Can We Ever Be Truly Fearless? – New York Times

This from the New York Times …. link below

A friend of mine who works for a jewelry company that makes necklaces inscribed with empowering sayings recently offered me one.

“How about the ‘I am fearless’ one?” she asked.

“I don’t think so,” I said. “I’m not fearless.”

She laughed. I did too. Except I meant it. And I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since.

I suspect fearlessness is a concept invented by motivational speakers to sell books and command large audiences at events that feature fear-conquering exercises. I wonder, is being fearless even a real thing?

“Talking about being fearless covers up where people really are with fear,” says Dr. Kerry Ressler, director of the Neurobiology of Fear Laboratory at McLean Hospital. “After all, fear is the most evolutionarily conserved behavioral reflex for survival.”

Fear, he says, produces the same responses in people now as it did at the beginning of human history. We’ve needed fear to survive as a species, to run from the lion crouching in the brush, and we still need it. “The question,” he says, “is how do you not let the emotional response of the fear reflex run wild?”

Dr. Ressler says the great majority of people — about 90 percent — are resilient after something frightening or tragic happens, like a car accident or the death of a loved one. They are left with a bad memory or with grief, but they have perspective.

Yet about 10 percent of people generalize the fearful memory or the grief. Their brains continually get cues that the bad thing is still happening, and their bodies respond accordingly.

“It becomes a black hole of emotion,” Dr. Ressler says.

Why do some people get stuck in fear to the point of developing post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic grief or other panic disorders, while others seem to become more, well, fearless?

“We’re trying to figure that out,” says Dr. Ressler, whose research lab is studying the mechanisms underlying fear, in the hopes that they might one day understand how to turn down the fear response in people with fear-related disorders.


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Comments 5

  1. Fear they say is Fantasy Appearing As Real

    But I think that we are informed by our history and trauma and that may be why it increases with age.
    A book that I have found useful is THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE Mind, Brain, and Body in the Transformation of Trauma. By Bessel Van Der Kolk.

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  2. Looking forward to reading this article in full. It seems to me that many – if not most – people perhaps become more fearful and less confident in some areas of their life as they get older.

    Is this because of informed wisdom from experience ? Or a part of the developing human brain ? Perhaps even the brain creating a sense of caution – fear ? – as a means of protecting against diminishing strength and physical prowess ?

    Great topic.

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