Why our fears grow

By M.Farouk Radwan, MSc.

Fear is learned

Almost everyone is now familiar with the experiment Pavlov has done with the dog which involved ringing a bell whenever food is presented to the dog and then ringing the bell without bringing the food.

When the bell was rang without the food the dog salivated too because it associated the bell sound with eating. This is called classical conditioning or the association of two events together in such a way that one of them reminds you of the other.

Another experiment was done on a small child by introducing a rat and playing a certain scary sound each time the rat was introduced. After few times the kid started to fear the rat even though it had no problems in dealing with rats before.

How to be brave

We are not born with our fears but we learn them along the way in our lives. When the experiments continued it was found that ringing the bell alone without bringing the food to the dog many times resulted in the breaking of the association between the two events.

This means that if one event kept happening alone many times without the other then the association between them will be broken.

So how can this help you be brave? This means that if you managed to face your feared situations without experiencing intense fear then the association will be broken and you won’t feel afraid when facing the same situation again. (see NLP & Anchors)

Why do our fears grow?

Avoiding the situation completely only results in strengthening the association because fears grow when we avoid them. Lots of people avoid a situation all together when they fear it for example a women might decide not to get into relationships because of believing that she will get hurt or a man might prevent himself from having intimate friends because of trust issues.

If you avoided your fears they will keep growing bigger and bigger while if you faced them and learned how to control your emotions they will gradually decrease.

Being brave doesn’t mean to stop feeling afraid because courage is the ability to face your fears until you stop experiencing them.

In addition to that the following factors can let one kind of fear grow stronger:

  • 1) Being programmed by friends: Friends program each other all the time. The words you hear from your friends and relatives can program your mind and become beliefs. If the people around you kept talking about a certain fear all the time then you are very likely to start fearing that thing.
  • 2) Lack of information: Lack of information is one of the factors that could let fears grow. Fear is usually based on the fact that we don't have enough information about something. When we get enough information our fears usually become less
  • 3) False ideas from media: Movies and the media can also program our minds easily. Watching a movie about ghosts for example will strengthen your beliefs about ghosts and increase your fear towards them. See Dealing with fear of ghosts
  • 4) Negative visualization: Yes we learn fears from others but we are the ones responsible for either unlearning them or growing them. The more you keep visualizing negative things in your brain the more your fears will grow. When you resist such negative thoughts your fears will weaken

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