We share fear with every living creature. The difference is that we are able to add emotion and thought to the feelings. Sure, some animals are capable of emotions –anger in particular. But as far as we know, no other animal reflects on their fears.
Because we are thinking creatures, we take a fear and weave it into a story about ourselves. And this leads us to some basic fears. These fears rotate around the following:
1) Not having enough.
2) Not being good enough.
3) Not being loved enough.
Not Having Enough
One of our most basic fears is that of not having enough. Unfortunately, this is a fear that afflicts almost everyone, regardless of how much he or she actually has. In fact, some of those suffering the strongest pull of this fear are those with plenty. In fact, this fear is very creative. We often believe it is only about money. It is not. It is having enough of anything: friends, time, toys, health, you name it!
This fear drives in us a need to find more and more. For some, this is the root cause of tendencies to hoard. We look at people in the news whose homes are stacked from floor to ceiling with junk, trash, magazines, whatever. But we fail to notice our own ways of hoarding –hiding money in accounts or under beds, having friends that we never contact and don’t really have anything in common with, gadgets that don’t meet our needs yet lure us to buy them. We hoard rolls of tissue paper, as if there will never be more, or at least more on sale! We move to bigger and bigger homes to hold more and more of our stuff.
We are predisposed to want to hold onto things. In fact, just look at the design of our bodies. The vast majority find it very easy to gain weight, to have our fat cells accumulate the extra calories. But we find our bodies very resistant to letting the weight go. Even at a cellular level, we end up hoarding!
Our bodies have lived through times of feast and times of famine. Those able to efficiently hold onto those extra calories got to pass on their genes. Bodies quickly burning through the available supply perished.
But it is our fear of not having enough that leaves us scrambling through daily life, so close to our work that we miss the destruction of this drive. Few people arrive at the end of their lives with regret for time they took in leisure. But many bemoan the lost time spent in work propelled by fear.
Many would argue that perhaps it is this very fear that has led us to great successes. And in many ways, they would be correct. It is another bit of irony that humans are much better at running away from something than running toward something. In other words, we are often more motivated by fear than by a goal.
It is also unfortunate, then, that this fear extracts a heavy toll on the individual. In some sense, it is society that profits from the motivation of fear, but at the expense of the individual. Look at it in a corporate sense. The bottom line of a corporation is often directly related to the degree of effort exerted by the individuals in that corporation. If fear is nipping at the heels of these individuals, more effort is exerted. This effort pays off for the company, but rarely for the individual. The reward for extra effort and extra time spent at work? Often, it is more responsibility, more stress, and more time required.
The individual is not benefitting in the same way the corporation does. In fact, the cost can be rather heavy. Our bodies are designed to live with stress for short periods of time –not for entire careers! In the short term, stress creates a readiness in the body for that flight/fight response. But in the long term, our bodies begin to break down when exposed to a constant level of stress. High blood pressure, diabetes, even cancer all have been attributed as outcomes to stress.
As is often the case, sometimes a fear has a basis in reality. Perhaps there really is a shortage, that there really isn’t enough. But sometimes a fear is irrational. It is not a reflection of reality. We come to believe there is not enough, but that exists only within the paradigm we weave within our mind.
Not Being Good Enough
Our second basic fear is not being good enough.
This fear is one of comparison, competition. We tend to judge ourselves against another standard. This standard is often a comparison between what we “know” about ourselves and what we “believe” about the other. In other words, we end up comparing all the negative stuff we think true about ourselves to the positive image others portray to us (and we portray to them). We end up seeing “the yuck” of our own lives, but fail to see it in the other.
When this is the case, there is no way for us to measure up. I know my internal world, but not that of the person I use for comparison. So all my faults end up being placed against only the strengths of the other.
Our fear of not being good enough, in evolutionary terms, is the reality of the survival of the fittest. If I am not good enough, I will not get the resources I need (or mate I need) to continue my (and my genes’) survival.
Here’s the problem: all living organisms are in this struggle. But day to day, moment to moment, only humans seem capable of making themselves miserable over this. It is merely a long-term question for other organisms. We humans, on the other hand, constantly underestimate our individual selves (while overestimating ourselves as a species).
Not Being Loved Enough
We humans really are “pack animals.” We need connection. We seek community. Studies show that when people do not experience enough affection and love as infants and children, their long-term development is negatively impacted. In other words, when we don’t get enough love, we suffer. That need never goes away.
In fact, one of the highest ranking determinants of life satisfaction is having loving relationships. That may not be a spouse or partner, but we all have the need to feel a sense of belonging. Friends and family may fulfill that role, or it may be a spouse or partner. Notice how we build communities with clubs, churches, social organizations, informal gatherings, even lunch groups at work.
So this fear of not being loved enough strikes deeply within us. It is a fear that this basic need to be a part of a group, to feel accepted and loved, will not happen. This is the fear that has us worried about our relationships, our love life, what people think of us, and influences how we interact with people. The stronger this fear, the harder we work to not be rejected. Sometimes this ends up being a very needy approach to relationships. Sometimes this ends up being an act of not needing anyone. If you know people who reject others before they are rejected, that person is as much caught up in this fear as someone who will do anything to maintain a relationship.
The Basic Fears Just Are
In other words, we all have those basic fears. Most of us have one of these fears that is more potent than the others. If you take these three categories, begin to look at those thoughts that break you into a cold sweat or wake you up in the middle of the night. Which category does that fear fall into?
Just being able to name the category is not going to end the fear. It really is like anything else, though. Once we expose it to daylight, it often loses its power. Once we realize what is filling our sails, we may not be able to stop the wind, but we can learn to steer with it. The fear may always be your basic fear, but knowing that allows you to avoid being run by it.