe you are just afraid of heights.

      I will try not to go disappearing 😀

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  13. You are right fear .. We all have and anyone who says they are not afraid are living. . I have seen a lot of the so called brave cry like a baby at the first problem..

    Fear is something that makes us human I will say..

    I am afraid of everything there is a long list as I am a mere mortal.. afraid of needles.. afraid of losing someone.. afraid of getting hurt.. but what I do is I face it.. i close my eyes and go for it. .

    I m afraid of heights but I went up a plane and jumped from that far up. ..

    Fear is something if we know about it we can overpower.. then their are some which we never experience and suddenly some scenario happens and we feel the fear..

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    1. How true, Bikram! We are not human if we have no fear, especially for those whom we love. It is great that you go for the thing causing fear and overcome it. No wonder you are in the profession you are in 🙂 When some unexpected thing strikes us, we feel terror, not simple fear!

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  14. jaishvats · · Reply

    Hi I have fears and anxieties and panic attacks and what not. As you said the suffering would probably be lesser when you actually face what you have been fearing all along 🙂

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    1. Oh yes, the relief has to be experienced, once the decision to face it is made! With a young boy you are entitled to all those fears, anxieties and panic attacks, Jayashree 🙂

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  15. I have my share of fears and F.E.A.RS – real and imaginary – and over the years have coped with them, and tried to overcome them. I have succeeded with some and am still working on a couple.

    Thank you, Zephyr, for a post on a topic that none will really address or write about.

    PS: You missed out on one reason for F.E.A.R. — it is a carry forward from a previous janam 😛

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    1. The day we are fearless is the day of nirvana! And like Suresh said, one has to be completely devoid of imagination to be fearless. And oh, thanks for pointing out the one vital reason of FEAR 😛

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  16. oh I have fears and phobias and what not. 🙂 Sometimes I wonder whether I am real 😀
    But interesting post I had never thought of fear in such an analytic way.

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    1. I doubt very much if you really do have all those fears and phobias, when you are so well set in your spiritual journey 🙂 And even if you do, you are not alone. There are millions of us to give you company. Psst…I had wanted to study psychology in college and the interest still lingers into my old age, which is why you get such posts 😀

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  17. I also had lot of fears earlier..even claustophobia..but now not much..animals and dogs only…Human beings I can avoid:)

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    1. I love your attitude, Renu. Of course, we have a choice to avoid human beings when we need to. But overcoming phobias is wonderful. How did you get over claustrophobia?

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  18. Hi Zephyr,

    This is my first time on your blog and I happened to see it through a tweet sent by (@waatho). ·

    I enjoyed reading this post and hope you write many more of such posts to make us reflect and think deeply about the choices that we make.

    While I never had fears relating to darkness or spiders or cockroaches, there were other fears that I always had and perhaps I still have them. As a mom, I also have a constant fear about my son’s safety, happiness and stuff like that – is he okay with something, will he be fine if we opt for X instead of Y, that kind of thing. Another one is this – losing the love and approval of those whom I love is one such fear – I need to see it in the light of your analysis where you have expanded what F.E.A.R. stands for.

    I really look forward to reading more posts from you, keep writing and inspiring us!

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    1. Welcome to my blog, Beestings and I am glad you liked the post. Mothers are perhaps the biggest worriers and scaredy cats. But as you have said, it is only about the welfare of the children and loved ones. But don’t be worried about choices that you have to make for him when he is too young to make them for himself. It is best to choose and hope for the best. But when he or she is old enough to make their own choices, it is best to let them do it unless it is a harmful or dangerous one. That is part of letting go. If you have the time, do read my post A handful of sand, which deals with letting go.

      Hope to see you here more often 🙂

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  19. I think what most of us fear the most is losing our loved ones. Grief is more terrifying than death.

    Keep writing, Zephyr. Believe me, you haven’t lost your touch.

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    1. Thank you for your faith in my writing abilities, Purba 🙂 There are things over which we have no control and losing a loved one is one of them. I agree that grief is more terrible than death itself.

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  20. No phobias for me FEAR definitely. All related to health and well being of my loved ones. Always a pleasure to read you Zephyr.

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    1. Being fearful of the health and well being is fine, Alka, but we don’t stop at that. We let our imagination take wings and compound the fears 🙂

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  21. As it is said, freedom is the complete absence of fear. Great post, Zephyr. I used to have a massive fear of dogs, having been chased by one when i was a boy, down a very long (it seemed quite long) street all the way to my grandparents’ place. Happy to say that I outran the dog but never outran the fear of canines. The great fear, I guess we all have, is the one that our expectations will not be met. That the future may not bring all that it’s expected to. And then there’s the ultimate, mother of all fears – the fear of death. The one way I’ve tried to deal with these deep, subliminal fears is view them as “not necessarily bad things” and “just the way things are.” Excellent topic selection, as usual. Hope you’re doing well. Regards from Sudha too. Cheerio. Srini

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    1. Didn’t you try for the school sprint team? 😀 And hope you know that dogs can smell fear!

      Freedom from fear is the sublime state of peace. As you have pointed out, our big fear is falling short of expectations — of ourselves and others and of the future. Your method of dealing with it very practical, if a lot spiritual and a tad hard for all to follow. I am still trying at my age 🙂

      Good to see you here 🙂 Give the girls my love.

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  22. chakratirthatravels · · Reply

    I found this such a refreshing read. Thank you Zephyr! I always look forward to your posts.
    And I love this “False Evidence Appearing Real” 🙂

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    1. Thank you, Mayalakshmi. I will try to be more regular in posting. Even I loved the definition of fear, which is why I began writing the post 🙂

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  23. chsuresh63 · · Reply

    The only people I know who lack fear are the ones who absolutely lack knowledge and imagination. 🙂 All courage is not about never feeling fear but about doing what is necessary despite your fear.

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    1. As usual, you have summed up my long post in a few sentences 🙂 Fear is good so long as it doesn’t become a phobia or paranoia as some amount of it is necessary to keep one on one’s toes.

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  24. Hmmm…I was never scared of dogs or cockroaches but humans. I was very sensitive so I was just trying to avoid face to face interaction with strong people. I was always nervous. That is the reason I don’t talk when many people are there. With people whom I don’t feel a threat, I open up! I have changed a lot now, though! Still don’t talk in crowds!

    I liked the way you have analysed ‘fear’. Our own self confidence should help us come out of the fear.

    Keep writing as much as possible, Zephyr! We miss your posts!

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    1. I go through agonies all the time, Sandhya. What would happen if I were to say something. Would the reaction be good or bad? Can I handle it? And sometimes out of this fear of facing an aggressive response, I hold my peace and let injustice happen. But when I have taken the plunge, I sometimes pleasantly discover a good response and then curse myself for wasting so much energy in my anxiety 🙂 I am not afraid of dogs and even had a pet for a few months. Read about it in the three part post. I found so much interesting stuff on fear and I have hardly covered a fraction of it. Thanks for your encouragement Sandhya. I will try to live up to the expectation 🙂

      Like

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