Fear, Fun & Phobia’s
I am no longer terrified and preoccupied by the threat of a zombie apocalypse as I was as an early teen. Fears alter over a lifetime of developing and maturing. As a young person I liked the feeling of exhilaration that accompanied being scared and would actively seek out gravity defying fairground rides, ghost stories, horror films and eerie locations. I now recognise that these pursuits would not possess the fun element if experienced alone.
Children are often blissfully ignorant of risk and are fearless when exploring and having adventures. Trees are to be climbed, treasure to be discovered, dens to be constructed and battles to be won. The internet has opened up a world of information, including that of risk. I wonder if perilous information has exacerbated parental fear therefore restricting the resourcefulness and daring of young people. Virtual computer games can now provide desired levels of excitement for young ones while safely ensconced at home.
Death cafes exist to combat the fears and myths around dying. “Having a good death” is an accepted aspiration nowadays. Young children often go through a phase of being fixated by death, presenting a multitude of questions around the when, where and how? This is completely understandable as the fear is often rooted in the realisation that their beloved care providers are not super human or immortal.
There also exists a morbid curiosity amongst children around dead things. If there is a huddle of young children, there is generally a hysterical delight in prodding some form of decaying carrion with a stick. The opposite of fear is bravery. Children who climb the highest tree, carry out the ‘dare’ are the ones elevated to hero or leader status. Any subsequent injuries and scars are tantamount to medals of honour. As we grow older conquering fears in the workplace or pushing limits in leisure activities provides age appropriate feelings of achievement, success and validation.
Our human frailty can create fears of experiences or of everyday tasks, climbing ladders, driving at night. Certain functions are impeded by diminishing self confidence and fear of injury. A heavy fall of snow can inspire pure joy in an eight year old and savage fear in an eighty year old.
Some fears can accompany us for a lifetime. My ‘bete noire’ is snakes, thankfully due to where I live and work this does not impact my functioning. I can absolutely pinpoint the moment my fear took on a whole other dimension. I was in middle school and there was a visitor who had brought a menagerie of unusual animals for us to see, touch and ask questions. While not terrified, the prospect of touching a snake was not in my top ten. A senior teacher, clearly irritated by my refusal, held my hand on the snake. I have no recollection of my reaction only the feeling of abject terror. As a consequence, I cannot be in a place where I know they are in the vicinity, look at images or watch them on a screen. I confess to experiencing an icy, stomach clenching shudder recalling this event.
I know people who scan rooms for spiders prior to entering, leap like a gazelle at the sight of a rodent and adopt the manic behaviour of a Tasmanian Devil on hearing a buzzing flying creature. Fear is fear, all logic flies out of the window in that moment of confrontation. People who have swerved such fears, may find such displays laughable, however there can be serious consequences. If the fear of a spider being in your room keeps you awake and in a heightened state of terror and vigilance, there’s going to be an effect on functioning the following day. If a wasp flies into your car in rush hour or motorway traffic there can be catastrophic consequences. Fears and phobia’s can be life limiting and shrink your world. Hypnotherapy is recognised as being helpful in treating phobia’s, it is my understanding that in some cases it can make a phobia manageable and in some completely eradicate it.
For me healthy fear is the same as respect. Long gone are my days of recklessness risk taking and devil may care attitude. I’m not scared, just a bit more mindful and also aware of my limitations. That said, when I see a tree, I automatically assess its climb-ability.