Overcoming fears is one of the greatest challenges of humanity. Fearful minds create divisions, disharmony, chaos, and wars. Therefore, it’s imperative to understand the nature of fear, how it plays out in the unaware minds, and how to minimize it.
In primitive times, we used fear to assess a life-threatening situation, which triggered a fight-or-flight response. For people living in the caves, fear was a valuable asset as it helped protect from an external threat, such as an attack by a wild animal or invasion from a rival group.
Modern life is much more comfortable, and today we don’t encounter life-threatening situations regularly. Yet that fear remains. Now it has transformed from physical to psychological.
It mostly lives in our heads. It creates anticipation, restlessness, irritation, sadness, anger, paranoia, anxiety and blocks the creative beings. It causes friction in our thought process by sprouting doubts. It creates conflicts and disillusionment by hijacking the rational thinking part of the brain.
Eradication of fear enables us to live a joyful life – a life of meaning and full of creative pursuits. It enables us to develop love, kindness, and compassion, not only towards others but also towards ourselves. We cannot love others until we learn to love ourselves.
We usually create fear internally in our minds through our thoughts. Thoughts create insecurities. Insecurities cause us to accumulate more, like more money and other items of convenience.
Once we have all that we want, we create insecurity of losing them, which creates more fear.
When we hear about a terrorist attack in some remote corner of the world, and that very moment we become fearful. We start imagining ourselves in that very same situation.
Imagine a situation where you have an immediate threat to your life, like when someone attacks you on the street; having fear in such a case would be natural. The danger here is imminent, uncontrollable, and requires immediate action (fight or flight).
Therefore, fear is a handy tool of the mind. But we have forgotten how to use this tool. We start generating fear in situations where it’s not required. It happens when our mind wanders away from the present moment.
We get stressed about situations that are not happening to us right now and, in most cases, are not even likely to happen soon.
For example, we get worried about, “Who will take care of my family if something happens to me,” “I left my cupboard open, what if someone breaks into my house and steals my stuff,” “My company is laying off people, what will happen if I get fired,” “I spoke rudely to my mother last night, what if she never calls me again.”
These are not immediate threats, but still, we invoke fear based on such thoughts. Our brain cannot differentiate between an actual threat and a perceived one.
Fears can be in our conscious, subconscious, or unconscious mind. Therefore, to eliminate fear, we must carefully assess and understand where the fear comes from.
This process requires a thorough inquiry because fears can be varied, subtle, and abstract. Some of them lie in the deep recesses of the mind and can manifest in various ways.
In order to understand further, let’s take a look at the different types of psychological fears.
Fear of The Physical Pain
With physical pain, it’s not the neurological reactions that we recall but the emotions attached to the pain. In my late twenties, I was suffering a lot from tension headaches.
At times, the fear was so great that I use to pop an analgesic pill as a preventive measure to avoid pain.
Just the very thought of going through that headache experience made me so scared that I was ready to eat one medicine after another. I was scared that I would not be able to work for the rest of the day if I don’t take that pill.
At that time, I was avoiding the root cause of my pain. I was not acknowledging the fact that I had stress, insomnia, and anxiety. I was only focused on the symptoms, not the cause. And hence, my problems persisted. And not only that, they became worse with time.
I failed to realize that it was my social and environmental conditioning of the past that created huge expectations. As a result, there was a constant struggle to be something more than I was at that time.
The idea of success, fame and the sense of accomplishment was so intensely programmed within my mind that I could not look beyond any of that. I could not see that the real joy lies in just being rather than accumulating things for sense pleasures.
I was hustling hard to achieve my goals, and as a result, I was punishing my body and my mind by suppressing my thoughts and emotions, which manifested as physical pain in the body.
Fear of Loneliness
Why do we fear loneliness? We create a false sense of security in being part of a group or a community. The problem is not the community itself but our attachment or clinging to its ideas and beliefs.
Every group that emerges creates its own beliefs. You are known to be a devout member only if you subscribe to their ideologies. If you show disinterest or cause resistance (which eventually happens in most cases), you’re ostracized by the group.
The problem is that we merge our identity with that of the collective. We feel threatened by the idea that if we disagree with their ideas, they will abandon us, and our existence will have no meaning.
In Buddhism, this is known as the “Bhava Tanha,” the desire to become something. We desperately want to be a part of a group because it gives us a sense of security which is comforting psychologically.
As a child, I often accompanied my father to the civil services club, an elite recreational place for high-ranking bureaucrats in India. I used to see how desperately he wanted to be accepted as a part of that.
Although he used to be disgusted by most of the people in that club, still, the fear of loneliness, the fear of unbecoming was so great that he could not think himself apart from that group.
Not only that, but he was also projecting his insecurities onto me. The reason why he used to take me to that club was that he wanted me to get familiar with the environment.
So that when I join the elite government services, I would have strong connections and a bloated ego to create a nuisance for others. That’s what bureaucrats do? Right? I’m just kidding.
Guess what. Not only did I fail the civil service exams, but I also never saw those people again in my life after my father’s death.
