Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Only Thing We Have To Fear Is Fear Itself, Except...

I was thinking about fear the other day and it reminded me of an episode of Seinfeld (no, not the "shrinkage" one, but that was a good one too!) where George admitted that he couldn't wear underwear briefs because he had a fear of elastic. Now I know there are a lot of people out there with some very unusual phobias, including in my own family, and I don’t want to make fun of them because these phobias are very real problems these people are facing, and for many, with very serious and devastating consequences.

On the other hand, laughter is the best medicine and if you can’t laugh at yourself, then I’ll be happy to do it for you. While I feel for these phobia sufferer's obvious pain and discomfort, a part of me (albeit an incredibly evil and insensitive part of me) finds it somewhat hilarious.

Now being phobic about elastic is odd, but I don’t see it as being necessarily life altering. Neither is a fear of dirty socks or a fear of elevators for that matter. But there are some really crazy phobias out there that really make you wonder. What sort of trauma or experiences results in people developing these weird neuroses and how are we supposed to know that they are in full-on freak-out mode because their phobia stimulus presented itself?

For example, say a person has a phobia about the color yellow (yes, it happens!) and a taxi or school bus happens by their line of sight. What would you do if they began screaming hysterically, running in circles, crying uncontrollably and scratching their whole body as if it were covered with ants? Why shoot them, naturally. Obviously they are in the first stages of turning into a flesh-eating zombie, right? Or so you might think. But no, it’s just that they are experiencing an irrational, out-of-control fear that has paralyzed their mind.

It’s not hard to assume that people who have some of these fears have developed them via some traumatic personal experiences, especially those people who have a fear of roller coasters and ferris wheels, a fear of clowns, fear of the dentist, fear of water or fear of thunder and lightning. But how does one explain a fear of sitting on torn furniture or a fear of having one’s hands or feet cut off while you sleep? And how does a person living in South Dakota develop a phobia of whales? What would give someone an intense fear of sponge cake or a fear of getting a paper cut on their eyeball?

What about people that are deathly afraid of accountants? Do you know anyone who has a phobia about corduroy clothing, or a morbid fear of people singing the Oompa Loompa Song from Willy Wonka while chewing gum? Yes, I’m afraid there are people that suffer from these as well. Clearly there are some deep psychological issues plaguing people like this. As Freud would explain, it is undoubtedly the fault of the victim’s mother. Probably something related to either too much or too little breast feeding I would imagine. Lucky for me my mom knew when to quit…when I started kindergarten.

(Uh huh, I got mad suckling skillz.)

Of course there are a lot of common phobias, and I won’t bore you with the medical terms because it’s rather pointless to share them with you unless you are a licensed psychotherapist and most of you, though probably very familiar with psychotherapists, probably aren’t one. The most common phobias include fear of heights; fear of public speaking; fear of the dark; fear of needles; fear of crowds; fear of germs; fear of falling; fear of death; fear of flying; fear of confined spaces and fear of commitment. Similarly a lot of people are afraid of various animals: dogs, snakes, spiders, birds, fish, cows, and so forth. Though more people experience these types of fears, they are unfortunately not nearly as funny as, say, someone who has a fear of celery or a fear of going poop or a fear of garden gnomes. Now I don’t care who you are, that’s some funny stuff right there.

My daughter Lissa has a fear of cotton balls. (Don’t laugh!) It is quite common. She’s perfectly normal otherwise. Well, except for a fear of Popsicle sticks and tongue depressors. (Stop it!) No one knows how or why she has these phobias. It may or may not have to do with my early attempts to amuse her with puppets fashioned from tongue depressors with cotton ball wigs…which, as it turns out, make a really impressive flaming skull puppet. Maybe I didn’t need quite so much fake blood and possibly the dead chicken was a little over-the-top, but I have no doubt that performing these little plays for her as a baby have helped her blossom into a fine actress and budding screenwriter in later life…and maybe a vegetarian as well.

As a kid I remember my brother Rob had a phobia about hair being pulled out. I think he subconsciously thought that as each follicle was being ripped out of the scalp, the hole left there would begin bleeding profusely. It was a fear which I, as his miserable little brother, capitalized on quite often. “Hey Rob, look at me!” I would say as I pretended to yank my hair as he violently turned away in utter horror. Yeah, good times. I don’t know if he’s still affected by it. I’ll have to find out next time I see him.

