You like to feel safe, it’s a Basic Function that has solidified before you are even born. However, your understanding of what it means to be safe is learned over time. We start out knowing true safety can only be found in our mother’s arms, everything else is unknown. Our curiosity brings us to discover the world around us, but we are smart enough to not just wander into danger.
Our species would not have gotten too far if our curiosity overwhelmed our desire for safety. Fear is triggered when facing the unknown and it signals the release of stress to prepare the Organism for possible danger.
Let’s say you are standing in front of a dark, misty forest. Your vision is impaired from all of the mist and you are able to anticipate possible danger. Adding on top of that, the lack of vision means you have less time to react if danger does find you. Fear enters the consciousness to tell you to avoid the danger. You will most likely listen to this signal and safely stay out of the forest.
A stimulation of fear will release stress to prepare the Organism for two options: fight back or run away. These have been the two most successful options for staying alive over millions of years, and have therefore been solidified before birth. Your stressed brain will allocate resources toward the muscles and senses to prepare you for the worst. You may have heard this called the fight or flight response.
As you know, humans today don’t often need to actually run away or fight off the unknown because we have created a relatively safe society. However, our fear hasn’t abandoned us now that we are safe from danger. We have replaced physical uncertainty, like what’s in the forest, with intellectual uncertainty. When faced with an unknown question, many people would rather hide or argue than admit they don’t know. This is the manifestation of “fight or flight” in a social setting.
Just like your emotions, the early solidification of fear means that new memories can be synapsed to fear as a part of that neural cluster. Fear is helpful to keeping you alive meaning it’s importance causes it to greatly solidify into memories. The organisms that avoided what they learned to fear were more likely to survive. It explains why our fearful memories stick with us for so long. It’s importance can pull resources away from other parts of the body. You’ve probably heard of the phrase “paralyzed with fear” and it comes from a reallocation of resources away from the motor center.
Have you ever conquered a fear? Maybe you finally jumped off the high dive or performed in front of a huge crowd. It feels incredible afterward! What you are feeling is further completion of the neural cluster pertaining to that fear. Let’s look at the diving board example.
You are standing at the top of the diving board and you know it’s high. You’ve never jumped off and you know that falling from a high distance can hurt you. Your fear is telling you not to jump to stay safe, but you know that other people have done it and they are fine. You allocate enough resources toward mirroring the courage of those who jumped before and you finally jump. You hit the water, swim back to the surface, and get out of the pool relieved.
You started out by synapsing the act of jumping off with fear and danger but now you are able to synapse the falling with safety, overriding your initial fear. The new overriding synapses release pleasure while opening up new possibilities since you no longer need to be limited by that fear. It’s why conquering a fear feels so good. Facing your fears is fun, you’re fully in the moment and you get the chance to open up new possibilities!
We were born into an incredibly complex world and it all seems so unknown at first. We learn the ways of the world through observation and experiment and we can pick up on the basics pretty quickly. When something does not align with the way we understand the world, fear is stimulated just in case it is dangerous.
It is only when you learn about the unknown that you can conquer your fear. Get out and experience things that are totally out of your comfort zone. The more you explore, the more knowledge you gain and the more fears you can conquer. You have the ability to never be afraid again, you only need to arm yourself with knowledge to do it.