Phil Barker

July 2003

What exactly is Fear?

Fear is «an unpleasant and often strong emotion caused by expectation or knowing of risk.»[1] Fear is wholly natural and helps people to recognize and answer dangerous situations and threats. But healthy fear — or fear that has a protective function — can evolve into unhealthy or pathological fear, which could cause exaggerated and violent behavior.

«The typical thread that weaves violent political movements together is fear. It's not truly the only motivating factor behind political physical violence, nor necessarily decreasing, but it is virtually always there. Whenever we ask why individuals hate, or why they have been prepared to destroy or perish for a reason, the answer is invariably fear.» — James F. Mattil

Dr. Ivan Kos lays down a number of different stages of fear. The foremost is genuine fear, or fear according to an actual situation. If someone or something like that hurts you, you have got grounds to fear it later on. Second is realistic, or possible fear. This really is fear situated in truth that causes an individual in order to avoid a threat originally (in other words. waiting to get across a busy road for safety reasons). Next, exaggerated or emotional fear handles a person «recalling past fears or occurrences and injecting them into an ongoing situation.»[2] This type of fear is particularly highly relevant to conflict. Emotional fear affects just how individuals handle conflictual circumstances.

Factors behind Fear

Conflict is generally driven by unfulfilled needs therefore the fears pertaining to these needs. The most typical fear in intractable conflict could be the anxiety about losing a person's identity and/or protection. Individuals and teams identify themselves in a few methods (based on culture, language, competition, religion, etc.) and threats to those identities arouse really genuine fears — fears of extinction, fears into the future, worries of oppression, etc.

For many individuals, the entire world is changing rapidly and their everyday lives are increasingly being modified because of this. For a few religious individuals, this change leads to worries that teenagers will abandon the Church or Mosque, your news will become more essential and influential into the life of the children, and they are losing control of the very own future. These threats to identity cause fear.[3]

Likewise, in a lot of ethnic disputes, a brief history of "humiliation, oppression, victimhood, feelings of inferiority, persecution of your respective team, as well as other kinds of discrimination" cause an anxiety about similar wrongdoing in the future.[4] These historical memories shape how groups and folks see both. Consequently, historic violence between Israelis and Palestinians, Hutus and Tutsis, and Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland affects how these teams look at each other and frequently results in anxiety about the other person. Group fears often translate into individual fears, as group extinction can be associated with specific extinction.

These examples illustrate the essential role that history performs within the development of fear. Memories of past injustices lead people to anticipate future oppression or violence with a feeling of anxiety and dread.

Why Fear Matters

Additional insights into fear are offered by Beyond Intractability project individuals.

Fear is a critical element in intractable conflict. Feelings like fear can often cause extreme and apparently irrational behavior in people, which can end in escalating conflict. In accordance with James F. Mattil, the handling Editor of Flashpoints: Guide to World Conflict, «The common thread that weaves violent political movements together is fear. It is really not the only real motivating element behind governmental physical violence, nor necessarily the most obvious, but it is practically constantly there. If we ask why people hate, or why they are ready to destroy or die for a reason, the answer is invariably fear.»[5]

Individuals are social in nature, with shared values, faith, tradition, language, etc. Whenever the basic traits that tie a group together are threatened, the team will worry because of its success. As a result, the team also attempt to eliminate danger, sometimes through distorted or violent means.

History plays a crucial role in this process. Historic experiences shape how teams see threats. If friends happens to be harmed or wounded previously, it affects their perspective today. For instance, historic tensions and wrongdoing affect how Israelis and Palestinians see each other today. Oftentimes, history is exaggerated — meaning one group is portrayed as acutely heroic and another group portrayed as barbarian or inhuman. Therefore results in more mistreatment, as it is easier to abuse or hurt a group that has been dehumanized. A cycle develops--someone is hurt, leading to fear together with demonization of the individual or team that hurt them. This, in turn, makes it easier for future wrongdoing that occurs.

It is also important to note the effect that elites, or leaders, have actually on fear and conflict. Oftentimes, leaders use worry to their political advantage. Leaders need help from those they lead, plus one way to gain this support is by playing regarding fears for the individuals. Leaders in Northern Ireland can use worries of either the Protestants or the Catholics with their very own governmental benefit. Numerous have asserted that George Bush used driving a car of another 9-11 to support the next U.S. war in Iraq. Leaders may even intentionally deepen these worries for his or her very own purposes. Doing this can aggravate the currently existing fears and trigger future difficulties.[6]

Coping with Fear

Individuals: There are many ways of approaching fear within the context of conflict. But since fear is such a personal issue, many approaches focus on the individual. There are various techniques to cope with your very own fear, including

  • becoming conscious of it,
  • identifying the methods you express fear
  • recognizing the circumstances which trigger fear, and
  • using behavioral techniques to reduce fear and stress.[7]

