Motivated by our greatest fear

Maslow in describing his hierarchy of needs mainly focused on our needs as motivating behaviour. However, he tended to downplay the power of fear to motivate us. Fear can make tigerpugus back off and run the opposite direction – fast. Conversely it can move us forward through seemingly impossible situations and make us more determined than ever to achieve our objectives. Every hero in war knows the experience of overcoming the fear of death and advancing regardless. Fear can assume many faces and often lurks in the background, not always apparent. It can be so unsettling that we may choose to ignore or deny it. Regardless of what shape it assumes it is a powerful motivator.

We all experience fear, and we all have something that we fear more than anything else. As I child my greatest fear was losing my parents. It was the stuff of many a nightmare. I also had a fear of tigers and pythons – not kidding. But it wasn’t entirely irrational as I grew up in Malaya (now Malaysia) where large cobras and pythons would crawl into our bathroom at night to cool themselves on the concrete floor, hence I learnt bladder control from an early age. I recall the family terminating an early morning walk in the Cameron Highlands when we happened upon fresh tiger pug marks in the mud on our path. With water still oozing into the imprint, our valour yielded to the retreat of discretion, not before my father took a photo of the evidence. Forget the impression of the pad in the mud, the impression on the mind of a seven year-old still endures over sixty year later in the recurring nightmare of being halfway up a coconut palm with a large python descending from above and a tiger waiting for me below. Eat your heart out Carl Yung. Of course, it wasn’t made any easier by the frequent screenings of Dad’s old 16mm movie, Jungle MarauderTigers and pythons were part of my childhood.


      A Black Hmong Child, Sapa, Vietnam

In the natural order of things, life begins with connection. In the condensed version, boy meets girl, sperm fertilises egg, egg attaches to uterus and the most amazing bond endures for about nine months. Within moments of birth the new-born attaches to the breast and the foundation for connection is laid for a lifetime. This theme is the topic of a future post, but without doubt for all practical purposes the most powerful motivator of our everyday lives is the need to connect. Once our basic physiological requirements are ticking over most of what we do revolves around connection. It is at the core of who we are. Where it is denied or restricted we will inevitably see disturbances in behaviour. Plain and simple, we are made to connect.

  • Physically, we desire the touch and closeness of others.
  • Emotionally, we need to be affirmed, valued, recognised and appreciated.
  • Mentally, we are stimulated to know more and connect with new ideas, wisdom and insight.
  • Spiritually, we need to feel that we are not alone in the Cosmos. We seek meaning and purpose in our existence. A part of us seeks to connect with a something or someone  greater than ourselves.

If connection is so vital to our existence then it makes sense to suggest that its antithesis is equally important – the fear of rejection. Any hint of disconnection or rejection will quickly betray the presence of underlying fear. Fear is such a powerful force that very few have the ability to hide its indicators, meaning that whenever people experience rejection their behaviour will reveal the accompanying fear.

Most of us are incredibly sensitive to the signals of rejection, to the point that we will even interpret partial rejection as total rejection. If we are rejected by someone who is truly significant the devastation of the rejection is akin to grief. In ways it can be worse, because it is very difficult to bury the pain rejection when the one who rejected you is still alive.

Rejection cuts at the very core of our being. All of our many attempts to add value to ourselves, to build a positive self-image and define ourselves as adequate human beings are assaulted when we are rejected. When this is re-inforced with cutting and angry words or with physical violence or punishment, our sense of worth is at risk of being shattered.

Sadly, few of us are exempt. When the words and gestures of rejection are repeated often enough we will begin to believe their messages. The feedback of others is very powerful, regardless of what brave words or slogans we might invent to soothe ourselves.

It is an awful thing to feel that you are alone, unwanted, disregarded, unloved, and unnoticed. The child who feels this way is in serious trouble. It may be a perception that doesn’t reflect reality, but kids don’t have the maturity and insight to understand what is going on. Deep damage happens when sublimation and denial become the bargaining tools of acceptance and approval. All too quickly the child becomes an adult with the attendant baggage still firmly attached. Rejection is the catalyst for so much unhappiness.

To be continued. . Rejecting rejection

Fear_01Tiger at Mogo Zoo, NSW, Australia