Fear of the Unknown

Fear is a basic instinct and it is required for survival. It protects an individual from potential danger mainly by running away from it.

If there is a tiger in the room, we will be afraid to enter it. Such fear is logical and correct.

Logical fear will vanish when the object of fear is gone. One never gets tension or anxiety due to it afterwards. It is only specific to that particular situation.

Fear is justified and logical only when:

  • We know the object of fear (e.g. Tiger)
  • We know what kind of harm it can do (e.g. Eat us)

But not otherwise.

And most of the times our fear is not logical. We are afraid of ‘something’ but we don’t know exactly what that something is. This is ‘fear of the unknown’.

And such fear can never die. It troubles us. It gives us tension. We don’t know how to get over it, as there is nothing specific to get over.

We then try to avoid the situation. We feel like not going to work. But then we know that we have to. And this makes us helpless and we develop more fear.

This ‘unknown fear’ consumes the happiness of our life. We lose our peace of mind. If this situation gets prolonged, we get frustrated, depressed and lost.

Fear of the unknown is very very common.

A typical conversation with an intelligent 10 year old girl:

“I cannot go for my family picnic. There is a fair in my school. And attendance is compulsory.”
“What will happen if you still don’t go?”
“My teacher won’t like it.”
“Ok. Let her not like it. What harm will it do to you?”
“I will get a bad remark in my diary”
“So what? It’s just in the diary, right? Tell your teacher to write all the bad remarks she wants, and then tear off that page. All remarks gone into the dustbin! Now what are you afraid of?”
“I don’t know!”

This, precisely, is fear of the unknown.

And we strongly impart this ‘fear of unknown’ in young children.

Here are the most common ways we do it –

1. Parents reaction to the child’s result:

A child gets 96 marks out of 100. Mother says, “Oh what happened? How did you lose 4 marks? I thought you had studied so well and how could you mess it up at the exam? And have you asked the teacher where you lost the marks? Have you seen the paper?”

Her whole body language is such that the child knows that something is surely wrong. Otherwise why will mother be so upset? But she does not know exactly what the problem is. And this starts to build the fear of unknown in the child’s mind.

Be very careful about reacting on your child’s result. Your body language is responsible for fear of unknown.

2. Making a child afraid of hypothetical situations:

“There is cut-throat competition in the world. If you don’t score well, you will lag behind.”
“Aim for the top. Dream big. Be a topper. Only toppers get good things in life.”
“You have to be the best. Only then you will survive in this competitive world.”
“IIT is the best. If you don’t study for it now, you will never get a good job.”
“You must have medals and certificates. Otherwise no one will select you in interviews.”

First of all, this is simply NOT TRUE. There are millions of opportunities in the world for everyone, not just toppers.
Secondly, all of us cannot be at the top anyway. Because then, who will be at the bottom?

Such carelessly thrown statements greatly contribute towards building the ‘fear of unknown’ in the poor child.

3. Constant worry about the future of the child:

We met a lady with her 4 year old daughter at the gate of a school. She was very sad because her daughter got a ‘B’ in the school test. With great curiosity I asked what the test was about. The test was ‘Drawing slanting lines’! And she was so worried about her daughter being left behind in the world!

Really, do you know a single person who suffered because he did not do well in kindergarten?

Seeing the mother so worried about her, the child herself develops a fear of the unknown.

4. Compelling the child to do activities of which he is afraid:

E.g.1) Child is having stage fear. Parents force the child saying that he must perform on stage to overcome this fear.

E.g.2) Child is afraid of entering swimming pool. Parents push the child saying that swimming must be learnt at a young age only.

Basically, we should know that only things like food, water and air are compulsory in life. Remaining things like attendance, swimming, dance, etc. are all OPTIONAL!

Such foolish compulsions add to the fear of the unknown.

5. Permissions and sanctions from others:

“My school does not give permission participate in this exam”.
“Can I use a sketch-pen in my project report?”
“Is it okay if I put brown paper cover on my textbook?”

The child feels that he has to constantly ask for somebody’s permission.

And the fear that “somebody may not permit me to do something” adds to the fear of unknown.

Continuous pressure of having to please others is also a type of ‘fear of unknown’ – because we never know when they will be pleased and we can never please the whole world!

6. Helplessness

Sometimes, a child does not feel like doing some activity. E.g. Wants to bunk dance class and play with friends. Parents force him. Child starts to cry. But he knows that parents are going to force him by simply overpowering him. This makes him helpless. Helplessness increases fear.

Don’t let your child become helpless. Protect him against helplessness. It is very important at young age. Don’t force such silly things and make the child helpless. Let him not go to drawing and singing and swimming class on that day. It really does not matter. But don’t make the child helpless in the process. That is much more essential. They can learn any of dancing or singing or such things later if they wish to.

Helplessness strongly increases fear of unknown.

Fear of unknown is a kind of a trap. One can enter it very easily and then it is very difficult to identify or accept that we are caught in it. Most of us experience it knowingly or unknowingly at school or job or wherever we go. And it is the most difficult thing to fight and get rid of.

However, the following points may help to overcome it:

  • Identify and acknowledge:

Just acknowledging the fear and its nature will make you feel good and reduce your tension.

  • Imagine the worst case scenario

Most of the time, the worst case scenario is not that bad. Evaluate it. This will help you to reduce your fear.

  • Ask – what difference does it make to me?

There is no need to get affected by what others say or feel all the time. It is not your holy duty to impress and obey each and every one on earth.

  • Try to run away from the fear!

Running away is perfectly reasonable.

If you have developed fear for some activity, simply don’t do it. Run away from it. This is a very natural solution. Do execute it. There is nothing wrong in it. This will surely reduce the fear. You will know that you have an option.

If you have fear of unknown, don’t think that there is something wrong with you. It is not a psychological problem. It is very common. Almost everyone has it. And you can get over it.

And don’t have fear of the ‘fear of unknown’.  Because such a fear also lies in the same category – The ‘fear of unknown’!

– Rahul and Udita Ogale

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