I have two irrational phobias:
- Flying. I am not what you would call a good flyer. I'm not even a white-knuckle flyer - if I have to get on an airplane, it's generally with a good amount of "medication" and trepidation. I come by it honestly - I flew out of Tampa, FL ahead of a hurricane and we ran into turbulence so bad that it a) frightened the flight attendants; b) caused us a moment or two of actual free-fall; and c) so thoroughly scared the hell out of me that I said the Lord's Prayer in English and French. I also had a close call landing in Boston where the air traffic controller tried to land us on top of another plane...
- Large dogs. I got bitten pretty bad by a German Shepherd when I was 5 - you're not supposed to pet a guard dog when they're eating, go figure - and have been scared silly of large dogs ever since. Shepherds, pit bulls, Dobies, Bull mastiffs, etc. all have me terrified; even labs and retrievers make me a little nervous unless I know them.
I find it interesting that my two phobias because they're similar but different. Both arise from specific incidents in my past for their genesis; one is a primal fear, the other far more recent; both arise from genetic and conditioned responses that humans have developed over time. The fear of dogs - I'd extrapolate to a general fear of larger predators - is obviously a survival instinct, handed down in our genetic code from the days when we had to fight to stay at the top of the food chain. It's a hindbrain, primal urge to run like hell when faced with something that could potentially eat us - pure flight response.
Flying is more recent, obviously, but with roots going back certainly as far as man himself. There are twin concepts at work here - there's the loss of control one experiences when getting into an airplane as well as the generalized fear of falling. When you step on board an airplane, someone you have never met is going to apply sufficient thrust to get a large metal tube airborne and hurtling along at speeds up to 500-600 MPH. You have no idea if the pilot is the greatest pilot who ever grabbed a yoke or someone who washed out of 15 flight schools before dropping enough cash in the Bahamas for a certificate - and you're trusting this unknown with your very life. We've also got a built in altimeter - we instinctively know when we have reached the height at which a fall will kill us - so not only are we at the mercy of a stranger, but we will die when we hit the ground.
There's little I can do to overcome my fear of dogs. I'm allergic, so getting a pet that's a large dog isn't possible. Were I not allergic I could find a Shepherd puppy and and bond with it from an early age, helping me see it grow from a baby into a full grown dog. I could volunteer at an animal shelter, where I would interact with many different large(r) dogs and recondition myself to them - seeing them in a friendly light rather than in an aggressive light. Since I happen to prefer breathing, I'll keep my distance - and my fear.
Flying's a little tougher. On a purely logical level, I know my fear is completely irrational. I ride a motorcycle. I've even been known to ride without a helmet on occasion. On a logical level, I know that I am about 10,000 times more likely to die riding my Harley than in an airplane crash. I've had enough close calls on the bike to know that people generally are pretty damn clueless, and when they outmass you 4-5 to 1 they don't give a rat's ass about you. Yet I'll get on my Harley without hesitation, because I'm in control. After the first incident out of Tampa, I flew for my (previous) job on a regular basis - every other month roughly. While I was apprehensive about flying, the repetition (and subsequent eventless flights) helped me get over my fear. Momentarily...
We develop fears for both rational and irrational reasons. Some are superstitions with no basis in fact or genetics; others are ingrained from terrifying experience; still others come completely out of the blue. We can work to overcome our fears, develop ways of working around them, or, in some cases, only face them once in a great while. The trick, obviously, is to not let your fears rule you or the choices you make in life, and understanding both the basis for the fear and having a plan to deal with it helps immensely.
That said, what are your irrational (or rational) fears?
That is all.