Fear is a universal feeling. Even if it is not pleasant to feel fear, it can save our life because it produces a state of alert, both psychological and physiological, which allows us to react promptly and protect ourselves from dangers.
Fear is, therefore, a positive and activating emotion. The problem begins when fear does not leave us making us believe that we are constantly in danger. Then he condemns us to live with our nerves on edge, waiting to be attacked at any moment. The problem begins when we suffer from "derived fear". A problem that, according to Zygmunt Bauman, is endemic in our society and could infect us all.
What is derivative fear?
Derivative fear is a kind of “recycled” fear of a social and cultural nature. "It is a still frame that we can describe as the feeling of susceptibility to danger: a feeling of insecurity (the world is full of dangers that can fall upon us and materialize at any moment without the slightest warning) and vulnerability (if danger attacks us, there will be little or no chance of escaping it or facing it with an effective defense; the assumption of our vulnerability in the face of risks does not depend so much on the size or nature of the real threats but rather on the lack of confidence in the defenses available) ", says Bauman .
How does derived fear arise?
Derivative fear arises as a result of past negative experiences, it is the secondary effect of exposure to a danger that we live on our skin, which we have witnessed or heard of.
Bauman explains that “derived fear is the sediment of a past experience of direct confrontation with the threat: a sediment that survives that encounter and becomes an important factor in shaping human behavior, when there is no direct threat to the life or integrity of the person ".
It is fear that continues to haunt us after fear. If we lose a loved one, it is the residual fear that remains after the loss. If we lose our job, it is the fear of losing our current job. If we suffer from a fainting or panic attack, it is the fear of reliving that experience.
Derived fear arises because it easily dissociates from consciousness; that is, the fear remains although the danger has disappeared. We separate fear from the factor that caused it.
The anguished experience we lived was so intense that it triggered our imagination, making us glimpse dangers everywhere. Thus fear ends up permeating our vision of reality and we begin to think that the world is a hostile and dangerous place.
The long tentacles of derived fear
"Derivative fear reorients behavior after changing the perception of the world and the expectations that drive behavior, whether there is a threat or not [...] A person who has internalized this worldview, which includes insecurity and vulnerability, will recur habitually to the typical reactions of a face-to-face encounter with danger, even in the absence of a real threat. The derived fear then acquires the ability to self-propel, ”says Bauman.
People who almost never go out at night, for example, tend to think that the outside world is a dangerous place to avoid. And since the dangers are more serious at night, they prefer to stay safe in their homes. Thus the derived fear creates a vicious circle that feeds on itself. Fear drives these people to loneliness, and the more they isolate and protect themselves, the more scary the world will seem to them.
If we lose a loved one, the residual fear will lead us to assume overprotective behaviors with the people we have next to us. If we lose our job, the resulting fear will make us tense about the current job for fear of making a mistake and being fired again. If we have a panic attack, we will adopt a hyperactive attitude in which any change will trigger anxiety again. Then the derived fear generates the situations we fear the most.
Those suffering from derivative fear have lost self-confidence. He does not rely on his resources to deal with threats, he has developed a kind of learned helplessness. The problem is that living imagining dangers and threats everywhere is not living.
This state of constant alert ends up presenting us with a big bill, both psychologically and physically. When the amygdala detects a situation of real or imaginary danger, it activates the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, which secretes the adrenocorticotropic hormone. Almost at the same time the adrenal gland is activated, which releases epinephrine. Both substances generate cortisol, a hormone that raises blood pressure and blood sugar and weakens the immune system. With this discharge we have more energy to react, but if we stay in this state for a long time our health will end up suffering and we will continually be on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
We live in a society that feeds derivative fears
Bauman suggests that we live in a society that disproportionately feeds derived fears. “The omnipresence of fears is ever more threatening: they can creep into every corner of our homes and our planet. They can come from the darkness of the streets or from the flashes of television screens, from our bedrooms and kitchens, from our workplaces and from the subway car we travel in, from the people we meet and those who go unnoticed, from something we have ingested and from something our bodies have come into contact with, from what we call nature or from other people [...]
"Day after day we realize that the inventory of potential dangers is far from complete: new dangers are discovered and announced almost every day and it is unknown to what extent they managed to evade our attention by preparing to strike us without warning. . "
Liquid fear, as Bauman calls it, flows everywhere and feeds itself through different channels because "the economy of consumption depends on the production of consumers and the consumers who must be produced to buy" products against fear "must be frightened and terrified, while they hope that the dangers they fear so much may be forced to retreat, with the little help paid out of their own pocket, of course. "
We cannot forget that fear is a useful tool, not only for the multinationals who sell their products, but also for the politicians who ask for our vote and for the state that presents itself as our "protector and savior". Fear is capitalized very well because it turns off our rational mind, it triggers a real emotional hijacking that prevents us from thinking about anything other than keeping ourselves safe. Through this insane mechanism, those who trigger fear also offer us a "palliative solution".
Thus "the fight against fears has become a lifelong activity, while the dangers that trigger these fears have become permanent and inseparable companions of human life".
What to do? How to get out of this mechanism?
Breaking down derived fears to live more fully
- Put the fears in context. First of all, we must be aware that “there are many more problems that continue to be heralded as imminent than those that finally affect us,” according to Bauman. This means that society or our imaginations produce more frightening situations than actually happen. Adopting this perspective allows us to take a psychological distance from what scares us to realize that the odds of it happening are less than we think.
- What happened doesn't have to happen again. There are very hard life experiences that are difficult to overcome. There is no doubt. But even if the derived fear they generate is understandable, it is still not sustainable. This means that the past must be a source of wisdom, resilience and strength to face the future, not a paralyzing excuse that limits our potential.
- Either life is an adventure to be lived boldly or it is nothing. To flee from fear is to be afraid. Our extraordinary ability to project ourselves into the future also makes us fear uncertainty, imagining scary monsters that haunt us. It is the human dilemma. To escape this we need to make Bauman's message our own: “knowing that this world we live in is fearful, does not mean that we have to live in fear”. There are some dangers, we cannot ignore them, but we cannot let them condition our decisions and prevent us from living fully. After all, "Either life is a daring adventure or it's nothing," according to Hellen Keller.