Why This Fear Matters to Us (Even if We Think it Doesn’t)

Humans share a handful of fundamental fears. The psychology of fear is complex enough that searching the internet for “fundamental human fears” will provide a million websites by a hundred thousand experts sharing a thousand lists of the true absolute definitive fundamental human fears.

These, though, show up consistently, right after fear of death and dismemberment:

  • fear of rejection
  • fear of shame
  • fear of loss of control (sending our creative work out into the world to be eaten alive by critics, for instance)

You have these fears. No matter how well-adjusted you are, no matter your support network, self-esteem, accomplishments, social status, level of confidence, or anything else, you have these fears.

And just as you can’t choose not to feel the pain when you stub your toe or get punched in the head, you can’t simply choose not to feel the pain of rejection, shame, or loss of control.

Because they’re the same pain.

Let’s ask a UCLA professor of social psychology to weigh in, eh?

“Pharmacological studies provide evidence that physical and social pain rely on shared neurochemistry . . . Neuropsychological and neuroimaging research amassed over the past several decades has also provided
support for a physical-social pain overlap . . . It is well known that physical threat induces physiological stress responses to mobilize energy and resources to deal with the threat (Taylor, 2003), and this makes good sense . . . However, these same physiological responses are responsive to social threats as well, such as being socially evaluated (Dickerson & Kemeny, 2004) . . . One of the implications of these findings is that episodes of rejection or relationship dissolution can be just as damaging and debilitating to the person experiencing those events as episodes of physical pain . . . To the extent that being rejected hurts, individuals are motivated to avoid situations in which rejection is likely. “—Naomi I. Eisenberger, Why Rejection Hurts: What Social Neuroscience Has Revealed About the Brain’s Response to Social Rejection

Let’s connect two things:

  1. individuals are motivated to avoid situations in which rejection is likely (obvious)
  2. you can fear pain you don’t remember (not obvious)

The upshot is that when you attempt to create, forgotten memories of pain rise up and assault you, using the same brain circuits as when someone punches you (or less mean, you stub your toe.)

You can’t fix what you can’t remember.

Maybe you can power through it and make yourself write.

Next up: Willpower is not the answer.

3 thoughts on “Why This Fear Matters to Us (Even if We Think it Doesn’t)

  1. If a person were to sit down and draw out events in their life chances are they would see a pattern. It wouldn’t surprise me if that pattern, created by the choices they made, had a lot to do with fear. On the bright side fear can lead us to brighter things. It’s not always dark. It can be a teacher if we listen. The challenge, of course, is listening and applying.

    1. Indeed. I see most people making decisions about life based on what they’re afraid of, not what they hope for.

      The lessons are primarily available when we see the fear, know what we’re afraid of. A fear we don’t even realize we have is very hard to learn from, right?

  2. So true. But if we do recognize it our first reaction is to run or hide. I’ve always viewed fear as a lonely creature who simply wants to talk and find a friend. So many lessons can be learned if we stop running.

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