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What does Having the Fear Mean?

By Garry Crystal
Updated May 23, 2024
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"Having the fear" is a phrase that has entered the English language and means exactly what it says. The definition can be applied to numerous situations. It has been used both humorously and seriously to describe situations people face when they are going through crisis.

People who face a mid-life crisis and wish to quit their jobs, have been suddenly hit with - "having the fear". The term is used to describe the unknown; what will happen if they have no job to go to. They will still have responsibilities to meet and bills to pay. It is these factors that give people "the fear". The "fear" is the unknown factor of what will occur if they give up their day job.

The phrase was thought to have originated from the novel by Hunter S. Thompson. Published in 1973, his novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a drug fueled, satirical dissection of the American dream. The novel brought Thompson to the public's attention, and he is forever identified with the phrase "fear and loathing".

"Having the fear" has also often been associated with an emotion felt during drug use. It is also a state of mind sometimes associated with existentialism. It is connected to a sudden realization that there is no purpose to life. For some, this can be overwhelming. However, "having the fear" is also thought to be the mind's way of saying that it needs more out of life. It is also thought to be a useful emotion in pushing someone towards new goals and ambitions.

The saying was used in an episode of the hit US television series Friends. Jennifer Anniston's character, Rachel wanted to leave her dead end job to pursue her dream career. But she was forever procrastinating over this as she did not "have the fear". Only by giving up her job and leaving herself with no means of income would she have the push needed to pursue her ideal job.

"Having the fear" is an excellent description of the state of mind that many people go through when attempting a risky venture. But overcoming the fear and taking the chance on something, whether it is a dream job or a new relationship, is all part of the fun. Many people are stuck in dead end jobs wanting to take risks in life, but the fear holds them back. It is only by confronting and overcoming the fear that many people achieve their desires and ambitions in life.

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Discussion Comments

By burcinc — On May 14, 2011

I'm reading about Sigmund Freud and it says here that Freud thought of "fear" to be the motivation of life. I guess that's where having the fear applies to existentialism and other philosophies.

The way I think about Freud's suggestions is that we all do things because of a fear to lose someone or something. The article gave a good example of this too.

By fify — On May 12, 2011

I think I've heard this expression used in a religious context too, as in "having the fear of God." It's generally associated with being a good Christian and staying away from bad deeds and sins because of the fear of God and his punishment.

Is it right to use it in this context?

By SteamLouis — On May 11, 2011

Having the fear reminds me a lot of anxiety. I have these emotions when I feel forced to do something that I don't want to.

For example, I feel obliged to finish a project or paper for work even when I'm sick. I don't want to work and would prefer to rest, but a feeling of anxiety and fear overwhelms me if I rest.

Maybe it's not the same as having the fear, but I do think that if you "have the fear" too often and in too many situations, it might be a problem. If you have it in the right situation, it can be the perfect push to get the job done.

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