The Destructiveness of Fear

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk



Have No Fear


“Hab kein Moire Chasody Mein Kind, bist doch ein Toire, Chasody Mein Kind.” “Have no fear my child, you are after all a scholar of the Tora (the book of law)”.  This is an old Yiddisch proverb that parents instilled in their children in the Stättel when they were very young.  During the last century and prior to that time there was much to be fearful about:  The pogroms in Russia and Poland, the holocaust which was initiated and carried out by the German Nazis, and  much more. Comfort was not all that was ended.

 The terrorist beasts instilled panic.  Fear was an inner mechanism to beware and act accordingly, especially for those who were fortunate to escape from the actions that would follow.

Fear can sometimes be a blessing in disguise and at other times it can create much pain and discomfort to the human psyche.  The late President Franklin Delano Roosevelt coined the expression:  ...(T)he only thing we have to fear is fear itself!  Being overwhelmed with fear can often have dire consequences and can lead to an internal incarceration of rational thought.  One example is agoraphobia, a fear of open spaces.  An individual thus afflicted can make it impossible for the person to leave his/her home,  thus making it extremely difficult to be independent, to work or even go to the grocery store. Fear of the unknown can lead to obsessive, depressive thoughts which shadows all of life's possible pleasures and comforts.  It hampered some of the victims of the Holocaust from leaving Nazi Germany because of the feeling that they could not adjust to a new situation, let alone a new country.  Those are the people that popularized the phrase that they would leave with the last train, since they clung to the familiar.  Indeed they did  leave with the last train, to Bergen Belsen, to Auschwitz, to Buchenwald, to Dachau and other death camps.

There are three very common fears that many people in our western world have:  The fear of public speaking, the fear of death, and the fear of flying.  The fear of speaking to a group stems from a feeling that the speaker will be ridiculed for being imperfect, for making mistakes, for exposing himself to the laughter that will surround him from the mouths of his listeners.  It comes from insecurity and lack of self confidence.  The individual thus afflicted may lose his voice or temporarily his breath – a noticeable physical reaction expressing serous conflicts about his authenticity, his knowledge and his competence.  Another may believe that a piece of his clothing is not right, that his fly may zip open or, for women, that her petticoat will fall beyond the hemline of her dress; or perhaps the belief that nasal excretions are visible on his face.  Another sign might be the conviction that he or she will forget what he wishes to say in spite of the fact that his notes are on a stand before him.  There are many other symptoms that accompany the thought of speaking publicly. 

Another plaguing fear is that an airplane will crash in mid air and kill or maim instantly.  will believe she will go blind during such a trip and be forever unable to see.  She will be almost paralyzed when the departure time arrives and has been known to avoid such trips altogether.  If she does take the plane she will be glued to her seat and cannot possibly enter the plane’s toilet regardless of a pressing need to eliminate.  She believes the plane will tip as she walks toward the toilet.  Such would-be passengers have missed many worthwhile opportunities to see other places and friends and relatives who live far away and can only be reached within a reasonable time if they could only use the modern vehicle – the plane!

Fear of death is something which most humans dread.  There are many stories about death, including what will happen to the individuals who face this inevitable occurrence.  The Brothers Grimm were masters in instilling anxiety in children about this and other gripping stories concerning this phenomenon.  One German poem begins with a lightning storm: “Uhrgrossmutter, Grossmutter, Mutter und Kind in dunkeler Stube versammelt sind” (Great grandmother, grandmother, mother and child are together in a dark room) and ends with the annihilation of all three generations of these females.  First of all, we cannot imagine ourselves into the state of non-existence, non-being.  We do not want to lose our loved ones and all of our earthly possessions and all that is familiar in our lives.  We dread going into that dark sinkhole – the grave.  We fear ourselves struggling frantically for breath and are choking.  We feel the worms crawling into our flesh.  Our voices are stilled, we cannot cry out, we can get no help, we are in never, never land of oblivion.  Our very being is extinguished.  Our light will have gone out.  Our life was for naught.  Others are using what we have scraped together; others will rejoice for that which they have not worked.  They will treat our earthly possessions with disdain.  People will say evil things about us and we will be unable to defend ourselves; we will have disappeared.  We equate death with life and believe we are able to feel the most dreadful horrors that we will be exposed to without recourse and for eternity.

In short, fear can be very destructive.  To a large extent it is sometimes taught within the family and most often hampers us from fully enjoying our lives.  It has been observed that children who feel loved and accepted will feel much more secure and less prone to overwhelming fears and can cope much better with life’s exigencies than those who have not had that good fortune.  As Shakespeare so aptly stated: “Cowards die many times before their death, the valiant never taste of death but once.”  Spirituality, faith, moral behavior and pride in our heritage and the carrying out of Mitzwot (blessings or good deeds) can assist us in feeling the happiness and peace that we all need so much and deserve!


Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of  Deviant Nurses & Improper Patient Care (2006).

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