The Only Thing We Have to Fear…

I’ve been reading Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin. Grandin is a high-functioning autistic woman, with a Ph.D. in animal science, who has a unique understanding of animals. You may have seen the movie about her life in which she’s played by Claire Danes. (If not, it’s definitely worth a rental.) Grandin’s autism helps her to bridge the gap between human and animal psychology because she thinks in pictures, much the way we believe animals do. So words are her “second language,” if you will.

I decided not to do a special review of the book, partly because I don’t agree with everything she says or the way in which she says it, and that’s my own bias. But she did give me a lot to think about. I thought I’d share one such passage with you:

Another huge difference between animals and people: I don’t think animals have the defense mechanisms Sigmund Freud described in humans. Projection, displacement, repression, denial – I don’t think we see these things in animals. Defense mechanisms defend against anxiety, and all defense mechanisms depend on repression in some way. Using repression you push whatever it is you’re afraid of down into your unconscious mind and focus your conscious mind on a stand-in. {Here’s the kicker, folks.} Or, in the case of higher, more mature defense mechanisms, like humor, altruism, or intellectualization, you use humor, empathy and thought to push away the “real” emotion, which is fear.

Did anyone else just have an ah-ha moment? FEAR is often the underlying emotion. Not to get all self-help or woo-woo on you but this gave me a revelation. We (society) seem to spend a lot time living in fear, even if we don’t give it that name. I’m not talking about common phobias like snakes (on a plane or anywhere else) or elevators. Those are fears in which you realize you’re afraid and (usually, hopefully) realize that they aren’t rational. I’ll give a basic example from my life.

Many nights I’ll come home from work with a plan to write that evening. I need to finish a short story I’m working on. Before you know it, I’m sewing a loose button, cleaning the oven, paying bills. Anything to avoid writing. Can you say, procrastination? If you think about it, the procrastination is really fear. Fear that my story is total crap. Fear that I’m wasting my time and should be doing something more constructive. Fear that any dreams I have will not be realized. Fear that my dreams will be realized. Fear that I will die a surly curmudgeon living above my friend’s garage. Okay, that last one is probably true, but you get my point.  The procrastination is a defense mechanism for fear. So, unless there is real danger, I cross paths with Lindsay Lohan in Greenwich Village, say, most of my fears are unfounded. Meaning, the fear is in my mind. My writing may not win a Pulitzer, but it’s good. Heck, I’d like to think it’s even publishable. (Note to agent: Call me!) So really the fear is the thing that is a waste of time, not the writing, see?

Is fear masquerading in your life? Hopefully the next time I try to procrastinate, I’ll recognize it for what it is and be able to call myself on it. Of course that might mean the oven doesn’t get cleaned as often.



  1. Hi Jacqueline! I’m glad you left that link today, so I could find your blog. The link didn’t go directly to this post, but I’m guessing it’s the one you meant. I agree completely! I don’t believe in writer’s block — more like good idea block — but fear underlying procrastination is spot on.

    Great post~


    1. Whoops! I don’t know what happened there. Thanks for sniffing out the correct post.

      Now I’m going to get back to writing. 😉


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