COMPANION

Fear

F. M. Alexander

Alexander wrote on the subject of fear in several of his books, often using the term ‘fear reflexes’, but also referring to ‘nerves’, discouragement, worry, fright (including stage fright), and anxiety.

The most detailed description is Chapter VI in CCC which is titled ‘Unduly Excited Fear Reflexes, Uncontrolled Emotions, and Fixed Prejudices’.[1]

Generally Alexander made three points: 1) that fear is often associated with fear of the unknown (and that this is an instinctual reaction and the origin of superstition), and 2) that fear is often a symptom of misuse, which is associated with the separation of mind and body, and 3) that fear is a retarding influence in all human development (especially when learning the Technique).

As an instance of 1), Alexander gives the example in MSI of a young boy who ‘exhibited unreasoning terrors’, but after lessons the boy’s ‘fear reflexes became less and less subject to excitement, he grew less irritable, his temper was more controlled, and his outbursts of crying were exhibited far less often.’[2]

An instance of 2) from CCC:

This new fear – actually a fear of himself – gradually developed until its presence was recognized as an urgent problem, and it is in man’s solution of this problem that we are faced with a conception which will be seen to be a most harmful one when considered in relation to his evolutionary progress. The conception to which I refer is that of the separation of the human organism into the parts which have been named soul, mind, and body.[3]

An instance of 3) from CCC:

Unduly excited fear reflexes, uncontrolled emotions, prejudices and fixed habits, are retarding factors in all human development. . . . This is particularly the case when a person endeavours to learn something calling for new experiences.[4]

Alexander was adamant that the means-whereby of his technique would not stimulate fear:

I was horrified [by his experiences at school], and I decided that before I could enter the teaching work, I would develop a technique which would enable me to teach the child in such a way that the fear reflexes would never be unduly excited, and we have that technique today.[5]

And in UCL:

A satisfactory technique for making the changes we are considering must be one in which the nature of the procedures provides for a continuous change towards improving conditions, by a method of indirect approach under which opportunity is given for the pupil to come into contact with the unfamiliar and unknown without fear or anxiety.[6]

(Although his manner of teaching would sometimes frighten his pupils, as Irene Tasker reported.[7])

Fear as origin of superstition

Alexander contended that the origin of superstition, if not religion, may have had its roots in fear: ‘There can be no doubt that from the very earliest stages man’s reaction to such fears . . . had been to seek refuge in the supernatural.’[8] He uses the examples of a man facing shipwreck, or early man experiencing thunder and lightening.

At the time of Alexander writing is was popular to speculate as to the psychological origins of religion. Wetter in his Magic and Religion (1958) lists 32 theories as to the origin of religion and states that the ‘fear theory’ is the most widely held.[9] Endnote 144 in UCL provides an overview of the ideas and theories of the time.[10]

Later writings

  • ‘A ring at the door’ by Dorothea Wallis argues that inhibition does not mean instantly conquering responses like fear and tension, but acknowledging their existence without letting them dominate.[11]
  • A more recent overview is Elizabeth Langford’s article ‘The ambush of fear’.[12]
  • Missy Vineyard’s introductory book to the Alexander Technique contains two chapters on fear and one chapter on ‘Anxiety and performance’.[13]
  • ‘Fixation and the fear of change: Parallels between personal and organisational growth’ by Mary Cox who is a therapist who talked on the process of change at the 1991 3rd International Congress, Engelberg.[14]
  • ‘Fear’ by Ian Lyon discusses, with reference to personal experiences, the way the Technique can provide insights into individual fears.[15]

See also Stage fright, Emotions.

References

[1] Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual by F. Matthias Alexander, (Mouritz, 2004), p. 134.
[2] Man’s Supreme Inheritance by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 1996), pp. 80–81.
[3] Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual by F. Matthias Alexander, (Mouritz, 2004), pp. 47-49.
[4] Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual by F. Matthias Alexander, (Mouritz, 2004), p. 135.
[5] Lecture: ‘An Unrecognized Principle’ (1925) in Articles and Lectures by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 1995, London), pp. 157-58.
[6] The Universal Constant in Living by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 2000), p. 78.
[7] ‘Connecting Links’ (1967) by Irene Tasker (The Sheildrake Press, 1978), p. 10.
[8] Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual by F. Matthias Alexander, (Mouritz, 2004), p. 48.
[9] Magic and Religion by George B. Vetter (Philosophical Library, 1958), pp. 5–7.
[10] The Universal Constant in Living by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 2000), endnote 144, pp. 296–97.
[11] ‘A ring at the door’ by Dorothea Wallis in The Alexander Journal no. 1 edited by Edward H. Owen (STAT, 1962), pp. 23-26. Also published as ‘Hide or Seek’ in More Talk of Alexander edited by Dr Wilfred Barlow (Mouritz, 2005 [1978]), pp. 144–48.
[12] ‘The Ambush of Fear’ by Elizabeth Langford in The Congress Papers 2004 (STATBooks, 2005), pp. 217-241.
[13] How you Stand, How you Move, How you Live by Missy Vineyard (Marlowe & Co, 2007), pp. 71-98.
[14] ‘Fixation and the fear of change: Parallels between personal and organisational growth’ by Mary Cox in The Congress Papers 1991, A Spirit of Learning Together edited by Jeremy Chance (Direction, 1992), pp. 49–52.
[15] ‘Fear’ by Ian Lyon in STATNews vol. 11, no. 1 edited by Jamie McDowell (STAT, January 2021), pp. 26–27.