Primary and secondary fear

What first scares the amygdala is often termed as the initial or primary fear. They are unthinking, instinctive responses that we have. The response or secondary fear is the way we feel about the primary fear. This is usually the problem with “anxiety”.

However, the primary fear is not always an inherited reaction to a stimulus. The primary fear can be a learned fear and we can also retrain an instinctive primary fear through new understanding. The following paragraph is a good example of this.

Think of a primitive man when he heard thunder and lightning, he ran for his life into the cave. He was scared of it because he didn’t understand it. Thunder and lightning have not changed over the years but our understanding of it has changed and so has our behaviour. Thankfully, people no longer do a runner into a building when we hear thunder and see lightning. When you understand primary panic, your behaviour also changes.

Many primary fears are learned from experience, we can become conditioned to fear a situation. For instance, most people don’t fear dogs but if you were attacked by a dog you could develop a primary fear of the presence of a dog – not just the dog that attacked you.

The amygdala develops a generalisation when threatened. So, in the case mentioned the person may not just develop a fear of the particular dog that bit you but ALL dogs.

This generalisation is important when it comes to our experiences with other people. This is significant is social anxiety. If you were hurt by one person, you may develop a fear of people in general (unless, you have developed a sense of safety around them – your family for example).

If you were shamed or punished for making mistakes when you were young, you may now fear to make a MISTAKE as an adult. The IMPRESSION you make becomes highly significant for you.

Primary and secondary fear

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