Last semester, one of our neuroscience professors threw us a question: “What is man’s greatest fear?” If you hadn’t previously read the self-instructional module she had given earlier, you wouldn’t have easily guessed the answer.
And yet it turned out to be so simple, such that most of us were surprised at our wits’ end.
Celebrating this annual scarefest perhaps brings out the bottom line in each one of us: Whether we admit it or not, we have our own fears. It’s something we just can’t do without since fear is part of our psyche, one of man’s most basic emotions. And while humans generally share the same set of nightmares – seldom do we find someone taking pleasure in meeting ghosts, for example – the trend is said to vary throughout one’s lifetime: Children are more accustomed to develop fantasy fears (monsters, ghouls, etc.) while teens are expectedly more preoccupied with social fears (non-acceptance in a group, etc).
These days, with burgeoning advances in psychology and related fields, the vocabulary has even grown to include all sorts of common and newly-coined -phobia terms ranging from arachnophobia, fear of spiders; to xenophobia, fear of foreigners, each named after a certain thing or object that supposedly triggers the anticipation of doomsday in a person. Think of the most absurd thing to be afraid of, and most probably someone out there is indeed afraid of it.
Something once struck me as an irony, though. Why is it that most of us enjoy watching horror flicks at the expense of screaming at the top of one’s lungs and nonstop hand-covering-the-eyes gestures? Freud’s followers recently discovered the answer for this: We don’t enjoy the fear itself, per se; but it is in the aftershock, the wave of relief we experience after that “fearful” moment where we get to have the genuinely gratifying feeling – both for having gone through the time of dread and for that time of dread itself to be over. It just shows to say that conquering one’s fear is surely a satisfying reward, but where do we actually start?
I read somewhere that the key is to face your fear squarely. It’s all about initially trying to identify the emotion and afterwards dealing head-on with it. The first time you encounter the object of trepidation, you ask yourself: “What is it in that object that scares me?” and then, you try to figure it out introspectively, step by step, addressing each issue with an appropriate action. Upon crossing paths with the same object the next time around, your instincts would then be able to react in a more sensible manner. Over time, you become rational enough to have gotten rid of the fear element.
Back then, I used to have a fear of failure: failure to meet the expectations of people around me and ultimately, those of my own. But throughout the course of time, I eventually discovered that failure may be a good thing in itself, after all. It can make you emerge a better person, teaching you lessons that can be gained via a failed attempt alone. To be honest, sometimes I even remember concepts better when they come out as mistakes in exams (wishing of course that I’m not wont to repeating them over and over again.) It’s the case of standing up if you fall, and of putting in mind not to fall the same way again.
It also helped that I found consolation in an adage that said, “Today is the tomorrow you’ve worried about yesterday.” The saying stuck in my head for a while and I realized, how true. There’s really no point in being overly anxious unless it’s justifiable for a number of reasons. But even then, one can always do something about it, something much more than just crying over spilt milk. Hopefully in the future, through giving the intrapersonal process of fear elimination a good shot, I’ll be able to finally dispose of my fears once and for all.
By the way, what is man’s greatest fear?