we fear what we know

Vic Shayne
4 min readFeb 3, 2023

Vic Shayne
The Self is a Belief: the idea that causes suffering

Photo by Arina Krasnikova

Most of us have heard the old trope that people suffer from fear ofthe unknown. But it seems instead that we actually fear the known and not the unknown. Allow me to explain.

Since the earliest age in childhood we are inundated with information, knowledge, ideas, and beliefs that are impressed upon us by parents and authority figures. This forms the sense of self, which is also called “me,” “I,” and the egoic self. The self is full of ideas about what it is and what everything else is, and it is concerned with the knowledge that it has incorporated from secondhand sources. This knowledge can help us navigate through life, but it also creates a false sense of reality and the basis for our fears.

Most knowledge, or information, that we hold onto does not originate from our own observation, and we form opinions resulting from our own experiences. Our experiences are judged and appraised based upon our collective body of knowledge, according to what we know. What we believe dictates how we feel and what we fear. If we believe that there is hell waiting for us on the other side of death then that’s a scary thought. If we believe that there is a god then we may feel secure, but if we also believe that this god punishes us for what we have been taught is bad then we fear god.

biological concerns are practical
Of course we have biological fears to protect us, and we are rightly careful about walking too close to a precipice, trying to hug a lion, or swimming too far from the shore. But psychological fears are the most crippling and troubling, because they hamper our enjoyment, create health issues due to stress, and do not allow us to love fully and unconditionally. Our fears come from what we have learned to fear, which is from our personal database of knowledge. We fear what we think we know to be true.

fear of death
is the fear of death,, from the Greek words Thanatos, meaning death, and phobos meaning fear. Psychologist Jade Wu explains, “You may think that religious belief, which usually includes confidence in an afterlife or a greater meaning to life, would make people feel better about the finality of death. But studies have found that those with stronger religiosity, regardless of culture or religion, have a stronger fear of death.”

Religious ideas are the bases of what many believe are true. And religion is one of the influences that help form the sense of self.

Medical News Daily reports, “A person may feel extreme anxiety and fear when they consider that death is inevitable.” While the fear of death is extremely common, so is the fear of separation, losing something precious, and being apart from loved ones. Nearly as prominent as fear of death is fear of speaking in public to a gathering of people. There seems to be as many fears as there are ideas. But what’s really at the bottom of this fear?

underlying our fears
As noted, fears begin with the conditioning of the mind with secondhand ideas. We fear what we think we know about things. We fear sharks because we know they are in the ocean. We fear death because we know the body does not last forever. We fear public speaking because we know everyone is looking at us and judging us. And we fear growing old because we’ve seen it happen to others. But there is something deeper at play in this business of fear.

fear of damaging the image we’ve made
For the egoic self to survive in this world we have created a self-image of resiliency, bravery, strength, and power. We want to believe ourselves to be impermeable, permanent, righteous, and untouchable.

Ultimately, the sense of self, which is the egoic “me,” has an image of what it is and what it should be. The self seeks at nearly all costs to protect this image, and if it is threatened then we fear that which we know can threaten it. For example, we are afraid of annihilation because we’ve worked psychologically so hard to protect our valuable selves from death. And we have worked hard to push out all thoughts of our demise. We don’t want to look at it, consider it negative thinking, and can’t deal with the truth. Death goes against our desire to have permanence and importance in a transient reality.

We fear the known, no doubt.



Vic Shayne

NY Times bestselling author writing about reality beyond thought, consciousness, and the self to uncover what is fundamental. https://shorturl.at/mrAS6