Fear Created by Trauma Often Operates Unconsciously

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Fear grabs our attention, taking over our bodies and minds. This is because fear evolved to warn us of potential threats and to spur us into protecting ourselves from those threats.

However, not all fear enters consciousness. Sometimes fear keeps us safe by operating in the background. 

Imagine yourself walking in a town. You will probably keep to the pavements, and only cross the road at designated crossings. Even then, you will typically wait for the pedestrian lights to turn green. Most of us stick to the pavements because we fear being knocked down, but this fear doesn’t need to become conscious to do its job. We do not generally walk around with the fear of being hit by a car dominating our thoughts.

Some of the fears created around traumatising wounds operate similarly. Their impact on our lives is significant, but they reside in the unconscious. 

These fears can persist long after the threatening situation is over and long after the most obvious effects of trauma have been addressed. When we carry these fears, the internal pedestrian lights never turn green, so we never feel safe enough to cross the road. 

Hidden trauma-created fears can limit our lives in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways. 

This was part of my experience last year. There came the point when I realised that although I was happy with a lot of work I was doing, I was also spending a significant amount of time on work that was not helping me reach my goals.

I initially criticised myself for how I’d been spending my time. Eventually, I shifted from self-criticism to curiosity: “Why had I strayed?” I began to wonder.

Before long, I became aware that an outdated trauma-induced fear had been quietly working in my unconscious to keep me away from the work that meant most to me.

Recognising that an outdated fear is driving our behaviour does not eliminate the fear, but it does allow us to hold it with compassion. And that then helps us find the courage to cross roads, despite the warnings generated by the fear, and despite its misguided determination to protect us. 

(c) Daniela F. Sieff, PhD. 2022


Daniela F. Sieff, PhD. 

Daniela is a scholar, author, and speaker who explores emotional suffering, healing, and well-being. Learn about Daniela and her work at:

This essay stems from a book Daniela is currently writing. 

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