The Agent’s En-Frighten-Ment (or “What My Horror Theme Park Trip Taught Me About Fear”)

Awww, They’re bonding.

It’s refreshing to know that there are others besides me for whom Halloween doesn’t end at the passing of the 31st of October. Among those people, I’m happy to count my two best friends and our state’s yearly tribute to terror, Spooky World presents Nightmare New England.

We went on the last night of their season and although it meant being exhausted that night at work, it was absolutely worth it. Not only was it the most fun I had it some time, I can also say that it was an educational experience.

As you may have noticed from the many essays I’ve written on horror, I don’t shirk away from the idea of being scared. Instead, I embrace it because I know that feeling anything – even fear – is a reminder that I still have a soul that hasn’t been completely jaded. But I was surprised by what I learned about fear that I never really thought about before during our trip. For instance…

Fear Is Shaped By Experience

According to one of my Psychology class heroes Carl Gustav Jung and his theory of the Collective Unconscious, creatures of the same species – in this case, humans – share similarly constructed unconscious minds. This means that our psyches share the same primitive instincts, identity archetypes, and – most important to this exercise – primordial emotions. In terms of emotions though, we dress the triggers for our emotional reactions based on our experiences.

For example, the base emotion of and reaction to fear is the same between my two friends and myself, but the things that scare us are radically different. One of my friends can’t stand anything to do with eyes due to a rather unpleasant accident with a childhood pet. The other is petrified by asphyxiation in a vacuum as he was raised on Sci-Fi movies and death in space was always the most nasty way to go.

I, as I had discovered that night, found my triggers to be chainsaws (I was nicked by power tools quite a few times as a kid), mirrors (I hate the initial feeling of not being able to tell if the person in front of me is me or another person), and close-ups of insects (or just bugs large enough to pass for close-ups in the case of the night in question).

Of course, this idea of fear being tied to experience leads us to my next lesson:…

Fear Is Deeply Personal

There was a moment during the trip that made me realize just how deep fear runs as I made a connection to a memory that I thought I had totally forgotten.

It was during our trip through the first attraction of the night called Carnage. The setting was that of an old car dumping lot/chop shop swarming with crazed mechanics. The actors skewed much younger – most of them males in their mid to late teens.

Like a reflex, my mind made a connection to the teenage boys that were much older than me at the time in my school days. I remind you all that I lived in a trash can of a city at this time where teen boys were among the most violent and quickest to pick a fight with/grind their ax on me.

It had nothing to do with the scene they had set; just the simple choice of the age of the actors was enough of a trigger. It was as if I was conditioned to recognize people between the ages of 18 and 21 as a threat. And I never realized it until that night.

So, why am I sharing this story with you? Well, when you get down to it…

Fear Has The Power to Bring Us Closer

The primary purpose of fear is to act as a warning sign against potential danger. For example, if your afraid of snakes, you’ll naturally avoid one when you see it. If it happened to be poisonous, than fear may have saved your life.

However, as I discovered, fear has a secondary function; it can coax us to grow closer to others.

There are two ways it does this. The first and most direct way happens when a group is unnerved. A smart group will instinctively become more receptive to the others in their party knowing that protecting them will insure that they will be more likely to return the favor.

The other method that, in my opinion, creates much stronger bonds comes from sharing your fears with others. Most people view their fears as an exploitable weakness and will keep them as closely guarded secrets. By sharing your fears with someone, you show that you trust them enough to not take advantage of them.

I felt that the three of us grew much closer by the end of the night as we shared stories about and faced our fears together. If you have someone you care about and you want the two of you to open up more to each other, go to a haunted house. You may be amazed at what you learn.