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Type of Fear


Explanations > Emotions > Type of Fear

Fear of pain | Fear of loss | Fear of non-gain | Fear of extinction | Fear of uncertainty | Fear of failure | Conditioned fear | So what


Fear is a deep motivator, which makes it important to understand when changing minds. For example, fear of change can stop people from listening to you, so you should understand and address that fear at an early stage.

Fear of pain

Pain hurts and extreme pain is excruciating. Pain is designed to protect the body by making us take care of physical damage to ourselves. This can become unhelpful when we have got the message yet the pain continues. We might also consider that high levels of pain are unnecessary.

Pain can be psychological as well as physical. Psychological pain is often felt in the body as tension and stress, and can be every bit as unbearable as that caused by physical damage to the body. Most fear is felt this way, which is why we may fear fear itself.

Fear of loss

We acquire many things in our lives, often as a result of long and hard work. This includes physical objects and intangible things such as relationships. The thought of losing what we have gained is often a fearful thought (that has led to a profitable insurance industry).

The sense of loss is preceded by the process of attachment, in which we connect things and people to our sense of identity, making them an extension of our selves. Loss then becomes a loss of self, which relates to the fear of extinction.

When attachment is stronger, the anticipated sense of loss is also greater, which in turn amplifies fear. This is why the thought of losing family and friends can be so scary. It also explains why there are philosophies that propose a reduction in material wealth and even living as a hermit.

Fear of non-gain

The flip-side of losing what you have is to not gain what want and expect. When we predict the future (which we constantly do), some things are particularly desirable, in particular those related to achieving our goals. The thought of not gaining the things we have planned to gain is painful and makes us fearful.

Achieving our goals is affected by our ability to control the world around us. If we cannot achieve this then we may rightly feel threatened by it, and consequently fearful of it.

Fear of non-gain can be driven by anticipated loss, where we imaging gaining what we desire and then feel a sense of loss when we think about not getting it.

Fear of extinction

Our sense of identity is a fundamental need and is closely associated with our sense of meaning and self-worth. When things happen to reduce this sense we feel diminished and our sense of personal meaning in the world is damaged.

The opposite position to identity is actual or perceived personal extinction, either of which is terrifying. It is perhaps unsurprising that many religions have a focus in continuation of the self after death. It is this fear of extinction that is the ultimate concern when our identity is threatened.

Fear of rejection by others is very common. We extend our sense of identity to include those around us. When others reject us, our extended sense of identity is damaged and can trigger the empty feeling of loneliness.

Fear of uncertainty

In the The CIA Needs Model there are two key needs: for a sense of identity and for a sense of control. As well as the fear of extinction (loss of identity) we may also fear losing control, which is affected by uncertainty. This fear is often about the possibility of the non-gain of not being unable to achieve our goals.

Fear of losing control can come through a realization that we sometimes do not have the power to change the environment or what others think and do. Achieving our goals means coping with nature's events and influencing others. When we cannot do this we feel all at sea and out of control.

Other people have their own goals and may be uncaring about us or even manipulate us for their own ends. We fear being under the influence of others who get us to do things that we know are not in our best interests. They achieve this through power in various forms or may just be skilful at persuasion. When powerful others act against us we feel powerless and out of control.

Fear of losing control may be combined with other fears, such as of pain, loss, non-gain or extinction.

Fear of failure

A key element of control is in control of oneself, both in managing the effects of emotions and in having the skills to achieve our goals. The thought that we may fail to get what we want can be rather scary.

A worry is that we will react unthinkingly, getting angry or excited and do things we will later regret. Failing to have sufficient self-control is a big issue for some people.

A more common fear is that we will fail at a task due to a lack of skills, making silly mistakes, being unable to influence others, or any of the many other reasons that things go wrong for us.

Associated with the fear of failure is the fear of being criticized by others and losing social position.

Conditioned fear

A different fear is that which has been conditioned into us. Conditioning takes an existing stimulus and response and connects in a new stimulus that soon also causes the response. Pavlov famously rang a bell when feeding a dog and found that before long just the sound of the bell was enough to make the dog salivate. It was also found that a bell could stimulate fear when associated with electric shocks.

Many of our conditioned fears originate in childhood where we erroneously connected available stimuli with unpleasant events. We may also learn later in life to always fear certain situations.

We can also have genetic fears, such as of spiders and snakes. Through countless generations we have become naturally fearful of certain animals and the sight of any scurrying and writhing can trigger a powerful fear response.

So what?

Understand how fear works. It can be perverse and hidden and lead people into strange actions. It can stop them changing or make them change with great speed. The above categories can help you identify and name fear, which is the first step to opposing or using it.

Cowardice is based in fear, possibly of pain but also possibly fearing other fears. Courage is feeling frightened but going ahead anyway, using willpower to overcome one's fear. You can overcome fear in yourself or others by stimulating and 'en-couraging' courage.

In your persuasions, act to counter fears that stop people changing and carefully use it to nudge them in the right direction, though do be careful of their fear reactions causing them to move in ways that you did not expect.

See also

Fear, Conditioning, Push principle, Threat principle


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