Both fear and anxiety are provoked by danger. Fear is the response to a
specific and immediate danger. Anxiety results from a non-specific concern or
threat. Today many threats are psychological rather than physical, but the same
primitive impulse often takes hold.
- Imminent danger,
- Personal security or pain is threatened,
- Concern for a future specific unpleasant event,
- Perceived loss of safety.
Root: from Old English fǣr, danger, sudden calamity.
Fear describes a specific and sudden danger to your physical well-being. When
fear passes, we feel relief and often exhilaration. Our
emotional brains react immediately to defend against a
possible threat, then later we can comprehend the situation more fully and
decide on the best action to take.
Synonyms for fear include: horror, fright, petrified, scared, shocked,
hysterical, mortified, and terrified. The
terms dread, alarm, and panic may refer to either anxiety or fear.
Origins, Archetypes, and the Plot of Fear
The purpose of fear is to protect us from danger. There are several unlearned triggers for fear, including:
- something hurling rapidly toward you, such as a truck racing toward you
- sudden loss of support, such as the floor giving way,
- The threat of physical pain,
Also, there are any number of learned triggers for fear, such as receiving a
letter from the IRS, being called to the principal's office, or entering a dark
room. People also fear losing control, humiliation,
shame, or insignificance. The common theme is avoiding threats.
Fear causes a variety of reactions depending on the intensity, timing, and
coping options available. The reactions include:
- Freezing in place and feeling terror if we can't do anything to avoid the
- Running or escaping from the immediate danger,
- Sharply focusing our attention and mobilizing us to act to reduce or
eliminate the danger when we can take effective action to cope with the
- Panic, including shortness of breath, racing heartbeat, and the inability
to focus on anything but worrying about the feared future event,
- Fighting to destroy the object of our fear.
Fear also often causes cold hands, deeper and more rapid breathing, increased
heart rate, increased blood pressure, sweating,
dry mouth, and trembling or tightening of the muscles, especially in the arms and legs.
We estimate the risks and vulnerability of the threat almost instantly and
then fight, freeze, focus, or flee based on this assessment.
Fear conditioning is a particularly efficient form of
classical conditioning. It is a quick
and long lasting mechanism for acquiring and storing information about harmful
or potentially harmful stimuli and situations. It is an ancient evolutionary
solution to self-defense that has been observed in species as diverse a fruit
flies, fish, baboons and humans. Once a fear trigger is learned, the response
will remain the same indefinitely and resist efforts to extinguish it. The bias
is toward action; it is better to react immediately to a false alarm than to
ignore a real threat.
Courage, Bravery, and Valor
A courageous person understands danger, and chooses to overcome their fear
and proceed to face the danger. It is not fearlessness, recklessness, or
rashness. It is a well considered and brave decision to behave constructively
despite the fear.
Related Moods and Traits
The term anxiety refers to the lengthy metal state
of being worried for an unknown reason. Some researchers classify anxiety as a
mood and others as a separate emotion.
Fear expressions send a danger warning to those close by. Screaming also
sends a danger warning.
|The facial expression of fear has these distinctive
- Raised eyebrows,
- tensed lower eyelids,
- eyebrows drawn together,
- Lips stretched horizontally,
We cope with fear by trying to flee or escape from the threat, fighting back,
or focusing on ways to eliminate or reduce the threat. It helps to relax when
the threat is not immediate.
Fear is such a powerful emotion that it is often exploited through fear-mongering. Unneeded,
ineffective, or overpriced insurance policies, safety equipment, automobile
undercoating, protection services, defensive actions, medications, and military
expenditures are willingly purchased by people who are intimidated by a wide
range of doomsayers. Terrorism is so effective because fear is so powerful. The
fear of humiliation is strong and is a form of
control often exploited by people as diverse as childhood playmates,
advertisers, sales people, the boss, and tyrants.
Paths of Fear:
Events that can trigger our fear or anxiety are common and frequent occurrences. How we
respond to those provocations and the choices we make critically affect our
peace of mind, well being, and our lives. The following figure illustrates
choices we have and paths we can take to either prolong or resolve our fears.
Use this like you would any other map: 1) decide where you are now, 2) decide
where you want to go, 3) choose the best path to get there, and 4) go down the
This diagram is an example of a type of chart known by systems analysts as a
state transition diagram. Each colored elliptical bubble represents a state of being that represents the way you are now. The labels on the arrows
represent actions or events and the arrows show paths into or out of each state. You
are at one place on this chart for one particular relationship or interaction at any particular
time. Other people are likely to be in other places on the chart. This is
similar to an ordinary road map where you plot where you are now, while other
people are at other places on the same map. Begin the analysis at the green “OK”
bubble, or wherever else you believe you are now.
