Fear Itself

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear.” H.P. Lovecraft

In the dark corners of the mind, a sinister villain lurks: Fear. Those who deny it are doomed to be overcome by its power. It comes in many forms; fear of death, fear of darkness, fear of flying, fear of failure and countless others. It can either consume us or propel us to new heights.

The three most common fears are fear of public speaking (74% of people), fear of death (68%), and fear of spiders (30.5%). In America, 19 million people have a diagnosed phobia. These fears, even the fear of death, are learned. The only fear that has been scientifically proven to be innate rather than a conditioned response is the fear of heights. Yet we allow these perceptions to rule our actions.

It has been said that we are living in a culture of fear. The 24 hour news cycle is never lacking in providing new reasons to be afraid. The “fiscal cliff” coverage instilled months of terror into citizens, only to fizzle out into nothingness. The next “national” crisis can’t be too far off. Even the very words used illicit fear: a hurricane that resulted in the death of one person becomes a deadly storm and a sewage leak in Podunk nowhere becomes a new threat to the “nation’s” water supply. One can almost expect to burst into flames the very second they leave the house… but you also can’t stay in the house because “fatal accidents within the home are a leading cause of death in the U.S.”

What is it really that we are all so afraid of? Life. Humans are absolutely terrified of living. We fear not only our failures, but our success. We fear not just negative feelings, but positive ones as well. The simple truth is that people fear what they cannot control, cannot understand and cannot predict. Life, at times, has all of these elements. That isn’t to say we have no control over our lives, but often we really are sandcastles fighting an incoming tide. Furthermore, we are aware of our inability to control every situation. Often, we overblow this feeling and underestimate what we can control. In fact, one study by Adam McCaffrey linked fear, feelings of competence and efficacy, and procrastination. Fear begets inaction, what can be called the paralysis of fear.

Our fear can keep us in a job we hate. We determine that the fear of change and potential risks are worse than the unpleasant life we are living. When all the individual cases are added up, society develops a culture of precaution. In 2010, new business creation in the U.S. dropped to a record low of 7.87% (from a peak of 13.02% in 1987). There are not many people left willing to take the risks of entrepreneurship. Is my idea good enough? Are the risks too great? Will I be financially secure? What will people think? Do I have the capabilities to pull this off? There is only one way to find out.

Ultimately, fear impacts us to the degree we doubt our own abilities. When we believe that we cannot conquer unforeseen obstacles, fear paralyzes us. Conversely, when we believe we can handle whatever life throws at us, we forge ahead no matter the odds.

In the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Additional Resources

Forbes Our Most Common Fears: http://www.forbes.com/2006/12/13/most-common-fears-forbeslife-cx_avd_1214commonfears.html

Financial Highway 7 Most Common Money Fears: http://financialhighway.com/7-most-common-money-fears-how-to-overcome-them/

Cancer Support Community Fear of Death and Dying: http://www.cancersupportcommunity.org/MainMenu/About-Cancer/Emotional-Wellbeing/Death-and-Dying.html

Psychology Today Don’t Worry, Mom: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/dont-worry-mom/201205/fearless-frightened

Statistic Brain Fear: http://www.statisticbrain.com/fear-phobia-statistics/

Psychology Today, Fear: http://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/fear

Phobialist, Fear Quotes: http://phobialist.com/fears.html

Gavin De Becker, Media Fear Tactics: http://gavindebecker.com/resources/article/media_fear_tactics/

Arizona State University, Altheide Says Media Driving “Discourse of Fear”: http://gavindebecker.com/resources/article/media_fear_tactics/

Reuters, U.S. Business Startups Rate at Record Low: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/02/us-usa-economy-businesses-idUSBRE84113G20120502

Success, The Deadly Fears of Entrepreneurship: http://www.success.com/articles/1310-the-deadly-fears-of-entrepreneurship

Under 30 CEO, 10 Entrepreneur Fears and How to Conquer Them: http://under30ceo.com/10-entrepreneur-fears-and-how-to-conquer-them/#.URFm8WfrA7w

Psych Central, Fight or Flight: http://psychcentral.com/lib/2006/fight-or-flight/


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s