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Fear makes the world go round

We dread the enigmatic, the unknown, the unspoken. We fear the power of individuals, objects, locations, and ideas. As humans, we are forced to grapple with a constant state of incomprehension. We are intimately acquainted with Fear—an inescapable and inherent trait of our conscious minds, rarely spoken about within the context of social norms.

Pause for a moment to consider: what instills fear in you? Most people conjure up common fears such as spiders, heights, and crowds. These are manifestations of specific phobias.

As per Harvard Medical School definitions, a phobia is defined as an enduring, excessive, and “unrealistic fear of an object, person, animal, activity, or situation”, and there exist three distinct types of phobias: specific phobias, social anxiety, and Agoraphobia.

Specific phobias encompass the aforementioned examples such as Arachnophobia, or the fear of spiders. Social Anxiety Disorder represents a phobia entwined with interpersonal interactions, often rooted in causes concerning social backlash— like the fear of judgment or discrimination. These anxieties emanate from the discomfort associated with judgment, embarrassment, or humiliation. Finally, Agoraphobia is the apprehension of being in public spaces that lack an emotional escape. This mindset is entwined with issues of accessibility and inclusion.

So, what triggers these phobias? Scientists have been able to narrow it down to three primary causes: trauma, evolution, and genetics.

Many individuals endure various traumatic episodes throughout their lives. Mostly consisting of specific phobias, trauma may breed a fear of specific objects, people, or situations. A common experience that leads to a trauma associated phobia would be the loss of a loved one in a car accident— an event that also underscores issues of road safety and societal support systems.

However, in numerous instances, the root cause of a phobia remains elusive. In these circumstances, delving into the Evolutionary Theory of Phobias unveils that many are catalyzed by  an ingrained evolutionary instinct. This point intersects with societal constructs and historical contexts. By instilling fear in humans, phobias often determine how humans interact with the natural world. 

Phobias of various animals, for instance, spring from a human adaptation to defend against aggressive threats. Similarly, Aquaphobia—the fear of water— more commonly afflicts people who cannot swim.

The final contributing factor is genetics. Some individuals are predisposed to developing specific phobias, simply due to their genetic makeup. Studies on sets of twins illustrate that if one twin develops a phobia, the likelihood of the other twin exhibiting it is significant. According to Cognitive Behavior Theory Los Angeles, "the most current research suggests that almost 50% of the development of phobia can be attributed to genetic loading”.

Phobias rank as the number one most common psychiatric illness in women. While some phobias may seem rare and irrational, others are universal. However, one aspect remains unequivocal: fear constantly plagues human existence. It serves as an educator, and safeguard, shedding light on disparities and injustices entrenched within society.

Nevertheless, not all must be feared. To conquer fear is to embrace both failure and change. To fear change is to impede progress. Vastly different ideas, from Segregation to Manifest Destiny, stem from the thirst for power, and the fear of losing it. We must ponder its origins and evaluate its worth, reflecting on the intricate interplay of societal structures and justice in shaping our anxieties and our responses to them. 

Ultimately, Fear is a driving force of the human state, and continues to influence how we interact with the world today. So, if you take away one thing, let it be this: the world rotates on the axis of fear, and you are not alone through its revolutions.


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