I am scared of the wrong things. This has likely always been true of me, but like most of the elements of our personalities we come to acknowledge them through events and experiences, mishaps and miscues… living.
I know that there is a popular credo – No Fear! And that there is a widely held attitude that somehow fear is a sign of weakness. But the reality is, we all have things that we are afraid of. Of these things, some are acknowledged, either because they are socially acceptable or because they are too intense to ignore. Others we hide, pretend they don’t exist, or maybe we don’t even notice them.
It is okay to say that you are afraid of snakes. People accept that snakes are scary. It is not okay to say you are afraid of going outside. People think you are psychological if you say this and you are, by the way, agoraphobic. But why is this any more irrational (or rational) than ophidiophobia?
Fear is one of the most basic survival instincts that any being possesses. It is a feeling that is brought about by a perceived threat. “Worth noting is that fear almost always relates to future events, such as worsening of a situation, or continuation of a situation that is unacceptable. Fear could also be an instant reaction to something presently happening.”
So fear is good. Right? Or wait…
About ten years ago, I read a book called The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. I have written about this book before. I was given this book because I was starting to develop some irrational paranoias based on some seriously fucked up situations in my life. I was afraid to answer my phone. I felt like I was being followed. I was afraid to go through my mail. My supposedly-soon-to-be-mother-in-law lost her shit on a friend of mine who was visiting. The one person I had turned to during this time suddenly started to seem deliberately leading rather than sincerely supportive.
As I read the book and considered de Becker’s thesis, to “explode the myth that most violent acts are random and unpredictable and shows that they usually have discernible motives and are preceded by clear warning signs” I began to think about the things that were going on with me and realized that they were not really irrational. I was being monitored on the phone. I was being followed by a professional investigator. I was receiving threatening letters. My thank-god-she’s-not-my-mother-in-law did lose her shit on a friend because she thought he was a man I was cheating on her incarcerated son with (I was cheating, but not with this man.) The person I had turned to was being manipulative (and in the end may have been the letter-sender.) I had been right about everything, but I chose to ignore every sense of fear I had and take it all on as some sort of personal failing, because I am scared of the wrong things.
De Becker aims to teach readers (among other things) how to:
- Rely on their intuition
- Separate real from imagined danger
- Predict Dangerous Behavior
- Evaluate whether someone will use violence
- Move beyond denial so that their intuition works for them
In an effort to not appear crazy people ignore their intuition, thus allowing themselves to be put in positions that could ultimately be unsafe. In my situation, my intuition had been spot on. But I chose to ignore it because I thought that admitting what was going on would be admitting my own failure – that I had made a mistake. Talk about foolish. And, fortunately for me, #3 and his family were far to arrogant to ever do anything to me that would physically endanger me (and therefore put them in danger of legal consequence – I imagine they had had enough of that) – they were far more into psy-ops and acting out against me would make it look like they cared. #4 didn’t really know how to be dangerous, his behavior all came from his own fear, rendering it somehow less effective.
What de Becker’s book reinforced to me was the critical importance of trusting our intuition. I have had a very good intuition all my life. My biggest problems have come when I have ignored it – which I am also quite good at. These circumstances have led me to be scared of the wrong things.
It often appears I am scared of the wrong things because more rational people are not afraid of them. For example:
- I was afraid to let my kittens out on Lamma for the longest time because of snakes and other dangerous jungle predators. People said I was being silly.
- I am afraid for the future of our planet and that polar bears are going to be lost forever.
- I am afraid to not recycle.
- I am afraid that things I do will make Matilda angry.
- I am afraid of being bad at my job.
- I am afraid of taking emotional chances.
More people think I am not afraid of the things I should be. For example:
- I am not afraid of traveling to very strange and far away places on my own – and I never have been.
- I am not afraid of walking alone at night.
- I am not afraid of sharing my stories (and therefore, to some degree, myself) on-line through my blog or whatever.
- I am not afraid to talk to strangers.
The difference between these two lists is obvious. The first list identifies things that reflect my own mistakes, shortcomings and failures, every potentially negative outcome would be my own fault. The second list identifies things where the only bad things that could happen to me would come at the hands of others and therefore, not be my fault.
When I put it like that, it does seem a little stupid. I assume that problems will not occur at the hands of others. And while this attitude has served me most of the time, there have been some exceptions. Like the homeless guy who tried to attack me on the street the other morning. My perception that there was no way he was coming at me allowed him to get to me – or closer than he would have otherwise. Like the scam Dish network is trying to pull on me (it turns out that my aunties got an erroneous bill from Dish for about the same amount of money a month or so ago. How. Bizarre.) Like trusting that people mean what they say. Especially on the internet and with commercial interests or professional insecurities.
On the other hand, I may have a better handle of cat welfare than most, and let’s face it, at the end of the day they are cats, and therefore they are totally psychological. I am not bad at my job. And emotional risks have pretty high stakes, so knowing this should alleviate the fear associated with all that ridiculousness being my fault (it doesn’t, but it should.)
I like to imagine that my lack of fear in situation that many people I know consider totally scary comes from the fact that my intuition is switched on in those situations and I am comfortable totally adhering to it. This is different from the other situations in which I also am paying attention, but don’t want to admit what I am perceiving is what it is.
Fear is what it is, I suppose. But right now, I have to go and take a certain small black cat to the vet and give Matil some time alone in her house because I am afraid she is getting too angry to return to normal about this whole set of feline circumstances and then I have to go to the gym because I am afraid of getting fat, incapacitated and rendered prematurely obsolete.