To look at the positive and negative aspects of this emotion.
by Helen Bryant
Suitable for Key Stage 3/4
To look at the positive and negative aspects of this emotion.
Preparation and materials
- None required.
- What is it that really frightens you? It might be spiders, it might be the dark. It might be a fear of failure or it might be a fear of letting someone down. Whatever it is, fear can be something that paralyses and stops us from doing even the smallest things.
- Fear is essentially an emotion. This emotion is triggered when we perceive that something is a threat to us. It is one of our most basic emotions and part of our survival mechanism. Humanity would not have got very far without it. Fear taught our early ancestors to run away from animals that were dangerous to them and fear in any situation makes individuals protect themselves.From this we gain our ability to recognize what can and cannot do us harm. It is behind our ‘fight or flight’ mechanism, which is our innate, instinctive response to either fight what we fear in front of us or run away from it. It triggers adrenaline and other hormones to be released that enable us to protect ourselves in whichever way we feel is best suited to us and the situation. This most basic of instincts comes from a time when humankind was running away from sabre-tooth tigers, yet, even though there are no sabre-tooth tigers any more, we still find ourselves responding in this way in situations today where we fear something or even someone triggers this release of hormones.
- So, what have we really got to be afraid of? Some people face fear on a daily basis. They may come from an abusive background, where they have to protect themselves or their siblings or children. They may be in conflict situations in places such as Afghanistan. These fears and threats are very real, but often what we fear in today’s society are perceived threats and possible ‘What ifs’.
- As a German proverb says, ‘Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.’ By being afraid or fearful of something or someone, we immediately make it much bigger and more frightening than it really is. Have you ever been in the house alone and heard a noise you wouldn’t usually expect to hear? This is probably just the house creaking, expanding or contracting, but to you it immediately becomes an intruder who is about to harm you and anyone else in the house. In the majority of cases, it is nothing – maybe the hamster suddenly decided to whizz around in its wheel – but your imagination will have turned the noise into a threat and you will have attached fear to it. The same might happen with a spider, too. It’s probably got more reason to be afraid of you than you have of it, but you are the one running away and screeching!
- Sometimes the things we fear can be future events, which links with much in our modern world today. We are fearful of the future, of what it may hold. We are fearful of taking exams, we are fearful of the results, we then start to fear our next step, whether it be ‘A’ levels or university. Ultimately, these things will come to pass and won’t be half as bad as they seemed or half as frightening as you imagined they would be.
- It is important, then, that, with all emotions, you acknowledge how you are feeling and tackle this head on. Fear is simply another emotion to be acknowledged and understood. Obviously, if you are in a situation where you are in physical danger, then it makes sense to be afraid and do something about it. At other times, however, fear can paralyse people and make them freeze, but something within them will eventually make them move and carry on.So, fear is something that can be conquered. It’s important to ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’. This is the title of Susan Jeffers’ well-known self-help book, which addresses the idea of fears being something holding people back from achieving much of what they can and should achieve in life, simply because they are afraid of the outcome and what ‘might’ happen.Every time you take a step into the unknown, you experience fear, so there is no point in saying, ‘When I am no longer afraid, then I will do it.’ If you do that, you'll be waiting for a long time. The fear is part of the package.
- It is important that you acknowledge your fear and understand it. Human beings will always be afraid, but that fear of the unknown can be used to drive us forward rather than hold us back. Imagine if no one ever took a risk or everyone stopped themselves from doing something that made them afraid. I am sure then we would never have got in a boat and discovered America or gone to the moon either. It helps, too, to know that it is not only you who is afraid when facing the unfamiliar, so is everyone else! Yes, all those people who have succeeded in doing what they have wanted to do in life have felt fear – and went ahead and did it anyway. So can you!
- Facing and dealing with your fears is, in fact, less frightening than living with the bigger underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness. The feeling that you can do nothing to either change a situation or do something about it is simply not based in fact. The power to change things and not feel helpless is often in your own hands. Standing screaming at the spider is worse if you are in the house on your own. Are you going to stand in the same place all day and hope that the spider will go away? Are you never going to sit another exam because it’s just too scary?
- Once you have faced your fears, then you’ll probably see that being helpless is much more dangerous than confronting the fear. To go back to the very basic human instinct of fight or flight, either is good as either is at least a reaction. Regarding failure, how will you know whether or not you will actually fail unless you take the risk? For some of you, your fear may be as basic as being scared of putting your hand up in lessons, for others it might be of speaking in public, but, for Andy Murray, it was standing at Wimbledon in 2012, the runner up to Roger Federer, and taking the risk that the same might happen again and playing to the best of his ability anyway. You know what happened next!
Time for reflection
Spend a few moments thinking about what you have to do today that frightens you, makes you nervous.
Think about the things that regularly frighten you.
Try to put away the groundless fears and look at the things that should frighten you. Decide to keep it all in perspective.
‘When a knight won his spurs in the stories of old’ (Come and Praise, 50).