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Where does fear come from?

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The word “fear” has some dreadful connotations; in fact, no matter how you would use the word, it always seems to carry a negative message.

Most people experience fear throughout life, and while some have a very specific trigger (concrete fears such as fear of heights, spiders), others experience more abstract forms of fear such as fear of rejection, abandonment, success, etc.

Masks of Fear

Afraid to feel the fear (whichever that may be for you) we try to mask it by building emotional protective shields to keep us safe from experiencing it. The masks of fear manifest themselves through common means such as concern about other’s safety and livelihood, shyness, anger, selfishness, greed, and even bravado. The best form of disguise for fear though is fear itself (such is the case of fears that are not sociably acceptable which are replaced by more “normal” forms of it). Still, no matter how intricate, these masks and defense systems lose their effectiveness over time and as you progress through life, it gets more and more difficult to maintain them.

Note: While fear and anxiety go almost always hand in hand, they are two different things in that
1. Fear is a response to a real life situation, often related to a past or present negative experience
2. Anxiety is all pervasive and intangible, can be a reaction to change accompanied by a sense of helplessness due to the perceived inability to deal with it.

Typically we become acquainted with fear from a very young age: in infancy depending on our environment and perceived sense of safety and throughout our formative years.

Your Caregivers

One of the most common sources of fear are traced back to childhood, from our caregivers.

This is not an exercise in placing blame, rather the way to identify the source of your fears for the purpose of understanding and resolve.

There are no perfect parents and the point is not perfection, rather optimal parenting that involves the caregivers’ acknowledgment that the child is worthy of truth.

As children, we are very impressionable and look up with blind trust at the adults that care for us and ensure that both our emotional and physiological needs are taken care of. The complete trust we give our caregivers leads us to also believe the things we are told by them.

It is hard for an adult to comprehend why even a small remark or “threat” (i.e. if you don’t drink your milk you’ll get sick) meant to get a child to do something can become traumatic. As children, we are very concrete in thinking and literal in understanding. A trusting child will believe the threats (the little white lies) and will react with fear. The fear a child feels (especially if the caregiver sticks with the lies) becomes instilled and at times (depending on severity) carried into adulthood.



Fear experienced over lengthy periods of time can not only interfere with your day to day functioning but it can also manifest in problematic mental health.

Fear thrives in secrecy and hiding and is helped along the way by emotions such as shame and guilt.

The best way to release your fears is to shine a light on them, acknowledge their existence and figure out their root causes. You can start exploring your fears on your own through creative means (writing, painting, music composition) or simply by beginning to ask yourself questions that draw from your own observations of the things you fear and the patterns you engage in (i.e. the criteria you tend to use most when making decisions, in relationships, etc.). If you are not able to trace back your fears and they are very concrete in nature try finding a cognitive behavioral therapist; for more abstract fears try finding a depth or existential therapist.

Where does fear come from?

Diana C. Pitaru, M.S., L.P.C.

“Diana” Diana Pitaru is a Romanian psychotherapist in private practice in Denver, Colorado. She writes about universal psychological issues that affect quality of life and impede the creative process. Passionate about psychology, philosophy, art, and culture and how these areas connect to improve mental health, Diana offers support and insight to creative adults and teens who struggle with identity/existential issues and in relationships, have a history of trauma, or suffer with depression or anxiety. You can find her Denver practice at

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APA Reference
, . (2015). Where does fear come from?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 7 May 2015
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