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If You Don’t Control your Fear, Will Your Fear Control You?

Emotions, in general, have the purpose of motivating us to act or to avoid certain situations. They grow on intensity when we dismiss their signals and they can become loud, intrusive, and controlling. They could control us only when whatever they are instructing us to do is ignored, and when their charge accumulates through time.

Most emotions are protective; for example, anger protects us from abuse, and fear protects us from danger. When we ignore what fear is instructing us to do, the brain will assume that we won’t have the capacity to protect ourselves and will activate automatic responses to combat the threat. When these actions become automatic, we could say that we have lost control, and therefore the “emotion” takes over to control our actions and responses.

Be controlled by our emotions means that it will be difficult for us to override the automatic responses from our system towards the situations.

Jud Brewer (professor at Brown U.) talks about fear as being a survival mechanism. If we accept his definition, then fear would be a trigger and it’d have control all the time. But if we think about it as an emotion, then we have the possibility to control it.

Thinking it twice, most emotions could be considered survival mechanisms; the difference is whether they become automatic mechanisms, or if we could keep aware of them without them acting-out. If we are aware of the fear and we find the reason that causes us to get scared, we could assess the risk, and then fear would be seen as the motivator for us to find a solution, and not a full survival mechanism. Survival mechanisms are automatic.

Fear is actually alerting us of a possible threat that could trigger the survival mode but not necessarily. We have other survival mechanisms to deal with the threat before we go into survival mode. Orienting is one of them, and social engagement is another. Fear can tell us to use our senses to assess the level of danger, or we could rely on someone else to solve the risk.

The key then, to keep control over fear instead of fear controlling us is to:

  • keep aware of your emotions, in this case, fear,

  • use your cognition to assess the level of risk as a way to control fear,

  • find a way to tell your brain that you are going to take care of the threat; that will calm down fear since its purpose was achieved and won’t need to take control over your thoughts and actions.

But then there is also the fear of fear, and the fear of experiencing other emotions like rejection. That type of fear is the one that becomes dissociated when someone is in an abusive relationship. That fear doesn’t exercise evident control; it’s a control masked by love, dependency, need, or even the idealization of the hero or of the victim.

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