Is fear the only thing to fear

Everyone has a fear – it could be a phobia or just something we don’t like doing. It could be something so big that it consumes a lot of a person’s life, or it could be something quite small that just causes mild concern which can be controlled. However, is the fear itself the thing people actually fear? Fear is an aspect related to an experience we don’t want to go through and could therefore be seen as something we have to put up with until whatever it is has been conquered. Conversely, is the experience of being frightened about something what people can actually be fearful of instead of what they believe they are fearing? Also, what about people who have irrational fears – fears other people may feel are bizarre? Is there even such a thing or is it just bizarre because it is not in someone else’s consciousness?

Fear – the common collective

I previously said, I would think that everyone has a fear. It could be a fear of varying degrees, but I would think that this subject affects everyone on some level. It may not always be something that controls a person’s life, but I think everyone fears something. To support my thinking, in 2014, a list of the top 13 fears the British public have were found, and these were:

  • Cynophobia (fear of dogs)
  • Hemophobia (fear of blood
  • Nyctophobia (fear of darkness)
  • Coulrophobia (fear of clowns)
  • Agoraphobia (fear of crowds)
  • Pteromerhanophobia (fear of flying on an aeroplane)
  • Trypanophobia (fear of needles/getting shots)
  • Musophobia (fear of mice)
  • Claustrophobia (fear of being closed in a small space)
  • Arachnophobia (fear of spiders)
  • Glossophobia (fear of public speaking)
  • Ophidiophobia (fear of snakes)
  • Acrophobia (fear of heights)

This list actually starts with the things people were found to be less fearful of and ends with the most fearful things. So the top five things people fear are being in a small space, spiders, public speaking, snakes, and heights. I don’t think any of these are particularly surprising, but when looking at each one more closely, the fear they can create within a person is not always comparable with the threat they pose. The fear of spiders is a good example of this – in the UK, it would be extremely rare to find a spider that would cause harm to a person, but many people still fear them. In contrast, a fear of heights is something that poses a threat, but only if someone was very high up and was likely to fall. On the other hand, the fear of public speaking showcases how someone is fearful of something that is not going to harm them, but perhaps they are instead fearful of their reaction to it. Someone who has glossophobia could instead be fearing how they will react to the situation (forgetting what they are saying, not being able to speak, for example) instead of just purely fearing the situation.

When writing this, I have realised that being faced with a fear and worrying about something are slightly different. If you have a fear of clowns, for example, you are going to be fearful of them if you go to a children’s party and one is there, but you are not necessarily going to be worrying about seeing one every day because they are not seen in everyday life (in my experience, anyway). On the other hand, if you have to do a presentation in front of hundreds of people and you have a fear of public speaking, this is going to potentially cause a great deal of fear. This fear could be present for a long time; perhaps at the back of your mind when you’re given a date for the presentation, with it gradually becoming greater and greater as the date draws nearer. This type of fear; the dread of waiting for something to happen is the fear I think people fear possibly the most- the anticipation.

An example – getting test results

Most people, if not everyone, at some point in their life will have to wait for test results. These test results may be exam results that may impact on if you go to university or not; tests a doctor has conducted which could lead to finding out whether you have an illness or not; or even that few seconds between turning off the car engine and finding out if you have passed your driving test, which could impact on if a person can apply for a job which requires them having a driving licence. Of course, test results have varying levels of consequences, but that fear the waiting has on people is very similar. Some people may not like to dwell on such situations, and everyone has their own coping mechanisms they use to deal with these, but fear is inevitable because everyone, on some level, cares about what they will find out. So surely it is just human nature to be fearful?

The waiting game

Personally, when I am waiting for something to happen which causes me to be fearful of it, I actually get to the point where I just want it to be over with. Depending on the situation, I go over and over all the possible scenarios of what will happen in my head and end up just bored by doing that and wanting to confront it head on and get past it, then allowing me to carry on with my life. To get to that point, I have to go through the waiting stage and all of the fear that comes with it. Waiting to potentially deal with something is surely worse than knowing? At least when you know the outcome, you can then put a plan into action of the next steps you will take. Therefore, the not knowing of how an occurrence is going to end is, in my opinion, worse than dealing with the event. When thinking about this topic, I believed that the fear of waiting for something to happen, or waiting to do something you are fearful of, was the aspect of fear that is the most frightening.

The worst case scenario

How many times have you said “that wasn’t that bad actually”? I know I have on many occasions when reflecting on a situation I have just conquered. I think we build up fear in our minds and think that something is actually going to be much worse than it really is. A person taking their driving test is a good example of this. Someone could be a very capable driver, but as soon as they are booked in for their driving test, the fear could set in. They may think they will fail because they are not a good driver (when they actually are one), or they could believe that nerves will get the better of them. In this example, fear is the thing that is what is causing this to happen. The person may be scared of taking their test because it could all go wrong, and they don’t want it to. Of course it could all go wrong, but potentially the only difference between the competent driver being confident one day and nervous the next is the booking of the test; something they care about and don’t want to fail at. The fear is the factor that is producing this change.

Fear is pretty much an inevitable occurrence for people to go through, but it should be said that if anxiety takes over a person’s life, it could be more serious and a medical opinion should always be sought. What I have been speaking about is the more common fear that collectively humans experience through a variety of situations and occurrences, such as the list of phobias towards the beginning of this article. That list is not exclusive though, and people may have rational and irrational fears about anything, for their own reasons, or maybe for no reason at all. It is extremely possible that fear is the only thing to fear because of the consequences it can have in how a person feels and how they react to it, but perhaps knowing this can help the next time we fearful because as I have said – knowledge is better than the unknown.

Sarah Keeping MBPsS MSc PgDip GDip BA (Hons)

Follow Sarah on twitter at @keepingapproach