Why We Fear

Fear is one of the most common and complicated emotions that we can experience. We all experience this in some way or form in our early childhood and throughout our lives. So what is fear?

Fear is a learned response which becomes programmed in early childhood, meaning that it is something that we are not born with. If you look at newborn babies as they explore their world with their five senses, they are full of wonder and curiosity and express nothing but joy.

Now, as that baby grows into childhood, they will have various experiences which have the potential to develop and reinforce the fear response. For example, if a child experiences falling off a bike and cuts their knee they could respond in a number of ways.

They may cry initially from the pain and the site of blood but eventually the pain will subside and the bleeding will stop. If, whoever attends to that child remains calm in their presence, explains to them that this just a normal injury which happens in such a situation and will heal and be forgotten, the child will want to eventually want to get back on their bike.

However, if whoever attends to the child shows stress and anxiety and makes a big deal of the injury in their presence, the child will be more likely to be scared of getting back on that bike. This is how the fear response begins and can become reinforced in various situations by the child’s environment.

This is not to say that fear is always dysfunctional. There are legitimate threats out there that children need to be taught to be aware of and engage in an effective way. For example, a busy street can be dangerous if the child does not know how to safely cross to get to the other side. Children must be taught how to deal with this situation for their own safety.

However, there are many irrational fears which can be conditioned in childhood which can affect their development and experience of life. These fears include, fear of trying a new sport and failing, fear of exploring a natural setting due to not knowing what to expect, fear of making friends at school and being rejected to name a few.

Whether irrational fear will set in depends on a number of factors including how the child experiences various situations, what messages the child is given by their parents, teachers, other supervisors and their immediate environment about what they have experienced and whether the child is nurtured through their continual development.

Many of us, as adults, have irrational fears which have been reinforced from an early age. These could include fear of asking for what we want, such as a pay raise, and being told no, fear of meeting someone new and being rejected and fear of trying something new such as rock climbing or playing the guitar and failing.

There is nobody who is immune from developing some sort of irrational fear. The problem comes when these fears keep us from living our lives to its highest potential. The question then becomes how do we overcome these fears? I will start to address this in my next blog post.

For now the important thing is to become aware of your fears. Try to think about your current life situation and into your past to see where irrational fears have curtailed your experience of life and kept you from achieving something that you longed for.

Make a list of all these irrational fears and try to trace them to where they originated and stay tuned for my next blog post.


Nauman Naeem MD

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