You wake up in the middle of the night. The room is pitch black, except for some light coming underneath your door. The light is barely enough, but you can start to make things out in the room as you look around. Suddenly, you see him. There is a man sitting in a chair in the corner of your room staring directly at you, and he’s holding a gun. Your heart leaps from your chest and you immediately spring to action (more than likely you just sit there frozen scared, but in the story you tell later you’ll have leapt immediately to action). You run to the door and turn on the light switch to find…
Clothes. Just a large pile of dirty clothes that you threw into your chair the day before. In the dark they looked like the figure of a man, but as soon as you shed some light on them, you realize you were just overreacting. This has probably happened to many of you as children. You get tucked into bed, the door closes, the lights turn off, and suddenly you’re filled with terror. The room was just there in front of you for all to see, but now the unknown sets in and you start hearing noises and seeing shadows. Contrary to what your parents may have thought, however, you weren’t scared of your room. And you weren’t scared of the dark.
You were scared of the unknown. And for the most part, you still are. Your fears are a lot like the Boogeyman in the night. They will disappear the second you shed some light on them.
Most articles and books on fear will tell you to face your fears head on. I only recommend this technique for irrational fears. You are scared of snakes for a reason. Poisonous snakes will kill you, and there is not a huge benefit to playing with them. You are startled by gunshots because your ancestors ran from gunshots and survived to pass on their genes. These are rational fears and reactions.
However, if you have an irrational fear, I recommend exposing yourself to it in small doses, and slowly getting more and more exposure until your fear is diminished, if not gone entirely. A good example of an irrational fear is public speaking. Yes, crowds have gone crazy and rioted in the past, trying to kill the speaker. No, it is not going to happen while you’re presenting on “How a bill becomes a law” in your high school government class. I do public speaking for a living, and can attest that it gets easier the more you do it.
I want you to start thinking about what scares you, and label that an irrational or a rational fear. Some rational fears, like heights, become irrational as long as you are using caution. Find out what you are irrationally afraid of, and think of an incredibly small way to expose yourself to that fear. Then you can start getting over that fear slowly and with more exposure. No more boogeyman… just dirty clothes.