The Purpose of Fear

For anyone who has ever been in a situation, be it a mugging, a fight or even having someone you know make you jump – you get “that feeling”. Feels a little bit like butterflies in your stomach. Real fear leaves you feeling those nerves, but also feeling sick and shaky. Your brain doesn’t move as quickly as it would it normal situations – which is why training and drilling are so important. Your actions need to be pre-determined and as close to instinctual as possible.

What is the purpose of fear?

The important thing to know about fear is that its all natural. “Fear” is not actually an emotional reaction, it’s really your body releasing adrenaline into your bloodstream. The adrenaline is designed to give your body a boost to help you with either fight or flight.

However, people, on the whole, are extraordinarily bad at making use of this adrenaline – most people freeze up and do nothing, which is aptly named the “deer in headlights” reaction.

Why do people in danger do nothing?

The reason people do nothing, even when they should be fighting for their lives, is that when something unexpected and frightening happens your brain is fighting with your natural instincts. We humans, being blessed with consciousness and logic, attempt to rationalize and to use our intellect to choose a course of action.

Obviously this isn’t what you want to be doing when you’re called to defend yourself – being on the back foot is absolutely the place you DON’T want to be.

I was told an analogy once which I feel fits this situation…

The Fox and the Cat

A fox and a cat are discussing how they would get away from the dogs on a hunt. The fox knew over twenty different ways to trick or evade the dogs, which in theory would let him escape. The cat only knew one, which left him feeling vulnerable.

However, when the dogs were released on their hunt, the fox agonized over which of his escape strategies would work the best (and ended up getting caught.) The cat, however, only knowing one strategy, had already acted without hesitation – straight up a tree and safe.

Listening to your gut

the important message I wanted to convey here is that you should never ignore that feeling – that “fear.”

A woman walking down a dark street on her own feels that fear – perhaps the creeping sensation that she’s being followed – and says to herself “don’t be silly.” NEVER. EVER do that. Your body will sometimes have noted something that you haven’t consciously recognized. Your body sometimes tell you that something is wrong.

An example from my own experience

One night I was walking home from the gym, it was a cold night in winter around 8 pm on an estate near my house. I won’t name and shame, but it wasn’t the nicest place in the world to be.

Ahead of me down the street, I caught sight of two men stood talking quietly. I noticed nothing untoward and continued walking towards them when suddenly I got a shot of adrenaline seemingly for no reason.

Having learned my lessons in the past the hard way – I forced myself to pay attention. Asking myself “what caused that reaction” and knowing that I should trust my instincts.

As I got a little closer to the guys, I noticed that one of them was showing a gun to the other! I hadn’t consciously seen this, but obviously my peripheral vision had. My body had reacted in the only way it could to wake me up.

As a result, I turned a corner and walked home by a slightly different route.

Now, it could be that I overreacted. It may have been a replica, or a pellet gun I spotted at distance and in the dark. I wasn’t prepared to take that chance. I used avoidance to get me out of the situation before there even was a situation, and if I had to do the same again I would. Having ignored my instincts in the past and had a much more dramatic (and painful) result. I’ll never do so again.

Trust yourself

The important take-away here is to always listen to your fear. It isn’t something to be ashamed of, it’s simply a tool that your body will use on occasion to tell you to be careful, or to take action. You have to move fast to take advantage of your adrenaline.

Previously published on

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