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  • Writer's pictureDora Nudelman

The Psychology of Fear

Fear is a great motivator. And it is for this very reason that it has been used over and over again throughout history in order to influence otherwise well-meaning people to commit horrible crimes against their fellow humans. It has been used to coerce people into making irrational decisions. And it has been appropriated to assist people into falling for mass hysteria propaganda, thereby preventing them from having any clear or rational thinking. So, yes, fear is an excellent motivator, and a great tool for those who want to use it to manipulate others into bending to their personal will.

What I find so interesting, though, is that time after time, regardless of the obvious ways fear has been used to manipulate the masses, there is still so much cognitive dissonance towards it. In fact, people are so afraid of hypothetical outcomes that they are willing to not only sacrifice their own basic rights and freedoms, but also to throw other people under the bus right along with them.

The media loves fear because it sells. Advertisers love fear because it motivates. And actually, people even have a bias towards fear, which causes them to perk up with great interest and attention, often more so than any positive messaging ever could. And so, fear does a really good job at making optimism the enemy.

But fear is also control. And whether you are keeping yourself in a prison of your own making, or you are being oppressed by someone else, either way, you are unequivocally allowing yourself to be controlled.

The thing is, all animals, including humans, are set up with the fight, freeze, or flight response. This is an evolutionary mechanism that was given to us all for the sake of survival. So, while there is a time and place for this type of fear response, more often than not, our fears are actually more imaginary than they are actual. And if you think back to all of the things that you have feared in your life, I bet most, if not all, never actually happened.

But the difference between humans and animals is that as soon as an animal’s perception of threat is over, they forget about it and all of their systems go back to normal. For humans, however, fear has a more lingering effect. Humans tend to hold on to those memories, as well as the biological fear response, well after any perceived threat has passed. And this is the exact reason why fear is such a potent tool for manipulation, i.e., you only need to instill one perceived threat into someone’s mind in order to convince them that prolonged fear is simply inevitable and warranted. And once you establish that type of control mechanism, anything becomes possible, even the unthinkable. “Self-preservation” is truly the ultimate manipulation tool.

So, then, how do we break these chains of fear and find a sense of inner peace and self-control once again?

We choose.

Choice is one of the best tools we have in enacting our freedom. We can choose not to be afraid. We can choose to look at the facts and not automatically succumb to doomsday “predictions” that play out over and over again in our minds. We can choose to think for ourselves and not implicitly trust or take everything we see, hear, or are being told at face value. And we can try to be more grounded when making our decisions so that those decisions are informed and are being made wisely rather than in haste.

Most of all, we need to recognize when we are indeed being manipulated by negative and fearful messaging, and then we need to start asking questions in order to separate fact from fiction. Because when there is so much at stake, we simply cannot afford to make decisions strictly out of fear for, if we do, most likely we will live to regret it.

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