Just what is fear, and why is it so powerful?
Granted, there are some very real fears that make sense. Fear of snakes, spiders, or any other potentially dangerous creature, for example. It’s easy to understand a fear of real things that can actually harm you, but what about everything else? There are so many phobias that it’s almost ridiculous. That’s not to say I think there’s something wrong with people who have such fears, but you have to wonder how some of these fears even came to be in the first place. And of course, it doesn’t help that the more specific a phobia is, the more ridiculous it sounds. Let’s take a look at a few examples.
- Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia – Fear of the number 666.
- Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia – Fear of long words (haha).
- Omphalophobia – Fear of bellybuttons.
- Xanthophobia – Fear of the color yellow.
And the list goes on. You’ll notice that this is a rather selective list, though. I’ve specifically avoided any fears that might have a remotely understandable basis. Take Nomophobia, for example. You’ve probably never even heard of it. Neither had I, before I did some research for this post. Nomophobia is the fear of being out of mobile phone contact. How is this remotely explainable? I suppose it could branch out of a fear of being unable to contact help when in a dangerous situation, but that’s still a bit of a stretch. Regardless, the fears that I listed above, as well as many others, really don’t have a good explanation.
How can you fear something like a number or a color? I’m not really sure. The point of this, though, is that we only fear what we want to be afraid of. Let’s examine a more “reasonable” phobia, such as arachnophobia, or example. Sure, some spiders may be poisonous, but only a handful of them are actually poisonous to a lethal degree. Most others just leave a painful welt if they even bite. But is this really “sufficient” reason to be afraid of all spiders? I would say no. For one, we’re huge compared to spiders. If you see one sitting around and it bothers you that much, you can very easily squash it. So how can a fear of spiders be as widespread as it is? The answer is probably because we believe in some exaggerated sense of danger.
It can be said, then, that the culprit behind all of these “exaggerated” phobias is the imagination. This becomes even more evident when we move from dealing with actual things to matters such as the supernatural. How can we even fear something that has no evidence proving its existence? Because we focus on and magnify the potential danger that something unknown poses to us. In effect, we throw away all rationality and let our imaginations run wild. Such a psychological matter is, of course, difficult to pin down exactly. What we can agree, though, is that the fear of the supernatural tends to disappear as we age.
Does this mean we lose our imagination as we grow older? Perhaps not, but I think it’s safe to say that we simply become more skeptical. In other words, we become less and less susceptible to suggestion as we age. This concept is very well demonstrated through the Paranormal Investigations Club’s haunted house. As Yuuko very aptly put it, the customers only see what they want to see, and given the right mood, it’ll be something that they’re afraid of. Quite obviously, something as simple as a dark room can magnify the suggestions of our imagination over the cold, hard facts of our logic.
So just how can you overcome your fears in the end? There’s really no easy way, but as oft said, it’s probably best to face them outright. Scared of monsters in the dark? Keep your eyes open, and I bet nothing will actually show up in the end. Rinse and repeat, and the dark may start looking less threatening. Of course, if the fear is strong enough, such a “treatment” may actually have an adverse effect, so it all still depends on how much you want to believe in something. In effect, it all comes down to suggestion yet again. Perhaps a better method, then, would just be to create such a jarringly “unscary” contrast that it drives the very thought of fear out of the mind. Scared of ghosts? Have some Yuuko.