Why do we have fears?
A huge literature exists about how people should embrace their fears to live better. Workshops and seminars around the world take place every day to “teach” people how to live without fear, make their fear their friend, take opportunity of their fear to become stronger, live with their fear, overcome their fear, etc. etc…
But what is fear exactly? From an evolutionary perspective, fear makes total sense. Its purpose is to protect. When our ancestors saw a threatening predator ready to attack them, without the fear sent by their brain to tell them to either run away or fight, they would have been eaten. Not ideal to perpetuate a species!
Without the fear of heights we might get tempted to get too close to the edge of a cliff and fall. Fear protects us. There is nothing new here.
What’s new is the different approach I propose to understand – and conquer – fears based on the recent discoveries made in neuroscience, in Belgium in particular.
Fear and desire…the same thing
Think about it! The fear of the object protects from the (subconscious) desire for that object. This is a life-changing concept which can help you in your daily life. This is still the work of Evolution working hand in hand with our brain as it developed and matured over the millennia. Instead of protecting us from dinosaurs, our brain now protects us from our unconscious desires…by throwing fears!
For example: if I say “I’m afraid to fail my exam”. What this tells us is that my fear protects me from my subconscious desire to fail the exam!
Contradictory? Not quite, and the coaching work here consists of working with the client to understand whether the fear is real or not (for example, a real, objective fear would be to come face-to-face with a lion). Let’s go back to the example of the fear of failing an exam. If I say that, then I do take the risk of being judged by pretty much everyone (including myself) as it is not a socially acceptable to say. But if I say, that I’m afraid to fail that exam then it becomes completely acceptable and I might even get support and encouragement from friends and family. Even better, I don’t need to feel guilty! Of course, if I say that I’m afraid to fail the exam my brain will release a series of chemicals and hormones and I will even experience real symptoms of stress, anxiety, etc.
Understanding fears is really about recognising something that we do want very strongly (subconsciously of course) but that is socially, morally, ethically so wrong that we hide it under a fear triggered by the brain.
So why would I want to fail – subconsciously of course – my exam? Perhaps because that’s what was expected from me when I was younger. “What are we going to do with you?” sighed the parents, day after day, week after week, year after year… Or perhaps, I don’t want to succeed because when I was younger my parents would give me private tuition every time I was struggling at school or, put differently, my parents gave more attention, were very supportive and encouraging. This is a good incentive for failing! But as we have seen, I face a problem: I can’t really say that I want to fail my exams as this would not be acceptable to myself and others. So my brain triggers a fear that makes me say “I’m afraid to fail…”.
A new approach to understanding fears
In the example I gave above, my fear protects me from seeing the real reason of why I want to fail. It also protects me from the risk of my parents being disappointed in me and being less supportive.
The coaching work consists of changing the vision the person has of their own story by exploring what blocks, barriers are in place, remove them then encourage the client, endorse, acknowledge and support them while they walk through their story differently.
What I often hear is once the blocks are removed is “it was silly really, being afraid, I don’t need to be like that anymore”! In our example, a typical remark would be “I can’t believe I wanted to fail just to get lots of attention!” This would usually be followed by a frank laugh. A page is turned, not forgotten, not buried, just turned.