I think that of all the phobias I have come across, my favorites have been those that are a bit more unique. Here are some of the fears that are weird, even by my standards: odd numbers; red fire alarms; extra-terrestrials; people vomiting; people with animal heads (such as mascots); balloon animals; Hannah Montana; the Happy Birthday song; bubbles; feet; peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth; your own wrist; librarians; toenail clippings; bagels; parasitic worms eating your brain; Saran wrap; Barbie dolls; strawberry ice cream and football players killing you in your sleep. Imagine trying to lead a normal life whilst being tormented by these things. Boy, there really are a lot of seriously screwed up people in the world!

What do you have to say for yourself, moms? (You may use the comment area for your apologies.)

Despite the terrors that might plague your life if you have any of these or other phobias, take heart that things could always be worse. You could live next door to these people.


  1. Yay! What a great post! :)

    There is a difference between fear and fobia. And that difference is simply the degree of fear. The more you fear, the greater the degree. The greater the degree, the more irrational the fear. And when fear becomes irrational it is a fobia. So you see, a fobia doesn't have to be caused by a trauma. It can be just a simple fear getting out of hand due to lack of information for example.

    What I am trying to say is, that all the moms and dads out there, relax, it's not your fault if yur kids suffer from a fobia or another. Forget about Freud. The European psychologists have done so decennia ago! Thanks to powers that be.

  2. I'll come clean, Mr T!

    I've never sat through the entire Willy Wonka thingy.

  3. My kiddo has many fears but none are full blown phobias. Yet. Rollercoasters, dogs, cats, and cutting the umbilical cord are just a sampling.

  4. ps-I'm just glad you didn't say anything about Restrooms and Tipping...

  5. I never saw that Seinfeld episode! (And I've seen most of them!) You left out the common male phobia: fear of commitment! Great post!

  6. I actually have a fear of birds. Especially ones that people keep as pets!

  7. I'm visiting from Dana's place, and what a great post for my first reading! I look forward to doing some back-reading and coming again one day.

    I don't know if these are phobias or just ick factors, but I have a fear of spiders bigger than 1/2" in dia.(can imagine them crawling on my body while I'm sleeping), and I get sick enough to throw up if I hear or feel the crushing sound of something like killing a cricket.

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  9. love this. but i must admit i'm one of THOSE people . . . phobic about numbers divisible by 2 or 5, helium balloons, butterflies, velcro, the list goes on. yeah - i have issues!

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  11. Happy Hour, it's not really about the specific thing that somebody is afraid of, but of the things the person's mind links it to. Odd numbers, for example. The numbers are not scary to begin with, but the things they are linked to (in that person's mind) are. The more time passes, the more negative things the numbers get linked to, untill the mere sight of the numbers automatically triggers the irrational fear. The problem is, the human conscious cannot control the linking and is not fully aware of it. :(

  12. I never knew I was claustrophobic until I had to have an MRI (routine stuff, no worries)...and I realized that I actually can't breathe when I'm forced to lie on my back for any great length of time, in a confined space. (Had I been allowed to roll on my side, I would have been okay.) In a goofy way, merely having this fear scared the crud out of me! After that, I have cut other fearful folks some slack.
    By the way Tom, what made you start thinking of fear to begin with? A good topic for a future essay, maybe?
    The sinister schnauzer made me chuckle (they are such sweet dogs usually)! Cool post Tom!

  13. I hate to be a nag...well, no I don't. If I did I wouldn't be so good at it.

    You need to update your blog. Not only because I enjoy it but because if I click on your link and see that terrible picture again I may have to beat you senseless. :-)

  14. I don't know why I didn't follow your blog before, but I am now - thanks to Blase's having directed our attention over here.
    Your writing and pictures are great (the pictures are horrible too).

  15. I'm afraid of birds. They freak me the hell out.

  16. Hi, great post. Thanks to Blase for sending me over for a peak. I am following now. Drop over for a visit if you have time, I would be glad to hear from you.

  17. Rattlesnakes! I fear rattlesnakes! And why I live in the desert where the rattlesnake is king is beyond me. I should move to Alaska or Hawaii where there are no snakes. Damn them, why didn't Noah leave them off the Ark?

  18. Whoa, whoa, whoa!

    I happen to be one of those who chews gum singing the Oompah Loompah song.

    It's one of my favorite things to do (especially while shopping at WalMart).

  19. I'm scared of Hannah Montanna. Isn't everyone?

    Clowns do freak me out but it seems to me there is good reason for that.

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