“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve, the fear of failure.”
I put fear into two categories; existential and notional fear. Existential fear is fear of an experience that has death as a direct result, and notional fear is fear of an experience that has an outcome that could result in death with a one or several sequential experiences after it. Fear of poisonous or other animals that can kill us would be classified as existential fear, if there is a reasonable probability that you would encounter such an animal in your daily life. Notional fears are those where you make assumptions about the outcome, e.g. if I lose my job, I will have no money, if I have no money I can’t eat, and if I can’t eat I die.
Fact is, that we are not born with fear in our system, it is something we learn (study on how babies develop fear). We have primitive reflexes in our nervous system that allow us to react with rudimentary physical movements to assist our survival as infants. We also develop an instinctual habit of observing occurrences in our external immediate environment that could be a threat to us. Of course as we develop a sense of self in our adolescence, we apply many of the “lessons” from earlier in life and apply that to our idea of self in our environment; the idea being that the lessons are there to protect our “self” in our perceived reality.
Very rarely does anybody develop a fully congruent and healthy idea of self in relation to their organismic self, as described by Carl Rogers. It is always tainted in one way or another by the “lessons” we absorbed as children. Because, traditionally, parents treat and raise children as if they are smaller versions of themselves and don’t grasp and apply the fact that children are unique, that do not conform in their infantile brain and neurological development to the expectations of adults, children end up with the “wrong idea”. They take on beliefs that aren’t in alignment with what the parent is trying to convey or are taken out of context. Sometimes, the parent will convey an un-truth out of frustration that sticks in the young mind, e.g. “No, you can’t have that. We can’t afford it, we are poor. You can’t just have anything you point at”. Out of all these experiences will emerge a person’s notional fears.
Our notional fears, therefore, evolve out of our environment(s), and because we view our present and future experiences through the lens of our past experiences, we perpetuate those fears through out our lives, until we deal with them. Examples of those environments are; family, religion, community, culture, national identity, etc.
Fear is not something we can control, however, our reaction to the fear and how we express it comes from our perception of it, i.e. our thoughts. Our thoughts we can control. Having a healthy relationship with your fears is central to your wellbeing. Extreme cases of this would be front line military personnel, race drivers, base jumpers or any other extreme sport. These cases will balance their fear on the outer edge of their capability and that control often times make them feel more alive. This type of fear can become addictive. For those of us who prefer the more calm and serene existence, it is a comfort to know that we can control our fears through our thoughts.
On the flipside there are cases when people express that their fear of death is no longer present within them. These cases would include those that have experienced an identity altering experience, such as divorce, near death experience, spiritual awakening, etc. Also, some that come out of horrendous experiences, such as war, crimes against humanity, severe personal violations, etc. that have gained a growth mindset from their experience. Essentially, people who have hit rock bottom sometimes describe this state of mind. This does not mean they suddenly become daredevils, though surely some do, but most just release that fear and find tremendous freedom in it.
At the end of the day, we don’t choose most of the things to be afraid of, but we have a choice in how we approach and live with them. Knowing that you have the choice is a mindset of freedom and empowerment.