The Motif of Fear

I wasn’t surprised to discover fear is a pattern that repeats itself throughout my book. A twin of anger, the series I wrote about last week, fear controlled much of my childhood and teen years.

Although, for the most part, I learned to fear because of the anger of others, fear invaded all aspects of my life. In this rough passage that takes place when I am in first grade, I am almost “paralyzed” with fear of the dog that lived across the street from my house:

The chow wasn’t giving up, and my stomach began to clench as if it were pressed in my father’s metal vise. I sank onto my knees on the dirt drive, small stones digging into my skin, wedging between the lips of the cuts and scrapes I’d gotten riding my bike too fast. Dear God, make the lady call him inside. I bit the inside of my cheek and was soon sucking on iron, as the taste of blood flooded my mouth. Eventually time collapsed on itself, and I ceased recording it in my head. I sat and sat, alert to the barking.

Fear is something I know. As an adult, fear became anxiety, which comes with specific symptoms like tingling limbs. I know what makes me afraid. What makes me anxious is more mysterious.

Fear terror eyeHave fear or anxiety ever controlled your life? Do you find fear tied to anger or is it unrelated? Or are you a particularly fearless person? What made you so?



Filed under Books, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing goals

41 responses to “The Motif of Fear

  1. Fear has played its part in my life – fear of bullies when I was at school which ultimately made me fearful of putting my head above the parapet. As an adult, fortunately, I grew out of fear and it’s not something that plays a large role in my life anymore.

    • Ah, yes, I’ve written on here about being bullied in school. It sure takes a toll. Andrea, I’m so happy for you to overcome fear and that you no longer have to deal with it. I have anxiety, which I feel is related to fear. I also am afraid of certain things, like heights, but oddly I would love to be a BASE jumper, if only I could control my fear!

  2. I recall the fear of riding my bike down the suburban streets and having dogs chase me…and could I outrun them. Certain neighbors I avoided,

    As an adult, I have developed anxiety disorder with the occasional full blown panic attack. I have that medicated now, so it manifests itself as social anxiety. I avoid threatening social interactions…like coworker conflicts. I retired early.

    • Susan, oh me too with the dogs while riding my bike!!! I’m sorry to hear though that you have such a serious anxiety disorder. Work is one of the biggest anxieties for those of us who are prone to anxiety problems. Once I developed a panic attack over a certain textbook I was teaching. Whenever I saw the book I started to panic. The reason it started was a reaction to a steroid medication I was put on, so it had chemical roots, but that book and what it represented at work made me anxious, there is no doubt.

  3. I’ve been afraid of big dogs all my life!

    • Anneli, me too. One bit my eyelid off when I was one. Then when I was 13 one chased my friends and me and grabbed part of my ankle. Sigh.

      • That must have been terrifying. And still, people take their dogs out and let them run off leash in public areas. I believe dogs need to get exercise but not on someone else’s property and not on roads and sidewalks where people walk. Unfortunately we have many irresponsible dog owners around our area. I’m not against dogs. I have two of them.

  4. Since I was a child, I’ve had a fear of being caught in a fire. Recently when our alarms went off at 2:00 a.m., I thought my fears were being realized. Thankfully, it was just a malfunction of some sort. Of course, I never went back to sleep that night.

    • Jill, that must truly be terrifying. I think that because it gives me a feeling of crushing claustrophobia at the thought of being caught in a fire. What a terrible fear. xo

  5. Gosh, I can’t remember ever being fearless. I think I began worrying as soon as my parents divorced. Having children gave me more to worry about.
    Anxiety plagued my life for years. Now, I’m winning the battle, but I’m by no means fearless.

    I’m sorry about your dog bite. What a nightmare!

    • Joey, I’ve had several dog bites over the years, unfortunately. But I still like dogs :). The thing with my 4 cats is that they have smaller mouths than dogs, plus one of them is 14 and has never ever put her teeth on my skin for any reason. Sweet kitty.
      I can understand that divorce made you anxious. How many children are made anxious because their parents divorce? Good for you for winning the battle!!! If you feel like sharing, I’m wondering how you’re doing it!

