6 ways society manipulates your fears (and how to break free)

You won’t be surprised to hear that (often, anyway) your government, media, the advertising industry, big pharma and big business (including your food supply) do not have your best interests at heart.

It’s easy to forget this when we’re living day to day. We’re just doing the best we can to provide for ourselves and our families – and trying to do a little good in the world.

These huge engines of society are manipulating our fears. They want to control us, mis-direct us and influence us. They want to get our attention, our money and our support for their self-serving agendas. Not always – but a lot of the time.

Remember this – every single day!

They’re not going to look after you. So you need to look after you.

Did reading that make you feel a little scared? Don’t worry, we got this.

We’re going to get manipulation-savvy and find out how to break free too.

The first way to do this is to be more aware of who is manipulating your fears, why and how.

1) Big pharma makes money from your fears

If you’re concerned about the line between patients’ best interests and big profits, rest assured that experts are too.

Let’s take the recent shingles awareness campaign by GSK, targeting the over 50s, here in the UK.

Was this about education, or about profit through fear-mongering? On Fierce Pharma, professor of law Graham Dutfield said of one element of the campaign, an infomercial: “Appealing in this way to patients over the heads of medics and pharmacists . . . is morally questionable.”

Depending on where you are in the world, out-and-out promotional campaigns for prescription pharmaceuticals may be completely normal.

All the more reason to keep awake to the manipulative nature of this kind of advertising. It’s so easy for big pharma to tap into your primal fears for you and your loved ones’ health.

2) Governments exploit your fears to retain or gain power

Whatever you think about the whole COVID situation and wherever you were in the world, manipulation of our fears was (and still is) a huge issue.

While we were frightened, separated and distracted, hard-won civil rights were eroded all over the world.

Writers at Think Global Health.org say, “Governments undermined democratic institutions and rights as they abused emergency powers as an excuse to prevent political protests and delay elections.”

Examples cited are Hungary, El Salvador, Russia, Ethiopia, Malaysia, Zambia and Greece.

They go on to say, “The plethora of human rights violations that have pervaded and exacerbated the COVID-19 pandemic have done a great disservice to equal human rights.”

Let’s keep our eye on the ball, locally and globally, ask the questions and exercise our right to protest… unless it’s already been taken away, that is…

3) Advertising plays on your fears – for profit

Thinker, artist and activist Sofo Archon writes: “Marketers usually try their best to convince you that if you don’t buy stuff nobody will like you anymore and that you’ll probably be ostracized by your community.”

Remember, as we evolved, exclusion from the tribe meant death. Advertising taps into our primal, largely subconscious fear of exclusion in many ways.

Whether it’s body image insecurities, relationship worries, a misguided desire to boost status and attractiveness, or buying the ‘right things’ to fit in, advertising prays on your fears.

But, of course, looking outside of true community and connection with nature, yourself and others for answers just widens the void inside you. That amplifies those fear-based feelings which…

Guess what? Yep. Advertisers then play on even more.

This is serious and it’s destroying us. In her TED talk, State Senator Nicole LeFavour tells us how the feeding of our insecurities feeds our fears. She warns that, “Trying to mask or dull our fears rather than consciously trying to reverse them leads to addiction, self-harm, even suicide.”

4) Social media plays on your fears

And of course, social media plays its part in feeding our fears.

Facebook constantly targets us with products based on our search history. So we impulse buy more and more stuff we don’t need.

Most social media also serves us up ‘trends’. These subconsciously tell you that ‘everyone else’ is doing something you’re not.

It also plays on our primal-based FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) in other ways, so we constantly check our feeds, attend events and keep up the liking, subscribing, posting…

And then, of course, social media is a carrier of news….

5) The news terrifies us into compliance…

pic1417 6 ways society manipulates your fears (and how to break free)

We’re manipulated to watch more news in case we miss out on something that’s a threat to our survival. This could be about war, higher food bills, or a deepening fuel crisis.

The media creates the feeling that we’re in a constant collective crisis and that we need to keep connected to that. All the time. Or we won’t be as resourced to deal with it.

