Hysterical Screaming: Healthy or unhealthy fear?

I’ve been thinking about the idea of fear lately. What scares me? What scares all of us? Why be scared at all?

Of course, from an evolutionary and survival perspective, fear is both necessary and important. If we weren’t scared of fire, a lot more of us would probably burn to death. Spiders, strange looking plants and food – these can all be warnings of danger, and it’s healthy for us to be afraid.

And then there’s the fear that lives inside of us. The deepest, darkest fears that can wake us up at night, or that are almost too terrible to contemplate. Things like the actual end of the world – and surviving it while others don’t. Fear of losing loved ones – or maybe just outliving them. Sometimes the fear that we can conjure in our brains is so paralyzing it keeps us wide-eyed and stiff all night long, staring up into the darkness. These theoretical and imagined fears, of things that haven’t happened, may never happen. How do we get this way? Are these fears actually merited, or protecting us in any way?

I look at my child, who is just over 15 months old. I’ve heard the description that when they’re toddlers, they’re basically “cave babies.” In other words, they work on a pretty simplistic level of understanding, bash a lot of things together (and themselves into things), and may or may not even possess the survival fears that could keep them alive. Fire is fascinating – they have no idea it could burn them or destroy their home. Cars and trucks are big, noisy and interesting – they have no concept of how these vehicles could crush and kill them if they run into the road. If something is very hot or very cold, the child will pull their hand away quickly, but their desire to learn about and experience the world is such that they seem to overcome even a healthy, natural first-response fear.

Image by Philip MartinI think, then, of the hypothetical fears I have and consider that while I want my child to be safe, I don’t want them to be scared of everything. I don’t want them to lay awake at night, terrified that I will die, or their house will burn down, or that they will get hit by a car.

Which then leads to the question: is fear necessary and inherent, or is it taught and inherited?

Fearlessness may get you killed, but living in incessant fear gets you no further: perhaps safety in a nice, rubber-padded room.

Where, then, does this leave us? Should we strive to teach our children to be less afraid, face our own fears, or should we ensure that a certain healthy amount of fear exists – to prevent serious injury and death? And especially when it comes to theoretical fears and worries, what good do they do? They may prompt some to prepare for the possibility of that fear coming to fruition, but fearing someone’s death in no way predicts or prevents that death.

What do you think?

Thanks for reading, and have a great week.


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