skew * six *  may '95

The Sections Monsters under the bed.

by Craig Constantine

Fear fascinates me. That's not to say that I like to be scared. Rather, the concept of fear fascinates me - what scares people, and how they deal with it. Many things have the capacity to frighten us - monsters under the bed, or skeletons in the closet - but to lump all these reactions together provides, at best, an incomplete picture.

I divide fear into three types: instinctive, rational, and irrational. Any particular scare, of course, might combine two or all three of these types. The first type, instinctive fears, arise from the unexpected. When startled, instinctive fear causes a physical reaction. The fears of children, especially of infants, are predominantly instinctive. They are physiological reactions to external stimuli, and they have nothing to do with conscious thought.


Instinctive fears are basically beyond our control. A particularly calm and observant person might be able to avoid being startled; however, once startled, everyone behaves in much the same way. A purely physiological reaction raises our heart and respiration rates, our blood fills up with adrenalin, and so on. This is our fight-or-flight instinct, and it is extremely useful in protecting life and health. He who knows no fear gets eaten by lions.

As children mature toward adulthood, though, they develop the concept of danger; they realize that their environment can harm them. They also begin to understand that some things are beyond their control, and they develop a more conscious sense of fear. Some of these fears are quite rational. By definition, a rational fear is derived via logic, from factual evidence. For example, if a murder occurs in the neighborhood, it is perfectly reasonable to be concerned for one's safety. As such, rational fear is healthy; it protects us from danger, physical and otherwise.

By contrast, irrational fears are wholely unhealthy. They are rooted in delusion. Phobias, for example, are persistent, irrational fears of specific objects or situations. Such fears are not the product of logic, reason, or factual evidence. They serve to restrict behavior without making anyone safer as a result, and they may lead to crippling or disastrous decisions.

Generally, adults fear things with which they cannot reason and cannot control; that which they understand to be harmless holds no terror for them. For example, most adults do not fear monsters under their beds for logical reasons - if there were monsters under beds, we would have see news stories about people being attacked. Instead, we harbor rational fears that stem from past experiences, from learning and reason.

Ideally, then, a healthy individual should have no irrational fears. He should be able to assess a given situation and determine whether it poses a threat or not. This "healthy individual" may be more difficult to find than you might expect, though. Just let your significant other try explaining to you, during a particularly scary scene in the movie, that your fears are irrational....

[ skew ] /six/random/home.html /six/menu/home.html /six/stage/home.html /six/tunes/home.html /six/happenings/home.html /six/reels/home.html /six/bookmarks/home.html