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Fears and Phobias

While most of us profess to be normal, how do we define normality?

Deep down—or not so deep down in some instances— many average people suffer from fears, phobias or superstitious beliefs.

What is it that can turn a strongwilled pillar of society into a quivering mass of hysteria or perhaps cause a high-flying company executive to become a fanatical, obsessive failure?

Growing up as kids, many of us were scared of the dark and of the mythical bogeyman. But we soon learned this monster of our imagination didn’t exist.

As adults, some irrational beliefs are not so easily dismissed. Walking under ladders is still avoided by many. If a black cat crosses our path, it’s either lucky or unlucky depending on our upbringing and country of origin.

Other well-known superstitions involve self-preservation sayings, such as “touch wood” and “cross my heart and hope to die.” Breaking a mirror or opening an umbrella indoors brings fear of future bad luck.

Then there’s the ominous “Friday the 13th” and the widespread concern associated with the number 13 itself. While the origin of some fears is not entirely certain, like so many of our beliefs and folklore handed down through generations, theories abound. For instance, some say Friday the 13th can be traced to Judas, the apostle who betrayed Jesus, being the 13th guest at the Last Supper and that Jesus was crucified on a Friday.

Other reasons suggested include: in ancient Rome, it was believed witches gathered in groups of 12—a 13th supposedly being the devil—while in Scotland, 13 is known as the “devil’s dozen.”

Rational individuals have little problem with Friday the 13th. But for some, sheer fear is associated with this calendar occurrence. Some people won’t drive cars, fly in planes, eat in restaurants, go to work or plan a wedding on that date. People affected with this irrational fear are called paraskevidekatriaphobics.

There is a seemingly endless list of phobias, superstitions, myths, omens and old wives’ tales, along with inherited instincts, that influence our everyday lives. While fears and phobias seem ridiculous to less superstitious individuals, for those afflicted with such problems, the condition is very real and at times very terrifying! A phobia (according to Wikipedia) is “an irrational, persistent fear of certain situations, objects, activities or persons.”

Someone with a phobia—and there are millions of sufferers world-wide—has a strong sense of anxiety, stress and discomfort that can create severe difficulties in coping with daily life.

While others scoff at those unfortunate enough to endure the embarrassment of this disorder, the victim may be suffering panic attacks; acute anxiety; may burst into tears or break out in a cold sweat; may become hysterical or become nauseous; have heart palpitations or breathlessness—just some of the many associated symptoms.

I once worked with a lady who had ranidaphobia, a fear of frogs. Just a picture of one of these cute little green hoppy things would send her from the room, uttering loud shrieking cries, much to the delight of her so-called “friends.”

Possibly the most common phobia is arachnophobia—fear of spiders. With around 50 per cent of women and 10 to 25 per cent of men having this anxiety, it isn’t just little Miss Muffet who’s afraid of eight-legged crawlers! Aerophobia (fear of flying), claustrophobia (fear of small spaces) and acrophobia (fear of heights) also share top billing when it comes to phobias.

Now for the good news. People with phobias can be cured! Recently I read about a lady who was terrified of spiders, to the extent that she became afraid to open her front door, fearing a “big hairy creature would latch onto me.” Every time she approached the door, her heart began to palpitate and her hands trembled uncontrollably.

She is now cured! She attended a short workshop, “Fearless at Taronga”

held at Taronga Zoo in Sydney by a former arachnophobe, Warrick Angus.

As a boy, he was plagued by an irrational fear of spiders. Today he’s a leading spider expert, heading the team at “Backyard to the Bush” who, along with Alistair Horscroft, conduct the courses.

Amazingly, their success rate for curing participants is around 98 per cent.

Another type of anxiety complex that requires pages and pages of explanation is social phobia.

Sufferers are afraid of doing something for fear it may embarrass them or cause humiliation in public. This could include public speaking, eating or drinking with friends, using public toilets or public transport and any contact with people in general that causes abnormal levels of discomfort.

As fears are many and varied, so too are symptoms, including profuse sweating, stammering, blushing, trembling and difficulty talking coherently.

A more recent anxiety disorder—obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)— describes a person who has repeated obsessions, thoughts or ideas. Most sufferers of this recurrent compulsion to carry out some senseless task are well aware that their actions are irrational and excessive but still they feel powerless to control or overcome this affliction.

According to the University of Western Australia, two to three per cent of the population suffer some form of this distressing disorder. The most common form of OCD is a fear of germs and being dirty. Sufferers may spend hours a day cleaning and re-cleaning the same area, or may shower several times a day.

The late musician Tiny Tim was a classic example. He wouldn’t eat or drink in public and showered many times a day. “I clean my body and my skin many times.” In attempting to justify his actions, he explained it as his “symbol of purity.”

There are also people who:

  • Check constantly to see if doors have been locked.
  • Repeatedly check that appliances are turned off.
  • Meticulously or precisely arrange objects and can’t bear anyone to move or touch them.

Many top sporting stars exhibit some of these symptoms. Take for example Italian motorcycle superstar Valentino Rossi, a seven-time world champion.

Rossi is flamboyant and extraverted in the public eye but compulsive in his private life; a perfectionist—extremely meticulous and methodical, almost to the point of being obsessive. When racing, everything has its place, with a special foam mat in his garage pits where he places his cap, gloves, ear plugs and other essentials—always neatly laid out in exactly the same position.

He also has his pre-race rituals where he stretches, crouches down by his bike before mounting and riding down pitlane standing up on the footrests. He also carries a good-luck charm and races with number 46, refusing to use the prized number 1, which he’s earned repeatedly.

Superstitions in sport are nothing new and exist in most sports. According to Dr Richard Lustberg, a psychologist who runs the website <www.psychologyofsports.

com>, “Athletes begin to believe and want to believe that their particular routine is enhancing their performance.” Some weird and wonderful examples of superstitions are: • Wearing “lucky” underpants, socks or other personal apparel.

  • Always putting on one shoe (usually the right) before the other.
  • Carrying a special “lucky charm.”

In some instances, sentimentality and superstition combines. Former Australian cricketer Steve Waugh used to carry a red handkerchief—given to him by his grandfather—in his left pocket.

Famous golfer Tiger Woods usually wears a red shirt on Sundays when playing golf—reputedly to help him feel more aggressive—and in motor racing, former Australian Formula 1 world champion Alan Jones always wore red underpants. Current Ferrari driver Felipe Massa once said, “If Friday goes well I use the same underpants on Saturday.

If that is a good day, I wear them again on Sunday. That’s what I did in Brazil when I won.”

Some drivers have superstitions about driving green cars, while others always step into a car from the left.

At times we are all influenced by superstitions—perhaps for a sense of security or as a guide to help us find the correct path. In the long run, we discover that deriving our hope or fear from objects or events does not result in happiness or a balanced life.

Superstitions can cause us to think about life but, upon reflection, we need to be wise enough to see beyond random traditions, objects or events. There is a sure way to lead a life of direction and consistancy—let God, who created us and knows us completely, lead us in our everyday lives. Superstitions lead only to a downward spiral of self-doubt and double checking. Allowing God to take leadership of your life results in a peaceful mind!

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