Always do what you are afraid to do. — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Picture your greatest fear. Then imagine my blog coming to your email every Wednesday for the rest of your life… Really mitigates that first concern, doesn’t it?
In lieu of last week’s post, I received some disappointed feedback that the installment had no “psychophilosophy” tip. Instead, there was only a remarkably entertaining and captivating short story.
I’m sorry to have annoyed you with free enjoyment.
But as I am at the will of my mother (did I say mother? I meant “fans”), today’s post will discuss something relevant to last week’s one: fear.
Fear is defined as “an anxious feeling caused by our anticipation of some imagined event or experience.” In psychology, fears are typically organized into five categories: extinction (ceasing to exist), mutilation (bodily harm), loss of
autonomy (entrapment—metaphorically or physically), separation (loss of social connection), and ego-death (humiliation or self-disapproval).
And in most cases, these fears are no bueno. However, we nonetheless seem fascinated with scary movies or ghostly campfire tales—causes of the same emotion we try to avoid.
Now, to understand this paradox, the first thing to note is that fear triggers our “fight or flight” response. Tracing back to our evolutionary beginnings, when we encountered a threatening source, we had to decide whether to protect ourselves through confrontation or through escape.
Either way, however, the brain triggers a release of adrenaline to assist our decision, and adrenaline, as many people know, can feel quite good. It produces alertness, energy, and a general increase in power. When we watch scary movies, then, the brain thinks we’re in a threatening situation and thus produces adrenaline to aid our response.
Additionally, once the scary moment passes, we get a sense of relief. Coupling the rush of adrenaline with the pleasure at the dissipation of fear, scary movies then create an enjoyable experience.
Now, some people are simply wired to enjoy adrenaline rushes more than others. For example, some people may be hypersensitive to sensations (such as temperature or a sour taste) so when they encounter the intense physiological experience of fear, it may be too much for them.
Furthermore, as we get older, the less we seek sensational experiences. However, if you’re younger and like roller coasters or risk taking, there’s a better chance you also like (or at least don’t mind) scary movies.
Nonetheless, if you live a relatively calm or uneventful life, it’s still good to “rev” the physiological engine every now and then with an adrenaline rush. And if you’re looking for something scary to accomplish this, I have a past post that should do the trick.
if fear equals a “fight or flight” response, and it is attributed, at least in part, to the introduction of an unusual amount of adrenaline into the system, why do some people “freeze up” when a “fearful” situation rises?
Along with our biological response of “fight or flight,” we also, in some instances, respond with immobility. For example, sometimes if you approach a squirrel, it will just sit there, frozen. Similarly in humans, our natural instincts try to decide 1) “Maybe if I stay still, the threat won’t see me/won’t want to eat me–for many predators don’t eat carrion, or 2) “I don’t know if I should run or fight, and until that’s made clear, I’ll wait to decide.”
Granted, we can override this response from our “lizard brain” (the oldest, most primitive part of our brain) with forward, conscious thought, but in times of great fear–instances, these days, we’re not overly accustomed to–we revert back to our evolutionary past.