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Soubresaut's avatar

Are we in control of our fears?

Asked by Soubresaut (12802points) February 7th, 2010

Or, what degree are we?
I don’t think we’re entirely in control… Like, I’m terrified of needles, even though I don’t want to be and know nothing will happen. I have to lie down for a while so that I don’t pass out after one. I hate it
But rational or irrational fears… how much do we control what we’re scared of? Do we get a say?
How do we voice that say?

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21 Answers

ducky_dnl's avatar

Yes we are. As humans we are only scared of two things, Loud sounds and being suprised. All of the other fears we have, we have programmed into ourselves.

Merriment's avatar

I don’t think we are necessarily in total control of our fears but we are in control of how that fear makes us act.

And we are also in control of coming up with coping strategies for dealing with those fears.

philosopher's avatar

I fear liars and distrust bullshitters. It is a bad mistake for anyone to bullshit me. I always know they are lying.
I had too many shots and blood work to fear needles. I only fear them from incompetent staff.
I fear what the Politicians are doing to the American working Middle Class. I fear people that do not stand up for all of us. I fear complacency in America.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

I am in complete control of my fears.I will even wear a porkchop necklace and take a stroll through bear country ;)

drhat77's avatar

@ducky_dnl great answer except [citation_needed] about loud sounds and surprises prior to me giving you lurve over it.

Also, even if it’s programmed after birth doesn’t mean we have control once programmed. Reprogramming is a difficult task, very akin to reporgramming a smoker to stop smoking[citation_needed – I know, I know I’ll look it up]

phoebusg's avatar

As per first responder. Startle responses are programmed in. But you can even inhibit those with top-level control (frontal cortex). All other fears, you can be in control of. There are methods and systems to reduce any phobia. (Systematic De-sensitization).

So yes, most any fear you can get under your control. Not having any fears however can be very dangerous and will not get you very far. There’s a reason we have them, but when not needed, we can turn them off and relax :)

@drhat77 I’m going to back his claim. Somewhere in my biopsychology studies its mentioned. Profs have also mentioned it. It’s very hard to turn off response to sound. One of the stimuli the brain does not normalize/learn to ignore. Which is why loud noises will always generate stress – and why you should try to quiet down (wear ear plugs).

drhat77's avatar

haHA total bloody lucky GUESS
a study showing sensisitvity to anxiety is related to smoking withdrawal symptoms
and another
a third
i am some kind of scientifically guessing GOD take THAT francis bacon

(oh i ga’d you guys)

Silhouette's avatar

@lucillelucillelucille HAHAHAH Me too, I ain’t skeert. What’s the worst that could happen? So you get et by a bear.

nebule's avatar

no I don’t think we are in control at all…. fears are innate and from birth being constantly formed through life experiences… I’m not entirely sure any of our emotions are controllable because of the sheer deterministic law of the universe. They are there to teach us how to respond to our environment, we should feel them and instinctively react.

DrMC's avatar


Your wish is my command – RE the missing reference…

Is phobia desensitization what you are after?

DrMC's avatar


I agree, there are conditioned and unconditioned responses.

Fear of falling is there genetically.
Fear conditioned by association to creaky bridges after a near death experience is learned.

I believe you can attenuate an unconditioned response. definitely you can recondition a learned one. This is out of my field unfortunately.

Kafka's avatar

I’ll tell you that needles are serious business. When I was a little kid I remember that when it came time to get shots we had to drive to this clinic that was adjacent to a mortuary; weird huh? Since I was terrified of needles I would always imagine that the only worse thing than seeing your own blood was having to come to terms with death. Now, that I have “grown up” more, like I have been over exposed to needles and Gothic literature, it occurs to me that fear is never of something external it is either of yourself, or of fear itself. Poe said “fear is not in Germany it is of the soul…” or, something to that effect. Think about it, yes even if you already have, the fear that you have is that you are experiencing something at a heightened sensitive point that you’ve worked yourself up to. Now, when I have to get blood drawn which has happened like 9 times in the last two years, I sing myself a song until I forget that there is a three inch needle in my arm from whence blood flows…thinking about blood still grosses me out.

lilikoi's avatar

@DrMC I never knew that some fears are genetic! Interesting. For the ones that are not, and are conditioned, I’d say we are not in control of them until we are no longer fearful. I guess that goes for unconditioned ones too (that is, all fears) if you can attenuate an unconditioned response.

Okay, my conclusion is that, no, you are not in control of your fears until you are either no longer fearful or have consciously mitigated your fear.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

@Silhouette -Or you have a bear sandwich :))

DrMC's avatar

@lilikoi you’re pulling my furry leg. You really didn’t know there were genetically programmed fears? – doggies are pretty good at expressing fear. Any kitten behaves in ways that are definatly not learned. How genes could encode such complex behavior and response is amazing, but essential. A species that is fond of bungee jumping would not have lasted long in our cave dwelling days.

Caveman 1: “hey do you want to go throw rocks at the bears?”
Caveman 2: “Nah, I was going to stay back in the cave and breed while you did that”

Don’t mess with the panda’s. They are part of a covert conspiracy.

phoebusg's avatar

Being in control of your fear doesn’t mean turning it off when you needed. That’s when you let it do it’s job – what it’s designed for. To save your hairy-or-not behind.

That said, it’s good to be able to turn off all fears when they’re no longer required.

drhat77's avatar

It’d be great to turn off fears when needed, but then what would stop us from leaving them off all the time? Or to turn off pain all the time, until the nagging sensation in our appendix turns into a rupture and then we’re dead.

As seemingly maladaptive as fears are, we’re alive because of them, and i don’t think humans are ready to slough them off just yet.

Besides, human fear is key to my world take-over plan, so we can’t get rid of it just yet. or ever.

phoebusg's avatar

@drhat77 you can do both. You treat it as information.
Consider a led light that goes on when something happens in the world that requires attention – it is enough to get your attention from where you’re sitting.
Now – consider a fire-truck siren going off instead! It is unhelpful, often that siren gets you just as killed as not having any indication.
Being aware, yet not being disabled by fear, pain etc is the best route.

drhat77's avatar

@phoebusg if you are a professional nuclear reactor monitor trained and know what to do yes a blinking LED is all you need. But I deal with patients daily and I know that if it doesn’t hurt they’ll never see a doctor.

2 stories: I saw a patient who did not have the use of his right hand for three days because of a stroke. his wife kept telling him to go in but he didn’t think anything was wrong. She finally made him come in by cooking him a big juicy steak, and ploping it in front of him. He asked her to cut it for him, but she told him “if you’re all right, cut it yourself”. That’s how I got to meet him.

I saw a girl who was brought in by her family for seizures. On examining her, I saw that she had dry gangrene on some of her fingers, and indeed, her right index finger was gone at the knuckle. I asked her how that happened and she replied “Oh, it just fell off one day”. To recapitulate, her most important finger had just fallen off one day, but because it didn’t hurt, she saw no need to see a doctor.

phoebusg's avatar

@drhat77 haha. I appreciate the stories.
But given the individual is aware, he/she could just go by LED’s.
The system comes pre-installed with siren methods though, so don’t you worry ;)
They work – until one can be in more control. Almost like training wheels.

drhat77's avatar

On re-analysis of my stories, I think I argued against my point – maybe if those patients hand’t been so overwhelming afraid of pain, embarrassment, and death, they would have sought medical attention sooner.

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