Fear of Being Judged
Human beings have a tendency to form identities in order to deal with their insecurities. You are scared to be nobody. You want to be someone and want to be known by something you do. You form identities like lawyers, doctors, artists, sportsperson, etc.
Now that you have put all the years of hard work into building this identity, you are terrified of the thought of losing it. You are ready to fight tooth and nail to protect it.
Don’t blame yourself for this, as I mentioned above our social conditioning is responsible for it. Every day we are raising the bar of survival, as a result, stress, and depression are natural consequences of our actions.
You give yourself all kinds of reasoning and justifications for what you are doing. You seek validation even from those people who you might not have seen for ages. Fear makes you behave like that. These are all irrational fears and you easily give in to them.
Fear of Survival
The question is, how do you define survival. We are worried about what will happen if we lose our job. Questions like, “How will I pay the mortgage?” “How will I fund my children’s education”, “I won’t be able to eat out in my favorite restaurant”, “How will pay my car loans”, torments us.
From the place where I come, I have seen people surviving one meal a day and still, there’s always a smile on their faces.
If you travel to remote parts of a country like India, you will witness abject poverty, but that does not stop those people from celebrating life. Yes, they have their share of problems, but that never prevents them from being happy. If you don’t believe me take a trip and see for yourself.
The problem with survival nowadays is that we raising the bar constantly. We don’t have a clear-cut definition of what exactly is survival. The rising cost of housing, healthcare, lifestyle sickness, homelessness, mounting credit card debts, indicate clearly that something is wrong.
I’m not an economist, nor do I have the intelligence to understand finance. But what I do understand is that survival shouldn’t be so tough. Basic human needs like housing and healthcare should not put people in debt.
When you overestimate survival, you create an atmosphere of insecurity and fear.
Fear of Rejection
Fear of rejection has a far-reaching impact on our lives. It affects our ability to succeed in adult life. We can feel it in the frontal body starting in the solar plexus, moving towards the heart, and finally the throat.
This fear can be acquired during childhood. If you do something that your parents approve of, you are rewarded, and if you do something they don’t approve you are punished. As a result, you start seeking their approval every time you make a decision for yourself.
At times you feel so scared that you suppress your true feelings and emotions towards something you are really passionate about, just out of the fear that others might reject it.
A few years back, I was miserable in my corporate 9 to 5 (it was more of a 9 to 9) job and wanted to quit to start my own business. But I was scared that my parents would reject the idea. The idea of job security and month-to-month paycheck appealed more to them much more than venturing out into the unknown.
So just out of the fear of rejection, I cling to my job for many years, till it reached a stage where I couldn’t take it anymore.
Another area where fear of rejection worries people is dating. Rather than just being with the person and getting to know them, we are most worried about our looks and the fact that they may reject us based on our appearances.
Such people appear to be very superficial in their dealings with others. The insecurities they have, not only drive them crazy but also chase away other people close to them.
Fear of Death
This is a very broad topic and someday I will probably cover this in a separate article. But for now, let’s just touch upon this subject briefly.
We all know the fact that every being who is born on this planet has a limited time here. This body is an accumulation of materials that we have gathered from mother earth, and one day we will have to give it back to her.
Fear of death is such a powerful fear that it drives people crazy. We as human beings tend to get too much identified by our bodies. I believe there is nothing wrong with that, but one must be conscious of the fact that our bodies are decaying with time and one day we will have to give it away.
This fear arises from the fact that we have not experienced anything beyond the physical and it is genuine fear. All we have seen is the decaying body but we are not sure whether our consciousness survives death.
Jiddu Krishnamurthy, in his book, the first and the last freedom, explains this concept beautifully. He explains that we don’t fear the unknown, but the known.
Since we don’t know what’ll survive after the body decays, we like to cling to what we have accumulated, like name, fame, money, recognition, relationships, material possessions, etc.
Big Businesses Use Fear to Control Society
People say that money makes the world go round, but that’s not true. It’s the fear that makes the world go round. Our fears are so pervasive, yet we fail to see them.
The roots of these fears go so deep into our psyche that it’s practically impossible for our conscious mind to comprehend the extent to which these unconscious fears dominate our everyday actions. Our fears rob us of the joy of life.
A fearful mind is never able to fully appreciate the beauty of life. It’s seeing things in black and white or right and wrong. It is how the mind creates the world of duality.
And believe me when I tell you this that even the wealthiest and accomplished people are not free from fear. They keep accumulating their entire life and have significantly much more than an average person, yet they want more. It’s never enough.
I’m not attacking capitalism here. I’m attacking the unconscious capitalism in whose garb only a handful of people claim ownership of most of the world’s resources, while the rest are struggling to pay mortgages on basics like housing, healthcare, and transportation.
There is an undeclared alliance between these big businesses that the majority of people cannot see. I’ll explain this with an example. One industry sells fertilizers to farmers promising better yields and more profits.
However, using these chemicals over time, the soil loses the nutrients that are supposed to be a part of the food we consume. They bribe the farmers with incentives and false promises. This results in nutritional deficiencies that give rise to a host of physical and mental health problems.