In purchase to overcome worries, individuals and teams must first comprehend their particular worries and comprehend so how destructive they can be. But is similarly vital that you be familiar with others' fears. Being conscious of other's fear allows you to handle it properly. The most effective means of handling the fear of others is through empathy, or seeing things through the other person's perspective. As soon as one does that, one can recognize actions of one's very own that would be unnecessarily causing fear on the other side. By toning down an individual's language, or clarifying a person's interests and requirements, you can dispel unwarranted worries, thereby assisting one other side feel better. Empathy normally essential in just about any attempt at reconciliation or mediation as it helps you to foster an optimistic connection between individuals.[8] Additionally it is important to share your worries in order that other people can empathize with you in return, and alter their behavior in ways that may reduce that fear too.

«we've absolutely nothing to fear but fear itself.» — Franklin Roosevelt 1933, First Inaugural Address

Officials: Public help is important for political leaders. One of the ways leaders can gain this help is through handling, playing off of, or inducing the fears of his or her individuals. Thus, leaders can play an important role within the creation and/or calming of worries, especially in ethnic or inter-group conflicts. It is necessary that leaders know about the results of utilizing fear as a motivational tool. Because fear is such a strong feeling, leaders should be exceptionally wary about playing in the fears of people. The former Yugoslavia is a perfect exemplory case of how the worries of the individuals can be used by leaders for power. Serb leaders frequently played on Serb fears in order to strengthen their power also to push individuals to do things they may otherwise have refused doing.[9] Contrast this aided by the really famous quote of Franklin Roosevelt: «we've nothing to fear but fear it self.» This really is an overstatement...fear may be genuine and justified, but it is much too dangerous to exploit for any other aims.

Third events: Mediators and 3rd events can play a significant part in helping individuals to over come their fears. By comprehending the ways that fear can make and escalate conflict, third parties can deal with these issues in a constructive way. A good way this is achieved is by assuring that individuals on both edges of a conflict believe that their individual requirements and worries are being addressed. Oftentimes this is done through no-fault talks, wherein people are banned to talk about who's wrong in times, but only ways they could go toward a peaceful resolution. Neither part needs to lose in areas which they give consideration to to be an important need or fear. Solutions must always «satisfy fundamental needs and allay deepest worries.»[10]

Additionally it is vital that you remember that an issue such as for instance identity and also the fears associated with it are not zero-sum. Simply put, the calming of 1 group's fear doesn't indicate that another team has more explanation to fear. Frequently quite contrary does work. The greater secure one group feels, the less they feel a need to strike other teams. Hence protection can actually be a win-win or good sum game: the greater one part has, the more the other side has too. That is real from the bully regarding the play ground...who is usually an insecure child, on bully in the worldwide system.

Through empathy and understanding, teams in conflict can find out about the worries and requirements of other people and, along the way, overcome their very own fears besides.

[1] Merriam-Webster on line [book online] (accessed 7 March 2003); available from; Web.

[2] Paul Wahrhaftig, Belgrade Combating worry Project [article on-line] (accessed 11 March 2003); available from; Internet.

[3] James F. Mattil, exactly what in the title of Jesus?: Fundamentalism, Fear & Terrorism [article on-line] (accessed 7 March 2003); available from ; Internet.

[4] Steve Utterwulghe, Rwanda's Protracted personal Conflict: taking into consideration the Subjective attitude in Conflict Resolution Strategies [article online] (accessed 7 March 2003); available from; Internet.

[5] James F. Mattil, exactly what into the title of Jesus?: Fundamentalism, Fear & Terrorism [article on-line] (accessed 7 March 2003); available from ; Internet.

[6] Herbert Kelman, «Social-Psychological proportions of International Conflict,» in Peacemaking in International Conflict: Methods and Techniques, eds. I. William Zartman and J. Lewis Rasmussen (Washington, D.C.: usa Institute of Peace Press, 1997), 197.

[7] **Endnote lacking (will include later).

[8] Herbert Kelman, «Social-Psychological measurements of Global Conflict,» in Peacemaking in International Conflict: Methods and methods, eds. I. William Zartman and J. Lewis Rasmussen (Washington, D.C.: usa Institute of Peace Press, 1997), 199.

[9] Anthony Oberschall, The manipulation of ethnicity: from ethnic cooperation to violence and war in Yugoslavia [article online] (accessed 13 March 2003); available from; Internet.

[10] Herbert Kelman, «Social-Psychological Dimensions of International Conflict,» in Peacemaking in Overseas Conflict: Methods and Techniques, eds. I. William Zartman and J. Lewis Rasmussen (Washington, D.C.: united states of america Institute of Peace Press, 1997), 197.

Make use of the after to cite this short article:
Barker, Phil. «Fear.» Beyond Intractability. Eds. Man Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Suggestions Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Published: July 2003 <>.

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