What is fear?

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Peeping under your bed at 2 a.m.

The day on your Exam-Results.

When your teacher calls you, “Come up on stage.”

That night after watching a Horror movie.

When your girlfriend texts, “We need to talk.”

When you learn about someone’s death.


Were these scary?

But I tell you that they are not—not at all.

Peeping under your bed at 2 a.m. is not scary, but the thought What if I find a corpse under my bed? is.

Your Exam-Results day isn’t scary, but the thought What if I fail? is.

What if I don’t speak and appear to be dumb in front of my classmates?

What if Annabelle pops out of my toilet seat when I’m in shower?

What if my girlfriend calls a Breakup?

Hearing about death reminds you that even you’ve to face it someday.

Are you getting it? There is something very significant about these examples. Fear isn’t in a situation. Fear is in the thought. Fear exists when you think What if…?

fears are stories we tell ourselves. what is fear?


Fear is everywhere. No.

Fear is only in your head. Nowhere else.


We often complain about our fears. I’m afraid of dogs…of insects…of death…of that…of this. But those are all objects and situations. The real fear is in your imagination. And these objects only act as triggers.



water balloon. what is fear?




Imagine our mind has a stock of water balloons, each representing a particular object or subject. Let it be a snake. We all are afraid of snakes. But when did that fear actually originate?

Maybe when we were 3 or 4 years old, we learned in school that snakes have poison in their teeth and we know poison kills.

Then, a little balloon called ‘snake’ is created in our minds. That balloon fills all the facts that relate to a snake. The first fact is that snakes are poisonous.

Then, you might have heard your granny narrating someone who died of a snake bite. You might have watched movies where a snake swallows humans. You might have read comics where a snake is a villain. And all these stuff just fill up the balloon. These are like water.

With time, your facts, stories increase. So the balloon swells with more and more water. It may not burst on its own (if that happens, it’s called a breakdown) but it will burst when something pricks.

More the water, more the tension in the balloon and easier it is to burst. There comes a day when you see a snake or hear its hiss. That’s a trigger. That’s a prick which pokes your balloon.

You know, all the water accumulated floods and that’s fear. The moment you hear its hiss, all those facts, stories and the emotions around the stories…everything floods.


what is fear


Fear is always there, but sleepy.

Fear is not an emotion which visits your mind occasionally. It’s something which is always there. The water is fear. The balloon simply holds it without spilling.

With every object and situations in life, new balloons will be created, and they are filled up, every hour, every day. As long as there’s no trigger, there’s no fear.

It’s not that fear comes out of nowhere. It’s always in your head, but sleepy. It’s waiting for an alarm to wake up.

Though there is a huge list of phobias, according to Dr. Karl Albrecht, there are (only) five basic fears.

  • Extinction: (What if I die now reading this line?)

We all know that we aren’t living forever. This is the fear creeping out of the question, “What if I cease to exist?” To be straight, it’s the fear of death. It’s the existential anxiety which is very common and the root of a million phobias.

  • Mutilation: (What if I’m bit by a snake?)

We are concerned about our health and body. This is the fear subjected to biological safety. It’s the fear of invasion of some external thing (animals, bacteria or whatever) which affects our body.

  • Loss of Autonomy: (What if I’m caught by the police?)

It’s the fear of being restricted or imprisoned by something or someone. It’s the fear What if something happens where I’m helpless? and What if things go out of my control? It’s the fear of losing freedom.

  • Separation: (What if she says It’s over. Let’s be friends?)

We are attached to too many things and people. Despite the fact Nothing lasts forever, like a toddler, we want to protect and put our toys under the pillow. We don’t want them to go. We are afraid of separation.

  • Ego Death: (What if my crush laughs at my dressing?)

We all seek for attention and appreciation. Don’t we? To put it philosophically, We crave for recognition of our self (ego). It’s the fear of being humiliated— What if they don’t like me? We are afraid that someone will knock down our ego, our self-esteem.




what is fear?



That’s a million dollar question.

We fear because we think. We think of possibilities—What ifs. Unfortunately, every list of possibilities has What if it goes wrong?

Let’s be frank, this possibility is our favorite. We tend to think much about what can go wrong than what can go right.

Why? Simple, we got habituated. You know habits can’t be broken easily. Some might argue that thinking about what can go wrong is actually being practical. That’s right.

It’s right as long as that practical thinking doesn’t build up an emotion. There’s nothing wrong about thinking What if someone laughs at me? But that thought will also come with a package of emotion: Feeling bad. Feeling inferior. Feeling humiliated.

That’s the problem.

The only way to overcome fear is: Face it.

There’s a weird logic that Horror movie lovers say: If you look into the ghost’s face, you don’t fear again.

You should’ve experienced it too. As long as they hide the ghost behind the curtains or under the bed, it will scare you. But, once you look into its face, the details of makeup—the horror is gone!

This is what is to face the fear. To face is to look at it, to understand it, to observe it.

Why do you think that directors invent ghosts with long hair on face, or don’t reveal the ghost’s face until the climax? It’s always an eyeball through keyhole, long fingernails over the parapet wall, stalking silhouettes, and grumpy cries out of nowhere. Why don’t they show the actual face of the bloody ghost?

They know that if they do, the thrill is gone, the fun is gone, and the fear is gone.

The game plan of horror directors is that they want us to imagine. They show a lady walking under a white cloak and we start guessing what’s under that cloak?

Is she without eyeballs? Is she with blood oozing out of her lips? Is she having stitches on forehead? Is she a half-rotten corpse?

You go crazy with your imaginations! (That’s what the director wants)

And finally, hero unveils that poor cloak and there stands a skinny amateur actress with excess makeup. Oh, come on! Our heads made a better picture of the ghost than what’s on screen, we said.

Are you getting it? The horror is in our heads. Nowhere else.

Once you realize this fact. All fears seem shallow and not-so-glorious. In fact, that’s true. All fears are shallow and fancy.




There’s a beautiful Zen story narrated by Osho in the book- Fear:

A man walking in the night slipped and fell from a rocky path. Afraid he would fall down thousands of feet, because he knew that just at the edge of the path was a very deep valley, he grabbed hold of a branch that was overhanging the edge. In the darkness of night, all he could see below him was a bottomless abyss. He shouted and his own shout was reflected back- there was nobody to hear him.

You can imagine that man and his night of torture. Every moment there was death below, his hands were becoming cold, he was losing his grip…but he managed to hold on, and as the sun came out he looked down…and he laughed! There was no abyss.

Just six inches below his feet there was a rock ledge. He could have rested the whole night, slept well- the edge was big enough- but insisted, the whole night was a nightmare.

Fear is not more than six inches deep. Now it is up to you whether you want to go on clinging to the branch and turn your life into a nightmare, or whether you would love to leave the branch and stand on your feet. There is nothing to fear.


what's on the other side of fear? Nothing. What is fear. Stable wanderer


Note: The deeper you get into understanding what fear is, the shallower it seems. Knockdown FEAR is a series of articles that help you to battle your fears and overcome them. The upcoming articles deal with every basic fear, in detail.