Have you ever contemplated at what age we learn fear? Fear scientists tout all kinds of theories. Some say we are born with two innate fears: the fear of falling and the fear of loud sounds. Really? Others argue that it is an instinct - a part of human nature. Okay, so that is a bit more digestible. However, many believe that most fears are learned behavior. I question all those theories.
As a young kid, carnivals were just the bomb to me. I am not referring to well-organized county fairs but the small pop-up amusements that seemed to appear overnight and disappear almost as quickly. Sleazy hawkers would taunt and lure unsuspecting innocents into spending cash on rigged games for meaningless prizes. It was strangely fascinating and ridiculously fun. So, what does this have to do with fear?
I'm guessing I was about eight years old when one of these magical mystery tours materialized in a nearby town. At the end of the midway stood a funhouse. Now, this was not a house of horrors or a freak show. It was a walk-through giggle-fest with mirrors, overstuffed teddy bears, and dancing frogs. It was fun. As I moved through the very narrow path, I hit a hard left turn. Two steps in I froze. It was dark but wasn't pitch black so I'm not quite sure what triggered the fact that I simply could not move.
Up to this point, I had not felt scared; nothing had surprised me or jumped out in front of me. Suddenly I was afraid of what might happen. Tears welled up in my eyes and I cried for help. The operator had to physically rescue me with a flashlight and walk me out. A scaredy-cat was born that morning. But my fear was not based on tangible influences. It was a fear of the unknown.
I suffered the same fate during my earthquake years in California. When the earth started shaking, I would freeze in fear and had to be literally dragged to a safe haven, even if the door jamb was only a few feet away. Not knowing how bad it would get or how long it would last would completely disengage my survival instinct.
While fears are meant to be conquered, this fear of the unknown still haunts me. I hesitate more often than I care to admit on life decisions solely on the fear that I don't know what will happen. Where did this come from? How does a confident, successful over-achiever fear what they cannot visualize or control? It is not a learned behavior. But...
In retrospect, even as I am writing, I realize that the fear of the unknown might very well walk hand in hand with the fear of failing; and, failing is indeed a learned behavior. Add in the curse of perfectionism and it becomes clear how both fears might turn life's Viennese Waltz into an Irish Riverdance.
I'm just going to speculate that it means I really screwed up in a previous life and failed in epic proportions. Ah, but that is fodder for yet another rant.