OK: This is the beginning or neutral state. It corresponds to a person
who is relaxed and not feeling fear or anxiety. The green color represents safety, tranquility, equanimity, and growth
Perceived Threat: Something scary happens in your world that you perceive as
a threat. This may be seeing a physical threat such as a snake coiling to strike
or a car speeding toward you. It may also be a threat to your wellbeing, peace
of mind, or social standing. A conceived threat—resulting from contemplating
harmful future events—results in anxiety rather than fear.
Fear: Now you are frightened. Your heart is pounding,
your breath is short, and your eyes are wide open. Your
emotional brain has already begun to respond along two separate paths. The simple, fast,
involuntary path causes you to immediately freeze, flee, fight, or focus. The slower but more
thoughtful path causes you to feel afraid and allows you to begin to analyze your
situation, create alternative responses, and make choices.
Flight: One possible reaction is to escape from the threat.
This may be by looking away, running away, or simply ignoring the threat. In any
case you are now avoiding the danger, at least for now.
Avoiding: Running away from some threats, such as a car hurling toward you as
you walk across the street, is a very effective defense. But this strategy does
not often work for more persistent threats, such as receiving a letter from the IRS,
notice to foreclose and repossess your house, or suffering persistent abuse. Denying or
problem will not make it go away, and sooner or later you will have to confront
Confront: You decide to face the threat. You can decide to fight, or
you can become
composed and consider your constructive options.
Composed: You have calmed down, relaxed, gotten a grip on
yourself, and now understand the situation in more depth. You have
composed yourself and have decided to face the issue and resolve the threat in a
rational, long lasting, and constructive way.
Resolve the Threat: Calmly analyze the threat, identify alternative
approaches to resolving it, and take courageous and constructive action. This
may involve paying the rent, answering the letter from the IRS, or confronting
the abuse you are facing.
Relieved: You will feel relieved after the threat has been resolved.
Now everything is OK again.
Fight: It is common to respond to a threat by fighting back. This may be a
violent physical fight involving yelling, hitting,
kicking, and other attacks and defenses. The fight might be passive-aggressive resistance such as refusing to
respond and becoming silent. Or it may be an administrative defense such as
speaking up for your rights and point of view, filing a complaint, or taking
legal action to protect your rights. Of course once you start a fight, you may
win, you may lose, or you may spend lots of time fighting.
Fighting: The fight can be short or long,
violent and aggressive or passive
and subtle, physical or administrative, and you can win or lose. In any case the
loser generally feels resentment and humiliation and may retaliate
or seek revenge in some new form.
Lose: If you lose the fight, the threat remains and it may
increased. You are again fearful and you may also be resentful.
Win: If you win the fight, the threat may have been removed, or you may be
fueling resentment or humiliation on the part of the loser. But for now you can
become composed, relieved, and feel OK.
Focus: Often our fear focuses our senses and attention, first on the threat,
then perhaps on possible responses. In either case we become focused on solving
Focused: When we are focused we are alert and can consider our alternatives.
Soon we can comprehend the situation, and become composed so we can resolve the
Freeze: We may freeze when we encounter a threat. This may work well for a
deer wishing to blend into the surrounding forest landscape and escape notice
from predator. It does not work well when a deer freezes in the headlights of an
oncoming car. It also rarely works for people in the modern world.
Immobile: We are frozen and immobile We can't move and we can't even think
what to do next. We face a critical choice here. We can summon our courage and
focus our attention on responding constructively, or we can lose our nerve,
become unglued, fall
apart, and begin to panic.
Panic: Our heart is beating rapidly, we are out of breath, and we become
fixated on the threat. We can not longer think rationally about what to do
next. If we don't get a grip on ourselves and relax this can easily escalate our
fears, or begin a long-lasing anxiety.
Anxious: Our mind is racing ahead conceiving of all the bad things that can
happen to us. These conceived threats make us anxious and stressed. If we don't
get a grip on ourselves we can become unhinged and suffer from panic attacks,
phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and
Phobias are persistent, irrational fears. They are likely the result of
learned responses and can be extinguished with
Images of Fear:
Here are some
facial expressions of fear. Most are posed and a few are spontaneous.
Also, the famous painting
Scream” by Edvard Munch captures a memorable image of fear.
- “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something
else is more important than fear.” ~ Ambrose Redmoon
- “No passion so effectively robs the mind of all its powers of acting and
reasoning as fear.” ~ Edmund Burke.
[laz] Passion and Reason: Making Sense of Our Emotions,
by Richard S. Lazarus, Bernice N. Lazarus
Emotions Revealed: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life, by Paul Ekman
The Cognitive Structure of Emotions, by Andrew Ortony, Gerald L. Clore, Allan Collins
Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama, by Daniel Goleman
The Emotional Brain,
by Joseph E. Ledoux
Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, by Martin Seligman
Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life: Create Your Life, Your Relationships, and Your World in Harmony with Your Values, by
Marshall B. Rosenberg, Arun Gandhi