Last week I got a copy of Spiders by Tom Hoyle in the post, which I won in a Goodreads giveaway. I included it in my Stacking the Shelves post on Saturday, and a comment Val from The Innocent Smiley made got me thinking. What if you have a fear of spiders and received this book in the post? How would you react!? I don’t mind spiders at all, but I know there are people with a very real fear of them, and it got me thinking about triggers for these very real fears.
In short, I want to ask all of you a couple of questions. I don’t have an answer I can give that I’m a hundred percent happy with, so I thought I’d throw them out there and see if anyone has experienced this, and what other people’s opinions are.
Please Note: While there are so many situations that can trigger different things for different people, in this post I’m referring to fears and phobias such as a fear of flying, heights, small spaces, bugs, etc.
Ok, the questions are:
What if, completely unbeknownst to you, your biggest fear or phobia was realistically recreated in the book you’re currently reading? Would you stop reading, or keep going? How would you react to that, or have you ever experienced anything like this before?
Before we go any further, according to oxforddictionaries.com, the definitions of dislike, fear and phobia are as follows:
verb: dislike; 3rd person present: dislikes; past tense: disliked; past participle: disliked; gerund or present participle: disliking
1. feel distaste for or hostility towards.
noun: fear; plural noun: fears
1. an unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm.
noun: phobia; plural noun: phobias
1. an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something.
After reading these definitions and thinking about it quite a bit, I probably throw around the word “fear” a little too easily when the term “dislike” would probably be more accurate. For example: moths. I do not like moths. Especially the way they fly around so randomly, and when you swat them away they actually decide that flying right at your face is the best way to escape from you! Arrgghh! I might say in casual conversation I have a “fear” of them, but this isn’t really the case. I’m not really afraid of them, they aren’t going to harm me - I just intensely dislike them! Ok, I HATE them!
I have a huge list of things I dislike, but the list of things I’m fearful of is actually a lot shorter than I first thought. The biggest fear I have is probably being buried alive. The only phobia I could claim to have would be a semi-strong case of claustrophobia. If I can see a way out of a small space, I can manage to get over the fear kind of easily. A glass lift (or elevator) for example, would be the perfect example. I’m usually alright as long as I can see out, but put me in a completely enclosed lift that I can’t see out of, then I’m terrified! It makes very little sense thinking about it but the terror is completely real, and I’ve experienced this horrible, debilitating fear quite a few times.
Putting these in a bookish light, I’ve read a couple of books that touched on both claustrophobia and a few where a character was temporarily buried alive. Now, while I didn’t particularly enjoy reading these scenes, I wouldn’t say my fears were triggered.
Ok, attempting to answer my own question: While I do experience the emotions characters go through during these scenes, none of the books I’ve read so far has triggered any of the intense reactions I’d experience if it was me in the situation, or have experienced in the past.
I don’t have a fear of heights – thankfully – but it’s probably one of the most common fears I see cropping up in the books I read. A character will casually mention they don’t like heights, then a hundred pages later, off they go scaling a building one handed or hanging off the edge of a two hundred meter cliff, and hey presto, they appeared cured. No debilitating fear. No crying and screaming. No huge panic attacks. No wanting to puke their guts out. Maybe I’m not looking at this right, but sometimes it seems like real fears are 'dumbed-down' a bit and not taken as seriously, so characters can easily triumph over the fear?
What about you? I’d love to hear what you think on this. Have you ever experienced a real sense of fear or terror when you were reading?