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 self-defense.
Fear is one of the primeval reactions of the body like hunger, thirst and happiness. It is a mechanism that warns us of potential danger, prompting us 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, no matter how well the commercial is made!
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