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Would you like a method that guarantees compliance? Use fear. If you do, be prepared to face some lashing from people. Society heavily sanctions the cruel use of fear with the aim of causing submission. This is most evident in campaigns of domestic violence and anti-child abuse. Anti-fear advocacy is a cause I hold dear too. In my eyes it is clear that the devastating effect of fear strategies should suffice to abolish the practice. Unfortunately we are far from that end. To date, the use of fear strategies is still rampant in the family, school and at the workplace. Thankfully more people are being converted to use more positive strategies, but more awareness needs to be done.

Fear is used in many different ways. You can see it in parents threatening to use corporal punishments or using loud, anger-charged verbal responses with their children. You can see it in aversion programs where we discuss exclusively the dark sides of sex, alcohol, etc. You can see it with the threat of problems at work. I am not disputing their power. However I wish to use this opportunity to highlight that the scope of these strategies is to trigger a fear response that is intended escalate the level of anxiety in the individual. The idea is to discourage a particular behaviour and encourage compliance.

Although in some instances fear is useful, using it as an exclusive method is harmful in the long run. Anxiety erodes the person’s inner being. Research in neuropsychology provides evidence of destructive effect on chronic stress, which coincidentally is strongly rooted in the fear response.

Behaviours can be shaped in many other ways. Educating people can happen in more positive ways. Thus we can spare our children, friends and colleagues from being afraid. Let us allow fear to work when it is needed (for instance if someone is running after you with a knife). We do not need to use the same physiological response to achieve compliance.


Steve Libreri is a social worker and parent coach within Willingness. He offers parent coaching and social work sessions. He can be contacted on

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