Jul 27

Fear Gives Us Useful Information, According to Experts

Fear, like all other emotions, is basically information. It offers us knowledge and understanding—if we choose to accept it—of our psychobiological status. Karl Albrecht, PhD, Psychology Today

Albrecht also points out that all our fears fall into five basic categories. Click on the link above for details.

  1. Extinction—the fear of annihilation, of ceasing to exist.
  2. Mutilation—the fear of losing any part of our precious bodily structure; the thought of having our body’s boundaries invaded, or of losing the integrity of any organ, body part, or natural function.
  3. Loss of Autonomy—the fear of being immobilized, paralyzed, restricted, enveloped, overwhelmed, entrapped, imprisoned, smothered, or otherwise controlled by circumstances beyond our control.
  4. Separation—the fear of abandonment, rejection, and loss of connectedness; of becoming a non-person—not wanted, respected, or valued by anyone else.
  5. Ego-death—the fear of humiliation, shame, or any other mechanism of profound self-disapproval that threatens the loss of integrity of the Self; the fear of the shattering or disintegration of one’s constructed sense of lovability, capability, and worthiness.

He makes the distinction between survival-value fears and learned fears. The former need to be heeded in order to stay as safe as we can possibly be.

Gavin de Becker, an expert on both fear and the psychology of danger and author of The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence (1997), teaches awareness of “pre-incident indicators (PINS) of violence.”

A key survival skill is the use of our intuition when frightened:

Every day, people engaged in the clever defiance of their own intuition become, in mid-thought, victims of violence and accidents. So when we wonder why we are victims so often, the answer is clear: It is because we are so good at it. A woman could offer no greater cooperation to her soon-to-be attacker than to spend her time telling herself, ‘But he seems like such a nice man.’ Yet this is exactly what many people do. A woman is waiting for an elevator, and when the doors open she sees a man inside who causes her apprehension. Since she is not usually afraid, it may be the late hour, his size, the way he looks at her, the rate of attacks in the neighborhood, an article she read a year ago—it doesn’t matter why. The point is, she gets a feeling of fear. How does she respond to nature’s strongest survival signal? She suppresses it, telling herself: ‘I’m not going to live like that, I’m not going to insult this guy by letting the door close in his face.’ When the fear doesn’t go away, she tells herself not to be so silly, and she gets into the elevator. Now, which is sillier: waiting a moment for the next elevator, or getting into a soundproofed steel chamber with a stranger she is afraid of?

Practice respecting one’s intuition, he says, not more denial, which he describes as “a save-now-pay-later scheme, a contract written entirely in small print, for in the long run, the denying person knows the truth on some level, and it causes a constant low-grade anxiety. Millions of people suffer that anxiety, and denial keeps them from taking action that could reduce the risks (and the worry).”