Fear and Behavior

Today we come to the penultimate blog in this series on fear. I want to look at fear’s effect on our behavior. Our emotions affect us behaviorally; that’s just how we’re wired. (In fact, although we often isolate the three so that we may study them individually – thought, feelings, and behavior are in reality, inseparable.)

While fear affects our behavior in numerous ways – too numerous to cover in a blog – I want to examine two of its more prominent impacts.

FIRST. . .

. . .fear compels the individual in its clutches to try to control their environment and those in it. In fact, we are quite safe in saying that fear and an unhealthy desire for control are never far apart.

We don’t need a vivid imagination to be able to see why this is so. If I worry that something bad will possibly happen in any given situation, then I am very likely to try to prevent that from happening. Enter control behaviors.


I actually knew a woman who would take her children to the beach and then forbid them from getting in the water. What torture for two preteens! She feared, of course, her children would drown if they got in the ocean. She controlled the situation by not allowing them to get in the water.

While it didn’t do so in the above example, many families have been wrecked by controlling behavior – usually emanating from one or both of the authority figures in the home.


Have you ever heard someone say “I’m a control freak?” This statement is more honest than it is accurate. The real truth of the matter is that more likely than not, they are actually a “fear freak.” The control compulsion is a behavior growing out of that fear.


[su_quote]The control compulsion is a behavior that grows out of fear.[/su_quote]


. . .fear shrinks your world. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Now, I didn’t say that it is healthy, or that it is positive, or that it energizes one’s life. But it does make sense.

Why would you want a bigger world if you are fear based? The bigger the world the higher the fear, anxiety, and worry. The bigger the world, the higher the chances that something will go wrong!

And of course, the bigger the world, the harder it is to maintain the illusion of control. So again, up goes the needle on the fear, anxiety, and worry meter.


One very common behavioral response to all of this is to shrink your world. I have had a number of clients over the years whose world had diminished to the point that it excluded all but the absolutely essential.

The result of this behavior? As you probably guessed, the fear continues to increase. Fear is like a waistline – you cannot shrink it by continually feeding it.


The important takeaway is this, when we reward fear by allowing it to control our behavior – it only grows stronger.


Initially, don’t worry about getting the feeling of fear under control. Instead, using your will, choose to behave in a way that opposes that fear, vs. rewarding it.*

Next time, we conclude this series by looking at the only know antidote to fear. See you then!


Dr Michael Ruth, Growth Resources, Personal Growth


(*I’m sure it’s obvious, but I want to mention this anyway: we are talking here about irrational, unhealthy fears. Fears that truly protect our well-being should, of course, be heard and responded to accordingly.)