      • I don’t know how many children of divorce suffer from anxiety, but I’d guess a good percentage of us. I read a wonderful book, “The Legacy of Divorce” and found it quite helpful. The research is from 25 years of case-studies.
        And thanks! I actually blogged about my battle with anxiety, and it’s quite long, but here’s a post about my four years of therapy, medication, lifestyle changes, and whatnot 🙂

  6. My father became manic several years ago after being overdosed with perscription meds by licensed killers/doctors. That is when I began to fear him in so many ways. On top of that, my fear/distrust of doctors was reinforced and proven once again to be justified. Terrifying in every sense.

    • Oh, Tilly, that is so frightening. When we can’t even trust doctors it’s so confusing and makes one feel so helpless. I’ve been let down by doctors many times, but your story seems particularly awful. I do wonder if all the psychiatric meds used today are really doing only what they are supposed to be doing. For instance, what are the rebound effects–do they even know or care?

  7. Don’t laugh but I’m still scared of things that go bump in the night. And spiders. Soon after the birth of my youngest son I suffered from really bad panic attacks and went on medication but then I discovered yoga and meditation. Changed my life.

    • Yolanda, I would never laugh at that! Once I get going with fear, it kind of takes over (although sometimes I am the brave one, so I never know which way I’m going to react!). That’s wonderful to hear that yoga and meditation have worked so well for you!

  8. It’s so interesting to hear you address the themes that came up in your novel. I definitely allow anxiety to control my life from time to time, then I’ll pull myself back + realize I can’t keep doing it. It’s not always easy to get rid of anxiety, but it’s even harder living with it. I do think that fear can be tied to anger — when we are fearful, our emotions tend to be knee-jerk responses, which could result in anger. Very interesting topic!

    • Caitlin, yes, that’s exactly what I’ve seen–fear leading to anger. And anger leading to fear as well. It’s almost like a contagion from overuse of emotion. Anxiety seems to be an epidemic today, and I am not sure if there are lots of reasons or one good reason why.

  9. I had fears of a less direct sort – fear of being seen as stupid or a failure, for example. I think those fears led to me not getting into too many directly fearful situations, because I just didn’t venture out and try much until my late 20’s, when I finally started to get past my fear of failure.

    • That’s a really good point. Occasionally I think that if I could have a do-over I would be more brave about things instead of letting fear keep me from doing more. So I can completely relate!

  10. Oh my word! I was afraid of so much when I was a child! I was afraid of what was *in* the dark – not afraid of the dark, but what might be lurking within. I’m still a little afraid of rocking chairs (long story). My mom had the craziest fears, and, since she’s died, I’ve realized that I seem to be replicating some of them, like a fear of bridges.

    • Robyn, my mind is kind of hooked (like a jacket sleeve on a branch, not an addiction) by the idea of you replicating some of your mother’s fears. Do you think it’s genetic or do you think it’s something going on in your mind causing it? Rocking chairs I suppose could be creepy depending on what movies you’ve seen! What causes some of our fears? My daughter is afraid of spiders and clusters of things (there’s a word for that). My son is afraid of clowns. They both were afraid of my big walking doll and thought she was blinking at them when I wasn’t in the room.

  11. I love coming over here Luanne and reading your posts, you always get me thinking of deep emotions and the way we express them and asking profound questions of ourselves. I find this particularly timely as I write my memoir of a story that was filled with fear and yes, also of anger. I grew up as you did, sadly, filled with fear as a reaction to the anger of those around me. I learnt to counter that fear with anger in later years because it felt better to be angry than to be afraid, I could deal with it so much better. But then it took its toll, leaving me with a life-long struggle with anxiety and depression from which I still suffer. Powerful these emotions aren’t they? Hugs… <3

    • Sherri, wow, you said that so well. It’s like a circle, isn’t it? Child encounters anger and learns fear, then learns anger as a result and coping mechanism. The anger then morphs into anxiety and depression and since anxiety is another form of fear and goes along with depression, voila: a cocktail of emotions that all spring from the original one. Hugs to you too xoxo.

