“There is nothing to fear but fear itself” it’s a nice thought and in some ways it is possible, but not always.
I’ve been thinking about fears lately. I have my phobias, not many, but I’ll discuss them further ahead. For now, what is fear, where does it come from? How to control fear so that it doesn’t control us? And, is there a science to fear?
Wikipedia (I know it’s not the best source but the simplest) says:
“Fear is an emotion induced by a threat perceived by living entities, which causes a change in brain and organ function and ultimately a change in behavior, such as running away, hiding or freezing from traumatic events. Fear may occur in response to a specific stimulus happening in the present, or to a future situation, which is perceived as risk to health or life, status, power, security, or, in the case of humans, wealth or anything held valuable. The fear response arises from the perception of danger leading to confrontation with or escape from/avoiding the threat (also known as the fight-or-flight response), which in extreme cases of fear (horror and terror) can be a freeze response or paralysis.
In humans and animals, fear is modulated by the process of cognition and learning. Thus fear is judged as rational or appropriate and irrational or inappropriate. An irrational fear is called a phobia.
Psychologists such as John B. Watson, Robert Plutchik, and Paul Ekman have suggested that there is only a small set of basic or innate emotions and that fear is one of them. This hypothesized set includes such emotions as joy, sadness, fright, dread, horror, panic, anxiety, acute stress reaction and anger.”
So, very simply put, if fear causes changes in brain and organ function there is some science to it, even if just theoretical. As I am not a scholar in these subjects these are just assumptions I am making. If fear induces changes in the body it means that they can be tracked and analysed. This also means they could be induced or removed either in a Pavlovian or chemical way, right? Obviously inducing fear chemically should be kept for aspiring world dominators such as me, and removing them would be chaotic overall. We need our basic fears to survive. It is, as said above, one of our most basic instincts, and what keeps us alive as individuals or a species. We would need to look into the bodily differences of rational fears and irrational fears, or phobias, after that focus on the phobias because those are the ones that cripple us. The ones that take control and so many times have us not doing something we need or could otherwise enjoy.
Shall we step into the realm of Phobia?
Phobias are basically the irrational fear. Unlike the “appropriate” fear that comes from a situation that poses danger in some way, phobias most times don’t make sense, except for those who have them.
According to studies (and as everything else this would vary from region to region and culturally) the most common phobias are, in no particular order: Heights; Closed Spaces, Needles; Bridges; Tunnels; Public Speaking; Spiders, Snakes; Cockroaches; Water; Examinations. All of these things and some others that are not here (because we all have very specific ones) are irrational. But why would you be afraid of water? Is it any type of water, or does it depend on the size? A full bathtub is ok but the ocean is a big nope? You don’t do tunnels or bridges? So you don’t cross bodies of water? Fear of public speaking? This one always reminds me of a Jerry Seinfeld stand up show, where he says that people are more afraid of public speaking than of dying, so in a situation of a funeral most people would rather be in the casket than giving a eulogy. (I know it’s dark humour but I like it, apologies in advance if I offended anyone). Point here being, why do we fear common things that are not a menace to our well-being?
I know people with so many different phobias, and if I didn’t have some of my own, I would just think them stupid, for instance: Dark, Flying, Geckos, Balloons, Not waking up, Subways (transport not the restaurant chain), Dogs, Mirrors, and so on and so forth. Unlike the first list I wouldn’t say these are common, at least not as common. But why fear these things? One woman I know cannot get into a subway, as soon as she tries she starts sweating and getting pale with lack of breath, and as someone that doesn’t drive it can be complicated. She also has a fear of balloons, I never thought it was real until I saw her in a party and balloons were dropped from above, I can tell you that I saw panic in her eyes, not fear but true panic, she was frozen, and when some started bursting she ran outside fast enough to rival “The Flash”. Basic rule with her, kids party’s in which she has to take a subway to get there is an automatic “no”! But I digress… These do not put her life at risk, what’s to be afraid of? These are common things that can absolutely block someone’s life, so why can’t we do something about it.
I have two phobias that I learned to control and live with, each in its own way. For years I had a huge uncontrollable fear of flying. If I had to get into an airplane I would go crazy. When I was younger, and this happened more than once, I would have blackouts (technically whiteouts because I would only see bright white before collapsing) whenever I had to fly. It could happen in the airport, or it could happen days or even weeks before the flight, but it happened, a lot. For years, I stopped flying, I couldn’t think of it until I really had to do it for work reasons, and I started controlling my fear through meditation. I still fear flying, hate to do it, don’t know why, maybe the lack of control maybe something else, but I hate it. Meditation helped me control my fear, allows me to get into a plane when I have no other reasonable alternative and just go. But, meditation doesn’t help my other fear. God damned clowns. Not even when I was a kid I liked clowns, I think they have a menacing and aggressive figure, I hated when my parents took me the circus because of them. Today I still have a controlled panic with clowns, I don’t freak out when I see them, I just control myself and do the best thing I can which is to avoid anything that has clowns, or could have clowns… But again, for years it prevented me from doing certain things. Even now, I couldn’t go to a Cirque du Soleil show because although it doesn’t have the traditional clowns whatever they have there is close enough.
I took control of some of my fears through this but if there was some sort of “magical” way to stop this without removing the other side of fear, the one we need, I would happily do it.
In the end there are two sides to this, we have phobias, that can paralyse us, take control of us and ruin a lot of things, and then we have fear, that is bad, but as The Doctor once put it:
“Let me tell you about scared. Your heart is beating so hard, I can feel it through your hands. There’s so much blood and oxygen pumping though your brain, it’s like rocket fuel. Right now you could run faster and you could fight harder, you could jump higher than ever in your life, and you are so alert it’s like you can slow…down…time. What’s wrong with scared? Scared is a superpower.”
Is it a superpower? What do you think? What are your fears and phobias? How do you handle them?
P.s. I never feared the dark or mirrors. I’m affraid of what’s in them…