Our greatest fear is fear itself.
-Franklin D. Roosevelt
Fear brings more pain than the pain it fears.
Several more recent theorists (Bandura, 1977; Ellis and Harper,
1975) believe we can think or imagine ourselves into almost any
emotional state. They say our thinking--our cognition--produces our
feelings, not classical conditioning. The focus in this section will be on
our inner experience--our thoughts--interacting with the external
world to generate anxiety or calm.
Past experience determines our view and evaluation of events,
others, and our selves, including our beliefs about our ability to handle
certain situations. Our beliefs and interpretations of the frightening
situation determine our actions and feelings to it. But the process is
complex. For instance, cognitive or social learning theorists believe
there are several steps involved: first we must perceive the situation
including our gut responses (our perception may be realistic or
distorted), second we evaluate the situation (as important or minor;
awful or good), third we assess our ability to handle the situation, and
finally we decide what to do and respond with feelings and actions.
Let's study this process in more detail to see how it results in fear.
The cognitive theory is clearly a very different notion from stress
based on an inborn impulse, an innate need, an automatic reaction, or
conditioning (like Little Albert). This theory is also different from
Freud's unconscious processes, although some of the cognitive
processes may be semiconscious. Cognitive theory returns the mind to
a central role in psychology; it contends that our conscious cognitions
(thinking) largely determine what we do and feel. Our minds work in
wondrous ways and may be rational (accurate) or irrational (wrong),
as we will now see from many examples.
How thinking can produce stress and fears in several ways
Within current psychology theory, cognitive explanations of stress
are fairly new, at most 20 to 25 years old. So, the theories are not
well integrated and organized, as yet. I will start with a brief, crude
overview of how we think our way into being upset (when there is little
rational reason for the fear). Then I will give you some more detailed
explanations and examples of specific kinds of thinking that produces
or reduces stress. Finally, near the end of the chapter we will
summarize the methods used to correct the thinking that causes
This is an overview. More-intense-than-necessary fears, worries,
self-doubts, anxiety, etc. may be caused