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The Origin Of Fear

February 21, 2007

Fear comes when a person comes to view themselves as an object: the world outside of them is in control, and they are not in control.

I’ve wondered for quite some time how to define fear, and how to pinpoint its origin.  I never could find an answer I found satisfactory until I read Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Being and Nothiness”.

In Being and Nothiness, Sartre defines fear (paraphrased): Whenever you believe the things around you are in control, and you are no longer in control.  You view yourself as an object and no longer as a free-will being in control.

Say a poisonous viper (ex: a cobra) is beside you, in an aggressive stance, preparing to attack you.  If you are not skilled in snake handling, and you believe this snake could bite you at any time, you will be afraid.  You have no knowledge as to how to avert this situation.  No act of your will can free you from the clutches of the snake.  Fear is inevitable.

Other people have fears of falling from great heights.  When a person is free-falling from a high place, to their inevitable doom below, the person is typically paralyzed with fear as they are falling.  Why?  Because they view themselves as an object, powerless to the world around them.  They do not know of any action they can do (exertion of their will) that can save them from the disagreeable situation.  Something is going to happen to them, that they do not want to happen, and they do not know a way to save themselves.

It’s often that a person sees himself or herself as an object.  The world comes at them, and tells them, “this is the way things are”, and they do not know a way out of the situation.  They see themselves like the free-falling individual.  They see a situation in their life which they do not know how to fix.  They see a relationship, which they desperately want to work out, but they know no action they can do to fix it.  They want a better job, and a higher quality life, but they do not know of anything they can do to get this lifestyle.  They have a goal they desire, but no matter how hard they try, they never seem to achieve what they’re after.  In short, they see themselves as objects, being manipulated by the world around them, against their will, but they do not know of a way to do anything about it.  The world is in control – they are not in control – and the world is bringing with it something they do not want.

Fear always comes from a privation of knowledge.  What kind of knowledge is the fearful person lacking?  The knowledge to get them out of the situation they find disagreeable.

Monetary fears can only be destroyed with financial knowledge.  Relationship fears can only be cured by knowledge of inter-personal relations, psychology, etc.  Fear of snakes, spiders, darkness, etc; can only be cured by confronting your fear, looking it square in the eye, and staring at the feared object so long that you eventually know so much about it, you no longer fear it.  Confronting the object of fear will help eliminate your repressions, and studying it will help you not to fail again in the future.

You’ll come to know more about the spider than the spider knows about you – the spider will become powerless to you.  You’ll come to know more about the snake than the snake knows about you – the snake will become powerless to you.  You’ll come to know more about money than money knows about you – money will become powerless to you.

The fearful person sees the world and thinks, “this is the way things are”.  The strong man, with faith, tells the world, “this may be the way things are now, but I, with proper knowledge, can overcome any obstacle – and this knowledge is within my grasp.”

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