Then another industry prepares packaged food, claiming that it’s hygienic, healthy, and packed with all kinds of nutrients. The problem is that these are often preserved using agents that are sometimes carcinogenic or not well researched.
Additional preservatives are used to increase the shelf life of these products. Not only that, some of these businesses fund scientific research projects to establish their credibility and convince people of the safety of what they are selling.
Now I’m not against consumption. I’m not saying that all of these businesses are evil. What I’m saying is that a handful of people are manipulating you into compulsive consumption. And that’s a problem because it limits us as a consumer to think and choose.
Rather than you making a choice and deciding what’s best for you, these businesses manipulate you to believe that they know what’s best for you. And how do they do that? Through fear. Fear is the most potent weapon that can drive the sanest people insane.
Why do so many people are suffering from lifestyle diseases today? We have sick people because there’s something wrong with our food. The marketing is so aggressive that it shuns our capacity to question the motives of these big businesses.
They are shielded and protected even in the worst of economic crises; nothing major happens to these businesses. It’s always the smaller business that goes extinct. A lot of these businesses enjoy strong political support.
When you start falling sick despite consuming the so-called nutrient-packed foods, There comes a third industry that invokes fear and convinces you that you need a comprehensive health care plan to live comfortably.
And it’s often the case to the people who vehemently justify these big businesses are those who have not seen other cultures and are not aware of how people live in different parts of the world. These people have deep-seated fears which prevent them from seeing reality.
Therefore, they become easy targets of psychological manipulation. Again, I’m not saying that you should not have a healthcare plan, but it doesn’t have to be so expensive that you have to shuffle between two jobs to pay the monthly premiums.
I’m not an economist, and I don’t understand the economy. But I see the reality that when there is a big income divide between two groups of people, the underprivileged group is bound to be fearful, and it will create communal disharmony and chaos.
And believe me, even these big organizations are operating in fear. They have no empathy or compassion towards you. The greed of profits purely drives them.
You see, there’s a great advantage to this, fearful people will never question the people in power and blindly follow what is told to them through media and other communication channels.
That’s why they put so much money into advertising and marketing. The whole idea is to keep you trapped by exploiting your vulnerabilities and fears. I’m not saying that we should demonize these organizations and wage war against them.
We have already tried that, and we know it never works. These organizations have strong media and political influences, and hence, it will be difficult to change them by forcefully protesting.
A straightforward strategy that can bring about a significant change is to be mindful of your consumption patterns.
As an aware consumer, you will know what to buy and what not to buy, and that will keep these businesses in check.
And to be a conscious consumer, you need to be mindful of your fears and insecurities. Once you learn to recognize your fears and let go of them, nobody will ever be able to manipulate you.
Remember that these big businesses and their unspoken alliance result from unconscious collective thinking or ego that has taken gigantic proportions.
They can subjugate and suppress a fearful mind, but they are powerless against the free mind. All it takes is to develop a keen awareness of the arising fears and understand their impermanence.
Overcoming Fears In Meditation
An inquire into the nature of the true self, will eventually lead to the root cause of the fear. This technique has been used since ancient times, and it has proven to be very effective.
It might seem like I’m trying to give you a belief, but you don’t have to believe me. Verify this with your own experience by practicing introspection and self-observation techniques.
When we learn to sit still, and reflect and contemplate, all the troubling thoughts which we had been suppressing for years come to the surface of our conscious mind.
Soon we learn to create a space or a gap between ourselves and our thoughts. We see our thoughts from the perspective of a third person, as a witness that is completely detached from the thoughts.
Mindfulness makes us aware of the present moment and teaches us to witness our thoughts and emotions, without creating any kind of judgment or reaction. Thoughts can only either exist in the past or in the future. In the present moment, there’s only bliss. The bliss of simply being.
It teaches us to accept the afflicting thoughts, accept the fears, but not get affected by them. It creates a separation between the thinker and the thought. This separation helps in reducing the impact of fear on our minds and body.
Most of us succumb to our own negative thinking. We get too much carried away by the troubling emotions that we remain unhappy most of the time.
If we truly want to be fearless, we need to get to the very source of these negative emotions and learn to deal with them. Face them head-on, as we do with other situations we encounter in daily life.
A sharp mind knows how to use fear to its advantage, whereas the unconscious mind misses the opportunity.
Practicing meditation has taught me to be in the present moment and freed me from the burden of my fears. Check out The Ultimate Meditate Guide.
I have barely scratched the surface of a subject which requires hours of detailed discussion. I’m planning to write more articles on the subject of fear and how to overcome it by practicing Mindfulness.
We have always been taught that we should learn to face our fears head-on in order to be happy. Now that is easy if something outside of yourself creates fear in you.
But what if our own mind becomes our enemy, and the fear comes from within us. Mindfulness offers an approach that shows a clear way to deal with this. The only requirement is that you need to commit to it wholeheartedly.
Our worst enemies are not in the outside world; they are there within yourself, manifesting as fears. All you need to do is to accept them and give them some attention. Treat them with love and kindness. Let them come, allow them to play, and finally, let go of them.