He was sure it was a wild dog and he remembered the recent news reports of wild dogs attacking people in this area. The barking grew louder and louder and, as a result, he was terrified and the following physiological changes occurred in his body:
- His heart began to beat faster
- His rate of breathing increased
- His energy level increased
- Adrenaline got released into his blood
- His pain-tolerance and strength increased
- His nervous impulses became much quicker
- His pupils dilated and his whole body became more alert
What was going on here?
Since he knew that dogs were dangerous, he chose to run (flight) instead of trying to overpower a crazy, wild animal in the middle of nowhere (fight). As you can see, the goal of this fight or flight response is to ensure our survival.
People usually talk very negatively about fear often forgetting the important role it plays in our survival. Yes, I know they mostly refer to other kinds of unwanted, irrational fears when they say that fear is an enemy but those fears are essentially the same (as I’ll explain later) as the fear that we experience while being chased by a wild beast.
The only difference is that the unwanted, irrational fears are usually much more subtle- to the extent that sometimes we aren’t even aware of the reasons behind them!
They don’t seem threatening to our conscious, logical and rational mind but to our subconscious mind they do- that’s the rub. Even if the situation or the thing that we fear is not dangerous at all, still we ‘perceive’ it to be dangerous and hence the fear.
Let’s take a deeper look into the mind of this person.
In the past, he was rejected many times and he believed it happened because he wasn’t good enough. As a result, he developed a fear of rejection because every time he got rejected it reminded him of his inadequacy.
So his subconscious made him fear public speaking because it thought that speaking in front of a large audience can increase his chances of him getting rejected, especially if he didn’t perform well. He was afraid that others would find out that he sucks at giving speeches, lacks confidence, is clumsy, etc.
All this is interpreted by him as rejection and rejection has the potential to damage anyone’s self-esteem.
There can be many reasons why a person fears public speaking but all of them revolve around the fear of being rejected. Clearly, this person’s subconscious mind used fear of public speaking as a defense mechanism to protect his self-esteem and psychological well-being.
This is true for all fears. They protect us from real or perceived dangers- dangers to our physiological survival or psychological well-being.
Phobias and learned fears
If a person didn’t undergo any traumatic experience with water but only ‘saw’ someone else drowning, that too may develop hydrophobia in him when he sees the fearful reaction of the drowning person.
This is how fears are learned. A child whose parents are constantly worried about health-related issues may catch this fear from them and continue to be a constant worrier throughout his own adulthood. If we are not careful and conscious, people will keep on transferring their fears to us that they themselves might have learned from the others.
Let me explain why this approach works:
The more you run away from your fears, the more they will grow. This is not a contrived platitude but a psychological truth. Now, what happens when you decide to face your fears? Most probably you realize that the thing or the situation you were afraid of isn’t that dangerous as it seemed beforehand. In other words, it caused you no harm. It was not threatening at all.
Do this enough number of times and you’ll kill your fear. This is because you’ll be providing more and more ‘proofs’ to your subconscious mind that there is. in fact, nothing to fear and a time will come when the fear will completely disappear. Your false belief will get withered away because there’s no longer anything there to support it.
Let’s change the scenario a bit in Sajid’s example that I gave at the beginning of this post. Let’s say instead of choosing flight, he chose to fight. Maybe he decided that the dog wouldn’t bother him much and that if it did he would do his best to shoo it away with a stick or something.
They affect us because we don’t ‘know’ yet that they are just errors of perception.
If we gain enough knowledge about the things we fear then we can easily conquer them. Knowing and understanding our fears is half the job of overcoming them. We don’t fear the things that we know can cause us no harm; we fear the things that are unknown because we either assume that they’re threatening or remain unsure of their potential to cause harm.
Hanan Parvez (M.B.A., M.A. Psychology) has written 300+ articles at www.psychmechanics.com, a blog with over 3 million views and 100k monthly visitors. His work has been featured on Forbes, Business Insider, Reader’s Digest, and Entrepreneur.