(Ir)rational Fears

I was in a conversation with some people the other day and we were talking about strange phobias. There are some doozies out there, that’s for sure. I’m not one to judge, since I certainly have my own share of irrational fears, but it’s really interesting to learn some of the things people are afraid of. Things like having a fear of the colour yellow (xanthophobia), a fear of bellybuttons (omphalophobia), a fear of rain (ombrophobia), a fear of beards (pogonophobia), a fear of trees (hylophobia), a fear of having no mobile phone coverage (nomophobia), and even having a fear of the pope (papaphobia).

Most of us can accept that these are somewhat bizarre fears – and I’m sure those who suffer from them probably can acknowledge that fact as well. But fears are funny things, because irrational or not, they can be hard to shake. And they often begin early in life.

Think about some of your childhood fears. Some of mine were really wacky. I remember how when I was young and couldn’t get to sleep, my dad would tell me to stare at the ceiling to make sure it wouldn’t fall in on me. He had good intentions, thinking that if I remained relatively still, I would eventually slip off to slumber land, but his words had the opposite effect, causing me to go to bed every night and mentally chant, “Must. Not. Sleep.” Of course, in hindsight, it’s kinda funny. But at the time I was terrified of the roof caving in on me as I slept. Irrational, right?

Then there was the time that my step-grandfather played that game, “Got your nose!” with me, using his thumb and forefinger to mimic stealing my nose… I think I bawled for hours after that, thinking I would never, ever get my nose back.

Then there were the other irrational fears, like how sitting too close to the television screen would give me ‘square eyes’; how if I pulled funny faces and the wind changed, I would be stuck frozen with that face forever; how I was certain that there was a shark lurking in the deep end of the swimming pool; how bathing would cause me to melt (this was after watching The Wizard of Oz); and of course there was the obligatory bogey-man-hiding-under-the-bed-or-in-the-wardrobe fear. (Really, who doesn’t go through that faze?)

Childhood fears are a natural part of life, I guess. And most of us eventually get to the stage where we can recognise how irrational those fears are. But often by then our fears (while still irrational) are much more ‘mature’-minded. They’re financial fears. They’re relational fears. They’re health fears, political fears, cultural fears. They’re fears regarding our families, our friends, our careers, our religions, our economies, our governments… The list of potential fears is endless.

But you know what’s really interesting? Fear is something we teach ourselves.

Think about it.

We’re not born afraid. Babies don’t know fear. They eat, they sleep, they cry, and they poop – but they don’t have the cognizance required to understand fear. That’s something we learn. We learn it from our environment. We learn it from those around us. We learn it from what we see in the media. We are learning beings, and while that can often be beneficial (since it’s good to learn new things!) it can also be detrimental, especially when we learn negative behaviours – such as fear.

I may have studied counselling and psychology at university, but I’m no counsellor, nor am I a psychologist, so I’m not really going anywhere specifically with this post. But if nothing else, I just wanted to provide food for thought. What do you fear? And how much of what you fear can you learn to un-fear? (Yes, that’s another one of my made-up words… but you get the point!)

As for me, here’s a little insight into one of my irrational (or not!) fears. I live near a rainforest and whenever it rains I live in a perpetual state of heightened alertness, always on the lookout for one of these nasties. They’re called Huntsman Spiders, and they range in size from ‘huge’ to ‘giant’. As far as I know, they’re not actually poisonous, but really, who cares? If I see one of these, I can’t resist my natural reaction – which is to jump onto the nearest piece of furniture while screaming at the top of my lungs. And can you blame me? I had a mini panic attack just looking for a photo online and had to give up after a while before I started hyperventilating.

So, yeah, there’s some insight into one of my (in my opinion, completely justified) fears. Of course, I have plenty more. But now after searching for these (traumatising!) photos I need to go and watch a Disney movie or something to get the visual out of my head. Fortunately, it’s clear skies at my place tonight, so hopefully that means no six-legged creepy-crawlies to worry about.

… *shudder*…