Fear has been an intrinsic part of the human experience, deeply rooted in our evolutionary history. It has often served as a protective mechanism, enabling us to respond swiftly to potential threats. The amygdala, an almond-shaped cluster of nuclei in the brain, plays a pivotal role in this, triggering what is commonly (though wrongly) known as the “fight-or-flight” response. This mechanism allows individuals to perceive potential threats, even before they consciously recognize them.
In the modern age, educational systems and societal structures have inadvertently bred new forms of fear. Traditional classroom settings, where children are expected to sit still and conform, often act as breeding grounds for amplified emotions. In such environments, emotional responses are simultaneously heightened and suppressed. This, repeated throughout all schooled-kids childhoods, actively disinhibits their bodymind connection (which gives an intuitive understanding of emotion), and prevents them from purging emotional energy. It’s about the worst situation imaginable for learning to tune into your emotional range.
At the same time, protective messages that stem from adult concerns for children become embedded as self-centric fears in kids. Messages like “stranger danger”, the importance of avoiding physical injuries, and the necessity of a “successful career” are imparted by trusted authority figures, such as parents and teachers. Children (who later become the adults) are conditioned to perceive a lack of safety around them through these lenses; its been a feedback loop of safetyism for a couple of generations now. Add in our media environment and how feeling fear invites our perception to find things to be afraid of, and the “lack of safety” around us is overamplified in cognitive loops.
Of course, that’s not all fears. Some are evolutionary adaptations that are probably passed down through epigenetics; think fear of dangerous people, heights. Some are created or amplified by personal experience (ever burnt yourself?). Fears of these types don’t need to be taught, they emerge organically as part of your development and life. And they do not stem from similar cognitive loops. You can be taught to over-emphasize them, or to suppress them; but their origin is your bodymind.
Cognitive fears, instead, are mythical as much as they are real. You feel them because you’ve been told to feel afraid and practiced that mental loop so many times it’s become habitual. That’s not necessarily a bad thing- there are novel threats indicated by perceptual stimuli our ancestors never experienced. But, because most people today perceive a lack of safety around them (look at the billionaire preppers), they’re now ever-present, rather than episodic.
Fear, felt chronically, evokes dysregulation of one type or another - most commonly but nowhere near exclusively in stress. It’s become a common trope to argue that “underneath your stress is a deeper fear”. Sometimes that’s true. BUT, in most cases, chronic fears only exist because of a conditioned cognitive response to perceive a lack of safety which evokes a fear. A myth made real.
At the same time, many other aspects of modern society contribute to our dysregulation: nutrition, pollution, working culture, social media. And dysregulation amplifies our perception of threats of all kinds; we filter our perception for bad-things and find them outweighing the good (that’s negativity bias). So, another loop of fear-amplification is entered. And along with our broader media environment, of course most people feel these cognitive or mythical fears - and many other emotions which, chronically, act to encourage dysregulation (lust, anxiety, envy).
This is a range of huge societal problems, that do manifest in individuals feeling fear and a lack of safety in their lives. But from an individual point of view, the more addressable problem is not the suite of fears or the perceived lack of safety, its the dysregulation. Trying to find and solve each of our fears is not a solution nor a stepping-stone for most people, its just a road to near-endless “work”.
Trying to find and address the thing underneath your a fear to address your perceived lack of safety is a mythical project. At best, we filter our memories for things that might have evoked that emotional response and then re-combine them into a narrative of “why” we feel the fear. And that mythical project is encoded in therapy and all the trauma-speak around us. So of course you find a fear or traumatic lack of safety underlying the thing, probably from your childhood, right? (nb mythical ≠ 100% false; obviously exceptions to this)
Note I’m not saying these projects can’t work to change how you feel - your bodymind is awesome and you can create a myth to efficaciously change who you are. But when you’ve solved that fear, a dysregulated individual in our modern world can always find another. And they will. It’s a near-endless cycle, & often a difficult one at each stage too.
My view is that, assuming you can’t solve the modern environment for yourself (some of us can, but not many); ignore the fear until after you’ve sorted chronic dysregulation and built a connection with your bodymind. As this connection strengthens, you can discern between fears embedded within your bodymind and conditioned fears that are mere illusions. The ‘feeling’ behind the illusions becomes less intense, then dissipates. What’s left are the fears with real roots - some of which you might want to dig into. Others are directly useful and can act as a compass, guiding us through the complexities of modern life.