Are There Fears We Need to Unlearn?

During our lives we experience so many fears, but did you know you are only born with two? It’s true. We come preinstalled only with the fear of falling and loud sounds. A reactive response to a bang and a dizzying sensation when you look over the edge of a drop-off came from your ancestors. It’s by design, written deep in your programming for self-preservation. 

Fear can keep you from doing something stupid or life-ending. But for most of us, most of the time, fear is something learned—think mice, roaches, and darkness. These are natural fears but you weren’t born with them. You learned them. They were likely imprinted on you by your family, community, and culture at a young age.

You’ve seen a toddler put a spider in their mouth right? You haven’t? Oh, well, I’ve seen it more than once. It’s equal parts hilarious and horrifying.  And what’s the usual response to a kid that does something like this? Almost immediately an onlooker reacts with shouts of fear or disgust. 

Consider your personal DON’T list. Don’t put your face too close to a dog’s face. Don’t put small objects up your nose. Don’t drive drunk. Don’t kiss snakes. Don’t approach strange clowns. 

These cultural imprints are the reasons you and your ancestors made it through history. Learned fear comes from associations with previous fight or flight experiences. 

Are there fears we need to unlearn? I joked about clowns. But many full-grown adults experience near paralysis when exposed to costumed or masked strangers. This can evoke fight-or-flight emotion. Unless coached to overcome associative fears, we may unknowingly pass these illogical fears on to the next generation. 

Consider the fear of rejection. Or the fear of trying something new. It’s easy to trace these back to your earliest memories. Maybe you weren’t the first pick for the grade school dodgeball game or you got dumped by Angela Baker in 5th grade. 

Fast forward—today you’re afraid to open your inbox. You’re not alone. We’ve all developed some really debilitating fears. When you consider your fears rationally you can see that none of your regular daily activities will result in death. Still, we allow associative fears to live in the mental space as loud noises, cliff edges, and ravenous tigers. 

It’s never too late to free yourself from fear. Read on:

Watch Yourself

Develop a habit of self-observation. If you’re on the ride you will never see how crazy you’re behaving. Learn to get off “the ride” and watch your response to fears.

Be Stoic

Rehearse worst-case scenario thinking. This exercise gives you perspective—and you end up feeling empowered with a convincing realization that the worst-case scenario is something you could handle but you very rarely if ever would have to.

Let Go

There may be things you just don’t want to do. Let others do them.  You can hand off or hire almost anything out—IT Services for example. 

Create New Associations

Purposefully put yourself in situations that require the steps above. Stretch. Get uncomfortable and see what happens.