Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Origins of Fear

I blogged long ago about my fear of planes, but I think that fear is rooted in my basic fear of heights. Last year we went to the city with some European relatives and showed them the sights, which included--gulp--the John Hancock building. My dad, ever the adventurer, whisked us there in taxis and we waited in line to ascend to the very top. I tried various ways to get out of this without looking wimpy, but my children seemed interested enough, and I didn't want to deprive them of their adventure.

Instead, I rode the wobbling elevator with everyone else and emerged on to the skydeck, where the view was spectacular--and high. So high up in the air, where I believe a person like me is just not constitutionally meant to go. One can walk right up to a window and practically press oneself against the glass. You can see my family here enjoying the view; I am at the center of the floor, trying to avoid vertigo and snapping pictures to distract myself.

Is fear of heights hereditary? It could be; my mother has it, or something like it, although she has summoned up the gumption to board a plane many times. Apparently character is lessened with each generation. My eldest son was nervous about ascending, but adapted quickly enough. I'm not sure what causes my aversion to leaving the ground, but it's an instinctive response, and one that seems to increase as I age. I don't see the logic in it; it doesn't even seem rational to build a structure as high as the Hancock, nor does it seem sane to live in it. But that's just my mind talking me into my own fears.

I'm curious about phobias and how they manifest themselves in people. Do we all have them? If so, what distinguishes one from another? Why can someone hop on a plane but be afraid of spiders? Or drive on the expressway but be horrified (as one of my students is) of feet?

What's your phobia?

7 comments:

Eric Mayer said...

I don't like heights either. When I was a kid I couldn't even walk across a bridge where you could look down at the river but I've gotten somewhat better. Like you, though, the idea of tall buildings gives me the creeps. I really wouldn't want to live at the top of a skyscraper. I doubt if I'd ever put he height out of my mind. I have no idea of what the cause of this fear might be. So far as I can recall I've always had it.

Julia Buckley said...

I don't like bridges either, Eric, and it's funny because as kids we used to tease my mom when she would get so upset at our walking near the edge of something, anything--a bridge, a cliff--even if there was a safety barrier.

But now, as a mom, I'm the same way. My mother once said she had the kind of brain that MADE her picture the worst possible scenario, made her visualize us tumbling into the water. I do the same thing, and it's not really by choice. That's what makes me wonder about heredity . . . .

Kay said...

Well, I'm not sure where my fear of heights and the vertigo that comes with it originates. I am adopted and my adopted mother has it. Wonder if it is learned. Anyway, I don't like iron bridges you can see through or even stairs that you can see between the treads. I hate stopping on overpasses at a stoplight and feeling the road tremble with the cars rolling by. I just cannot ascend to viewing levels of tall buildings. I tried to explain my feeling of vertigo one time to my husband. We were visiting the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado and I would not go near the edge to look down into the canyon. I felt like I was falling and tumbling over and over, even though my feet were firmly planted on the ground. I just avoid those situations now and laugh about it. Don't like elevators or escalators either.

Julia Buckley said...

Wow--that's very interesting, Kay! I had a similar experience recently when I had to go to a seminar at the United Center downtown. They sent us up into the nosebleed section, where it seems ridiculous that people would even have to pay for tickets. I hated looking down, and I really had no idea how I was going to walk down those steps while it felt like I was just going to tumble off the stairs and onto the floor far below. I ended up holding the arms of strangers to steady myself.

Karen Olson said...

I can't fly without Xanax. And snakes are an issue, too. I guess that's why I was obsessed with the idea of the movie Snakes on a Plane. Take both my phobias and mix them up together. (never saw it).

Julia Buckley said...

Well, someday I may have to give that Xanax a try--I would love to go to England. I guess I've been waiting for someone to take me there by a slow boat, on which I could wear five life preservers and carry shark repellant. :)

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