  12. This was sad, so sorry that you were fearful of making someone angry. I am so sorry that you endured this in your childhood. I suppose that I have been influenced by worrying about what others think.
    As far as fears, I used to be afraid of a series of nightmares that I had. Someone was chasing me, through a lot of different episodes, sometime woods, sometimes in an unknown house, where I hid in an unfamiliar closet and so forth. I then did something that I had read about, on my last night before I had another bad dream. I imagined that I was someone who believed in Shirley Maclaine type of multiple lives in different time periods, I then thought about the different positives to reincarnation. This helped me, I fell asleep, and ever since then, have never been afraid of what may happen in my dreams. It is strange, but although I have been in life-threatening times, (my 2 years in the battered women’s shelter brought me 2 of these) I am not afraid. I may be tempting fate with this comment! Smiles, Robin

    • Robin, i used to have a nightmare just like that, but it was always when I wasn’t quite asleep yet. The running through the woods from somebody. Eventually I identified them as Nazis. That’s when I began to suspect that it was a real event that hadn’t happened to me.
      I’m so sorry you had to spend two years of your life in a shelter, but I hope it led to a much better time in your life. Were your children with you? If you don’t want to answer, just ignore, please. xoxo

  13. Frogs. There is nothing alive on earth I fear more.

  14. As a not terribly strong or coordinated person, I am afraid of engaging in activities where I am likely to end up hurt.

    As I kid, I was shy, easily embarrassed. I hated to have everybody looking at me. A friend talked me into taking an acting class in high school, and I learned that when you put yourself out there, you control it. That’s an invaluable lesson.

    • I really love that notion of “when you put yourself out there, you control it,” Elyse. I don’t remember that from my high school drama class, but it was in community theatre where we had to stand in the circle and fall back with our eyes closed–and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t trust them. Not on point here, but you reminded me that it was there that this happened.
      I so know that feeling of hating having people look at me!

  15. Ellen Morris Prewitt

    Childhood fear becoming adult anxiety—I’d never heard that before, Luanne. My fears are few—I really cannot tolerate going downhill in a car when the hill is so steep I can’t see the road ahead of me; I have to get out of the car; I don’t trust that the road is really there. My anxieties, on the other hand, are many and, as you can tell from my fear, are tied more to trusting the world than anger. Thanks, as usual, for a great post.

    • Ellen, it’s interesting that you would mention that right now because just above Elyse reminded me that I had/have a fear of trusting others, so that is true that my adult anxieties and fears might be related to trust issues.
      I understand that feeling of the road disappearing in front of one! Ugh, maybe you don’t like roller coasters either–I know I don’t!

      • Ellen Morris Prewitt

        I love roller coasters! But, and this is a big but, I’ve never ridden in the first car where you cannot see the rails for the drop-off. Ignorance is bliss?

        • That’s hilarious. So just put blinders on you, huh? When my husband drove us on the going to the sun road at Glacier National Park I put my hoodie on backwards. And yes, ignorance was bliss ;).

  16. I’m a scaredy-cat 😉 I still harbor a spider phobia although I’ve come a long way since moving to Florida. I’m afraid of speed, as in fast cars, fast motorcycle, even fast bicycles. I have social anxiety that makes me want to curl into a fetal position when I’m at a dinner party (which is why I rarely go to dinner parties). I’ve had “meltdowns” in crowded museums because I couldn’t handle being in a crowd. I have a fear of heights.

    Yet, I drove cross-country with little more than a hope and a prayer when I was in my early 20s; faced down cancer (albeit with a fair number of crying fits); and gone backpacking with my husband over steep terrain. I have a strong instinct for survival which does well to beat back my fears when necessary. I just don’t go looking for trouble, if I can help it 😉

    • Oh Marie, I’m so sorry that you have to do deal with all those fears and anxieties, but I love that you “beat back” your fears when you really need to. That shows how strong you are! And look at all you’ve accomplished! So much to be proud of and to write about of course ;).

      • Thanks, Luanne. That was a rather long list 😉 I think I’m getting more fearless as I get older. It might be that deeper appreciation for life, knowing that I’m now way past the half-way point. If the goal is worthy (like the perfect campsite), I’m more likely to push past my fears to meet it 🙂 Not always though. I still avoid crowds and dinner parties but then I am an introvert 😉

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