This is part two of a four-part series on fear.
The first challenge to mastering fear is identifying its existence and true source. Sometimes we conceal our fears or are reluctant to admit to them because we are ashamed. Unfortunately, this is an instance when what we can't see will hurt us. Identifying our fears as irrational or disproportionate is the first step to overcoming them.
Joseph LeDoux has studied the neurobiology of fear for decades. In The Emotional Brain he explains how fear gets etched into our brains two different ways: through experience (amygdala) and through memory (hippocampus). Fear transmitted by the amygdala is called implicit - it is fast and dirty. Fear generated by the hippocampus is called explicit and it takes longer to form and is more precise.
Some scary experiences are not necessarily consciously remembered or explicitly known, yet they remain scary. Our implicit memories of fear (through the amygdala) persist without our remembering a thing. That is how old fears can lurk inside us and hold us back, even when we don't know why. Implicit memories may lead us to feel helpless or incompetent, without really knowing why.
(If this video is not embedded, please go to the Emotional Detective.)
How can we counteract unrecognized fears that stop us from trying new things and being more adventurous?
An intense fear of heights or spiders usually captures your attention easily. However, insecurities like an exaggerated fear of failure, abandonment, or change may be less noticeable to you. These social fears and self-doubts are often a source of shame because you know, on some level, that these fears belong to an earlier stage of life. Nonetheless, we are still secretly, deep inside, scared stiff.
Often we develop fears as children that rule us throughout our life, immature guidelines about what is safe and what is scary from when we were totally dependent on others and pint sized as well. We often bring these fears forward with us through life without ever giving it a second thought. Unacknowledged fears are actually more damaging than fears that you identify.
Thinking about what keeps you from engaging more fully with the world, in each of your three realms of life, can help you grow out of some of your fears.
Many fears can be overcome if you recognize their existence.