Are All Fears The Same?

In my last post, I asked the question of why do we fear and where our fears arise from. I discussed how most of our fears are conditioned in early childhood and can affect us throughout our adult lives. Now let’s distinguish the types of fear that we can experience.

I make a distinction between two types of fear, actual fear and psychological fear. What do I mean by these? Actual fear is a real threat or danger to your life or wellbeing. An example of this is if you’re walking down a dark alley at night and are held up at gunpoint by a masked man. In this case there is a real threat that you could be immediately killed even if you give up your money and valuables.

So what is a psychological fear? This is a fear which is not an actual threat to your life or wellbeing but a threat to your ego. You see, your ego is that aspect of your mind which is there to ensure your survival. It was more relevant thousands of years ago when we faced legitimate dangers from our environment such as enemy tribes, predators and inclement weather.

As we progressed through the various ages, hunter-gatherer to agricultural to industrial to technological to information age, we gained more mastery over our environment and the dangers we once faced are no longer relevant. However, the ego, in order to preserve its relevance in our lives, had to find other things to preoccupy itself with.

This is where psychological fears arise. Psychological fears are those things we fear that do not actually threaten us in reality but are seen as perceived threats. An example of this is talking to a complete stranger and asking her out on a date. Even though there is no actual threat to our life, our ego sees it differently.

The ego perceives a threat if we were to be rejected by the person we want to ask out. There is the threat of potential rejection, embarrassment and being ridiculed. This is how the ego cultivates fear and derails us from trying new things, meeting new people and stepping out of our comfort zones. This is psychological fear, meaning it is created in the mind with no actual danger or threat to your life or wellbeing.

There are countless psychological fears that we all suffer from which can keep us from achieving our highest potential. These include fear of meeting new people, asking for a raise, confronting your boss or other employees, quitting your job, being honest with your partner, starting a new business venture, making a risky investment that could pay off immensely if successful, trying a new sport, moving to a different city and travelling to a country outside your usual vacation destinations to name a few.

We all can suffer from these no matter what our past has been and what we have accomplished in our lives. All it takes is one bad experience to reinforce a psychological fear. Using the example above, if you asked someone, who you were interested in, on a date and were rejected, this may make you think twice about approaching someone else. This is because your ego has reinforced the feeling of rejection as a real threat to your wellbeing.

So the question then becomes how do we overcome our irrational, psychological fears? This will be the topic of my next blog post. In the meantime, make a list of everything that you fear and identify the ones that are actual versus psychological. Try to identify where these fears arose from and stay tuned to discover how to successfully navigate them.


Nauman Naeem MD

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