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Guarding against undue fearfulness

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IMAGE: Adeoye Oyewole »

Almost everyone experiences fear in situations adjudged to be dangerous. In some cases, fear is protective because it empowers the individual to come up with psychological and physiological mechanisms to avert a sinister outcome.

Fear is an emotional experience with tremendous dramatic manifestations primarily physiological as combat hormones are released.  These hormones have immediate reactions on the heart, manifesting as increased heart rate that one becomes aware of, with attendant feelings of anxiety and tension at times.

All these responses are geared towards instituting a response that is defensive and, most times, proactively protective. The emotion of fear curtailed within the limits of functional equilibrium drives us in the direction of proficiency and excellence so that we will avoid the embarrassment of failure.

The menace of diseases and the attendant incapacitation have driven medical science into developing protective strategies rather than cure even in non-communicable diseases. Fear of insecurity and invasion make a whole nation to plan proactively to ward off encroachments. The price we pay for living in the modern age is essentially the fear that our physiological and attendant psychological mechanism situations generate, especially in excess of what is expected and what the basic systems of the body can handle.

I have a feeling that the unprocessed hijacking of our cultural processes without a systematic evolution of our native mindset may be responsible for our undue fearfulness, even as we indulge in the many advances that the western civilisation has brought to us. This has made fear an epidemic that has become an integral part of our lifestyle, with attendant immature defense mechanisms dominating our socio-cultural milieu, especially our religious practices, myths and superstitious beliefs.

It is essentially a psychodynamic issue, rather than the magnitude of the external environmental stimulus, because the threshold for fear is usually internalised. When the reason for fear is known, the average person mounts formidable conscious coping mechanisms to handle this emotional state; and as adaptation occurs, the experience of fear abates. However, when fear is experienced without a reasonable cause or when it is definitely in excess of what is expected, it could actually become distressing in a way that is difficult for the adaptive strategies to handle. There is a considerable evidence for familiar or genetic transmission of undue fearfulness. Some psychological theories attempt to explain this undue fearfulness as an unresolved, unconscious psychological conflict, following some traumatic experiences of childhood.

A handful of psychologists attempt to explain this phenomenon as being learnt through association of negative experiences with an object or situation. The repeated negative reinforcement of the attendant avoidance behaviour maintains the fear and makes it resistant to extinction. Definitely, fear has torment; and it can be potently incapacitating in this group of individuals.

Undue fear can arise in situations involving potential evaluation by others like at job interviews, public speaking engagements, first dates and any other social setting with a prospect of interacting with others. Many of them are self critical and perfectionist, as they attempt to conduct themselves according to extreme and exacting standards to avoid the negative evaluation of others.

There are possible associated symptoms like blushing, trembling, dry mouth or perspiring, which they believe will be noticed by others and provide further evidence of their incompetence. They attempt to escape from such situations and objects or come up with avoidance behaviour to prevent the immediate experience of the fearfulness. These individuals experience significant impairment in social, educational and vocational functioning. They may find it difficult to initiate or maintain social or romantic relationships, avoid classes that require public presentations, discontinue their education prematurely or take jobs below their ability to avoid social or performance demands.

They are more likely to be single, less well educated, and they are also more likely to contemplate suicide. Undue fearfulness can also occur when there is the prospect of directly encountering a specific object or situation, or just the mere prospect of encountering the same. Some of these folks maintain a relatively normal routine by pursuing a lifestyle that minimises exposure to the feared object or situation. This is usually significant enough to interfere with career, academic pursuit, social and interpersonal activities. Some of the feared objects include animals, blood, injections, insects, some aspects of the natural environment and situations like the dental procedure or travelling in aircraft and others.

Folks with this experience hardly ever get help because the religious and socio-cultural milieu encourages denial rather than intervention. It is s expected that they are referred to mental health specialists, where some medications and professional psychotherapeutic interventions can be instituted.

Reconstruction of thinking patterns and relaxation strategies to control the attendant physiological responses are crucial, as well as problem-solving and social skills training.

Article Credit: Punch Newspaper

Updated 6 Years ago

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