It’s interesting to recognise that we are born with only two fears; fear of loud noises and the fear of falling yet when we think about it and are honest, we probably have a number of different fears over and above the original two that have been created over time.
What are yours? For me one is fear of the dark.
I didn’t fully recognise this until I was walking on my own through the dense Sumatran jungle at Bukit Lawang visiting the orangutan sanctuary there as part of my twelve-month solo travels through south-east Asia and the Pacific; I was being intrepid! To give this some perspective, I grew up close to London and had lived in London for around 20 years before I embarked on this adventure and, as you might imagine, it’s rarely dark in Central London.
So there I was, early on in my year-long trip, walking back alone to my overnight accommodation from a film night in the village along a narrow path by the Bohorok River. It’s hard to convey just how pitch black it was (I literally could not see my hand in front of my face) and the sounds that I experienced that night but they were quite unlike anything I had ever heard before. The rushing river, bird calls, wind in the trees, the calls of the orangutans and rustling from the undergrowth; all totally unfamiliar and therefore scary.
What do you do when you’re scared?
Well I decided it was best to frighten off any dangerous animals (or people for that matter) by singing at the top of my voice so that I would appear confident and fearless. The trouble was that I couldn’t for the life of me (literally I felt!) remember any heroic songs so I went with what came to mind first … the Norwegian national anthem. Yes; an unusual choice the reason being that that was what our father taught me and my two older sisters during long and boring (to young children) car journeys during a Norwegian camping holiday when I was around five years old. And I still remember it.
It did the trick. It didn’t drive away the fear but it made me and others I met along the way smile and that helped. The truth is I’m not sure exactly when or where my fear of the dark started but probably when I was very young and perhaps reading fairy tales just before bedtime and then left in a dark room with my imagination running riot. The question is, is it really fear of the dark or fear of the unknown?
When you recognise your own fear, investigate what triggers it and the uncertainty it may be creating. The brain does not like uncertainty and looks to create certainty – real or imagined. So, by creating some certainty in that moment, however small or short-term that may be, will help. For example, ‘this too shall pass’ or ‘it will be light again soon’ or, my favourite, ‘that’s actually a very small spider and I’ve never heard of anyone being killed by a daddy longlegs …!’
Fears created through traumatic circumstances will need a very different approach however it’s still worth looking at it from a different perspective.