Death, hunger, rejection, illness, scandal, natural disasters. What do you feel when you read those words? Cold sweat, fast heart beat, a thrill down your spine? Welcome to the kingdom of fear. You’ve been there many times and probably you’ve decided to live there for the rest of your life. What is this desolated territory where you are nothing but a clay figure ready to fall apart and disappear forever into the gelid night?
Fear is a powerful and primitive human emotion. It alerts us to the presence of danger and was critical in keeping our ancestors alive. It is an automatic response and is crucial to survival, explains Lisa Fritscher in The Psychology of fear.
Therefore, it was good to be afraid of a wild buffalo herd when we were hunters, or that New York city cab driver who almost runs you over last week. But why are we scared of things that are not really here?
Your brain sends this sensory data to the thalamus, explains Julia Layton. At this point, the thalamus doesn’t know if the signals it’s receiving are signs of danger or not, but since they might be, it forwards the information to the amygdala.
And the questions arise: How many of our emotional choices today are made according to this primitive process? Is there a New York City cab approaching at 70 mph or there’s only the idea that it will turn up around the next corner?
In The distance between fear and intuition, Derek Beres writes: “Human beings are storytelling animals…our brains continually create patterns where none exist in order to force a narrative. If we allow our fears to dominate our minds, we will act in a guarded manner emotionally and mentally, thus creating the circumstances for those fears to manifest. When they do, we’ll validate those fears by claiming we intuited them all along, not recognizing that we were the ones who tied the blindfold around our eyes in the first place.”
In a city with more than 13,000 taxicabs chances to be run over are high, but you keep walking. You cross the street and hear the deafening horn, like a wild buffalo roaring. You turn around and the yellow animal is right in front of you, the amygdala receives a discharge of neural impulses and takes action to protect you. It tells the hypothalamus to initiate the fight-or-fly response, and suddenly you become a kangaroo and jump ten feet to execute a perfect landing across the street. Later, when you get home and recall the incident you need to make a decision: To live the rest of your like afraid of New York City cab drivers or simply stop at every corner and carefully watch both sides.
There is a lesson in every experience we encounter, continues Beres, and when we run into the same patterns over and over, the freedom to escape our endless cycle lies in a psychological shift of perception.
There are roughly 200,000 buffaloes alive today in the United States. Chances to be charged are high. Should you be afraid of it? Well, If you ever run into one at the corner of the street, certainly you should.