Nicole Lefavour again: “I’m afraid the media knows the truth about us, and that is this – that making us afraid makes us more dedicated viewers.”

And to make us extra-afraid, it uses a very manipulative device that strikes at the core of our humanity…

This is the thing that, in my opinion, we most need to see past and stand up to…

6) The media taps into your evolutionary fear of difference

It creates demon enemies for us to blame and unite against. There’s a word for this – othering.

If you’re frightened, you’re easy to control, and you’re more likely to support the current status quo, without protest…

Whether it’s immigrants ‘stealing our food, homes and jobs’ or LGBTQ+ communities ‘eroding our family values’, be wise to this nonsense.

So, how do we break free of all this manipulation?


Ask the questions. Keep educating yourself – I’m going to. Read alternative media. Look deeper. Questioning the narrative. Question the motivation.

Sofo Archon says, “Be sure to doubt — and not mindlessly accept — any ‘truth’ that’s being thrown at you by someone else, regardless of who that person might be.”

Good advice.


Don’t engage with constant updates. Set boundaries.

Don’t contribute to fear-mongering. Here in the UK we’re good at moan-bonding and complain-bonding – fear-bonding basically.

If you find yourself doing this – take a breath, literally.

Instead of going round in circles of fear, victimhood and grumbling anger about the manipulation, empower yourself. Join groups, ask questions and hold the powers that be accountable.

You’ll inspire others to do the same, too.

Get positive

Nicole LeFavour reminds us that: “The media focusses so often on blame and scapegoating (…) also it focusses on human brokenness. And not on things we can fix but on things we can’t.”

Taking positive action, locally and/or globally, will bond us as communities. This empowers us, makes us stronger and keeps us out of the fear zone.

Nicole suggests symbolic acts of peaceful resistance too. Yeah!

Manage your nervous system

If your brain and nervous system aren’t running on your primal fear response, you’ll be far less likely to fall prey to fear-based manipulation.

Here’s a simple 101 on this (I am a qualified breathwork facilitator – yay! 😊).

Our fear response arises when our Sympathetic Nervous System is activated (our fight, flight and freeze response). Our most basic survival brain, the limbic system, gets in the driving seat.

To de-activate that response, breathe steadily into the belly rather than the chest, making the exhales longer than the inhales.

You’ll switch on your Parasympathetic Nervous System in no time. This gets your pre-frontal cortex back online. Turning on our ‘rest and digest’ system in this way stops us thinking like cave-people and gets us logical, kind and compassionate again. Take that, manipulators!

For more fear-busting super-powers, you can…

Practise Emotional Sobriety

I came across this concept in a YouTube video by psychologist Heidi Priebe and I LOVE it!

Heidi helps you identify the things that bring up your fear and flip you into survival mode.

She also gives you some great practical tools for handling yourself while the fear is on, too.

Manage your mind

Get more robust in handling your own fears. Any mindfulness, meditation or breathwork can help with this.

Sit with your fears. Be willing to look at them. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

I love this from Sofo Archon: “When dealing with political, social or other important issues, remember to associate feelings of fear with the need to slow down and regain mental and emotional clarity.”

Train yourself that fear means slow down and think, not freak out and panic.

Get some perspective

Look at the stars. You’re a blink of a glimpse of a moment in this vast, magical universe.

Take a fear-busting breath and tell yourself, this too shall pass.

Final thoughts

I have just one final thought for you. Stand In Your Power.

The world needs compassionate, questioning people like you.

It needs you to be out of the fear zone, plugged into your empowered warrior self and ready to rock and roll.

So, Stand In Your Power. And let’s help make a fairer, kinder world for everyone.

Picture of Kelly Mckain

Kelly Mckain

I’m Kelly McKain, the author of over sixty fiction titles – my latest is The Feeling Good Club , a mindfulness series for kids. I love writing, yoga, horses, dancing and spending time in nature – as well as hanging out with my amazing kids and partner. I’m also a qualified Breathwork Facilitator and the founder of Soulsparks , a platform for intuitive guidance, energy healing and exploring non-duality. You can find me on Facebook and Instagram .

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