Basic Forms Of Fear (2/13 Life Lessons)

When I was roughly sixteen years old, my mom gave me the book that has had the greatest influence on me and my life. It is called “Grundformen der Angst” by Fritz Riemann.

He published it in 1961 as a study in psychodynamics, building his theory entirely on fear as the driving force of human nature and he characterised four forms of fear which stem from two pairs of conflicting needs. Each need is associated with its own specific expression of fear.

One pair revolves around being and individual versus being part of a group while the other revolves around a need for change versus a need for continuity and stability.

The underlying framework is very similar to the one [used by Ken Wilber] - and similarly useful in looking at the world.

He describes each of these four with their associated fears, “fear of loneliness”, “fear of restriction”, “fear of insecurity” and “fear of confinement” in one chapter per fear. During these chapters he goes to great depths and lengths and uses a lot of examples into the resulting disorders: Schizophrenia, Depression, Obsession, Hysteria.

While reading the first chapter I could identify myself so much with the stories and anecdotes that I was convinced I was totally and utterly crazy and doomed. Luckily I kept reading and it turned out that I had the same intensity of identification and horror in each of the chapters, so that in the end I could - with the help of Riemann - conclude that I am probably pretty normal.

It helped me understand at a very visceral level that we are all torn between needs (and fears) that are inextricably linked with each other, feed each other and create each other.

It taught me that I can never free myself of these fears, but I can learn to view them as a window into myself, my mind and maybe my soul to find something that gives me guidance - sort of an information system for navigating the complex world.

I mean this literally. Since then I view fear as an opportunity, as an opening into a part of me that I otherwise can hardly access. This opening is like a tunnel that I can choose to explore, sometimes bumping into other fears and emotions on the way that allow me to dig even deeper. I have learned a tremendous amount about how I function and behave in the world.

I am eternally grateful for my mom giving me this book at exactly this time in my life because I observed in many people who have read it later in life that they had a much harder time to cut through the mess of their fear than I had at sixteen. My fear landscape was still quite fresh and manageable.

So, when you decide you want to face your demons and dig deep inside, then this is the book. But be aware that you are much more complex than I was when I was sixteen (and probably even today)!

Thomas Schindler