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Rational vs. Irrational Fears

Updated: Feb 16, 2021

What are you afraid of?

The question itself intimidates me. When asked this in a class on Horror, I could think of many things that I am definitely not fond of, but couldn't think of many things that I am genuinely afraid of.

A lot of people will give you a list. My fiancé, for example, tells me that he is afraid of loneliness, heights and king cobras. My mother has nightmares about her children being in danger. My peers will tell you about how they are afraid of needles, spiders, sharks, crowds and tight spaces.

When asked to write a short piece about our fears in class, many of us found it difficult. We could describe the things we feared, but didn't necessarily know why we feared them. After contemplating why this was, I realised that it may have been because we hadn't had many experiences where we had encountered actual fear.

So why are we afraid of sharks when we have never swam in the ocean? Why are we afraid of spiders when they are so small? And why is it so difficult to write about it?

Whilst I believe that some fears will (mainly) have come from experience and/or trauma, I think that our less rational fears will have stemmed from what they represent. For example, my two main fears are heights and flying creatures such as bats and moths. Now, in my short written piece, i used an actual experience to describe how i felt at the time. It was during a visit in Liverpool where my partner thought we'd try to be bold and climb the St. John's Beacon (Radio City Tower). Unfortunately, we barely lasted five minutes before our fear of heights overwhelmed us. Just writing it down brought back the memory and reading it back made me relive the whole situation. I felt uncomfortable and knew that this technique was going to work. However, later on, when i tried to write a similar piece about the bats/moths fear, i found I couldn't really write as effectively.

Personally, I have never had a bad experience with moths or bats. In fact, the closest I've come to a bat is on the other side of an aquarium at the zoo. What I don't like is their movements - the way they dart aimlessly, clumsily, blindly. How they drop and dive with no notice and swoop a little too close to my face for liking. Now, this may seem ridiculous but I think it reflects the way I despise chaos and prefer to be in control of a situation. If I have something bounding in and out of my direct line of sight without being able to figure out its intentions, that sets off some anxiety.

Similarly, to use the example of my fiancé and his fear of king cobras, i think of why the fear may be there and what may trigger his anxiety. When I asked him what about these particular kind of snakes makes him feel uneasy, his answer was the way they watch the enemy. Obviously, he has never been in the position where he has had to face off with a snake but when we think of what their movements represent, we can begin to understand why he may feel uneasy. So perhaps its not the snakes that are particularly scary, but the feeling of being watched as if you were prey. It could be the fear of judgement and unpredictability. The fear of feeling inferior.

With this in mind, I feel I am able to write about the irrational by explaining what it may represent to the character feeling the fear- something I have been struggling with during my horror writing process. We just need to work out what the underlying issue is and play with the psychology. In my horror story, i will be toying with the ideas of mutilation, separation and the death of the ego- each in small and discreet doses and disguised in fictitious beliefs and a bent reality.

Do you have any ridiculous fears?

Drop a comment and let me know!

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