Whether it’s spider phobia or the fear of failure: at first glance, some fears seem to be more of a hindrance than a benefit. Prof. Dr. Andreas Strohl of the Berlin Charité has revealed to us what could be behind such cases.
It may not always be obvious to us right away, but our feelings generally help us. Whether it is joy or sadness, disgust or pleasure, envy or pride, our emotions usually have a purpose and a justification. And fear is no exception.
One of the most basic and basic functions of fear is to alert us to danger and protect our lives. For example, if we were bathing in a lake and were about to get out of the water, but spotted a herd of wild boars on the shore, our fear would probably make our heart rate jump a little, telling us we’d rather spray a little more until the seed was gone, presumably It spares us an embarrassing encounter and some bruises. In such a situation, it is clear that fear serves its purpose. However, we find many examples in our daily lives in which fear does not clearly benefit us. in which she seems to be more of a burden than a good advisor.
On the other hand, there are many types of phobias that some people suffer from. Whether the phobia is (in Central Europe) harmless animals such as spiders or birds, fear of certain numbers or occupations (such as clowns) or very pronounced fears of confined spaces, germs or heights, which means those affected do not use public transportation Nor access to the first floor of the house. In such cases, it is difficult to say that the related fear has a protective effect.
On the other hand, many people are afraid of something that is not bad at all. For example before failure. Or before you say no. Or before asking for help or opening up to someone you trust. Fear of the future can also be a hindrance and slow us down, or fear of potential disasters and events that we cannot prevent or prepare for. We may then be able to elicit some constructive messages from our fear (you can read about the positive effects that fear can have in this article), but when in doubt, these fears protect us more from important and beneficial experiences than from dangers. But what is behind these feelings?
“Fears, such as some phobias that tend to block our way in everyday life and constitute an obstacle, are usually multifactorial, which means that many influences have contributed to their emergence and intensification,” says psychiatrist Professor Andreas Strohl of Charity Berlin. The following factors are common and particularly relevant.
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Andreas Ströhle explains: “People usually tend to develop a phobia of something that is at least potentially dangerous.” For example, spiders can be venomous in certain parts of the world, and may not be as safe on the edge of a high cliff as they are on a porch that is robustly built with handrails and TÜV-certified. In this regard, we have a certain tendency towards arachnophobia, the fear of heights and partners in nature – which is why these fears are much more prevalent than the fear of small rabbits, green meadows or melted cheese.
Social conditioning and upbringing
“What parents set as an example to their children and how they talk to them about their fears has a huge impact on how we deal with anxiety in adult life,” the psychologist says. On the other hand, this means that there is a high probability that our parents’ fears can be transmitted to us.
If, say, my parents avoided every wire-haired Dachshund, I might as well have some sort of distrust of four-legged friends.
On the other hand, the way our parents react to our fears can influence how we feel about it. Will they help us overcome our fear of the dark basement by coming down with us and showing that there is absolutely no threat there? Do they leave us alone with our fears, calling them stupid and childish? Or does it reinforce it through its participation?
It can also play a role in how our parents deal with their fears in front of us. Do they live without restrictions and stock up on mountains of toilet paper when a small pandemic breaks out, or do they act as if there is nothing to worry about when all of the schools are suddenly closed?
Either one way or the other, or in a completely different way, our childhood experiences can influence our feelings of fear and cause us to have our fears get in our way instead of helping or protecting us.
Just as we can learn to want to drink a glass of water after brushing our teeth or receive a reward when we are given a cue, we can get used to fears – basic emotional triggers. Once our brain learns to react to a specific situation or situational pattern with fear, that imprint will never disappear again. Instead, it grows stronger each time a similar situation raises our fear again.
Sometimes, these triggers are associated with experiences that explain our fears. For example, if a wire-haired dachshund bit me in the calf, it could mean that every wire-haired dachshund puts fear into me next, no matter how awful that sounds. Once someone close to me cheats on me, I can be afraid to trust any new, closer relationship. However, it should not always be based on (own) experience, after all, fears can also be based on ideas. I just imagine myself as an old woman lying alone in a small dark room to fear the poverty and loneliness of old age. If I think about this idea every evening when I lie alone in bed, then lying in bed alone in the evening can trigger my anxiety.
When it comes to our emotional triggers, it is fundamentally very useful to learn to recognize and understand them, as this is the only way we can properly categorize our feelings and react appropriately to new experiences.
Unconscious reinforcement through avoidance
If we act unfavorably in dealing with our fears, we can largely feed them foolishly. “For example, if a person is afraid to ride the subway and is willing to take the subway to overcome the fear, but then gets off three stops at the height of his fear because he can no longer tolerate it, the fear is ultimately confirmed and intensified,” the professor explains. . “After six or seven stops things may have calmed down, but in such a case a person cannot go through that experience.” This example shows that exposure therapy on your own can backfire. Basically, however, we heighten our fears when we avoid situations that provoke them. The fear of failure is classic: we often find that it is not so bad to fail, but rather we are glad we dared to do something. Not always, unfortunately, but often.
suppression of other emotions
In some cases, our fear can be a kind of proxy emotion. For example for fatigue and exhaustion. Or for anger and despair. For example, during times of stress, when we are under a lot of stress, instead of feeling overwhelmed, we can feel a great fear and a desire to control and plan for all kinds of things that usually happen by themselves or that we can’t do. control. Or, in a situation where we feel angry at the world or other people, we instead feel afraid that we have done something wrong ourselves or that there is nothing we can do about it — because perhaps we can deal with the fear of not being. They are able to do something better than they do with certainty that you cannot do. Fear particularly lends itself to proxy feelings, because it is usually involved anyway when we are overwhelmed by unknown or violent feelings – because that’s what’s scary.
As a rule, being able to understand and explain it does not solve our problems or concerns. But sometimes it’s a starting point and often part of the coping process.
Mr. Dr. Medical Doctor Andreas Strohl Specializes in psychiatry and psychotherapy. He is Chief Medical Officer and Head of the Department of Affective Disorders, Working Group and Private Outpatient Clinic for Anxiety Disorders at Charity Berlin. In conjunction with his colleague, the special lecturer, Dr. Jens Plagg, published the book “Keine Panik vor der Angst” (Randomhouse), which explains the background to panic and fear and shows strategies for coping. Together with colleagues, Professor Strohl has developed a video course entitled Understanding and Overcoming Panic for the Physician Health Platform. In six modules, you will learn everything you need to know about panic attacks and receive helpful tips and strategies for returning to a fear-free life.