Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reflection: The Fear Response(less)

We were at the bus stop by the main drag of the U-District when the 43 came up the road, wearing the wrong sign, like it was going toward Wallingford. A woman seemed to get very excited; at first I thought she was frustrated because she thought she was on the wrong side of the street. "It's going toward..." I said.

She called me the B-word several times. "That's what you are!" she shouted... or maybe she didn't quite shout, but she said it loudly. People around us heard. I'm not sure what all she said. Her face was pretty near mine.

Most people, I imagine, would not have felt actual fear in that situation. Yet I think there would have been some physiological response, some quickening of the pulse, some startle response somwhere. I was aware, once again, how in me there was... just nothing.

Humans are designed to have a fear response that precedes conscious thought. This is how nameless fear -- that I'm afraid, but I don't know why sensation -- begins. It's strongest in the trauma-disordered, but it's in most of us to some extent. I'm hard pressed to think of a time -- even one time in my life -- when I felt nameless fear. The conscious awareness of exactly what afraid of tends to precede any physiological response.

I've read it: Neurologically, attraction (and I mean the word in a broad sense!) is a close cousin of fear; they're both changes in arousal levels, and they often involve the very same chemicals. We're supposed to undergo these subtle little changes in our arousal levels. They're supposed to be highest in response to novel situations. In novel social situations, my arousal levels don't change. They are so low that... I would say they'd make folks' heads swim, except that folks don't see the situation for what it is.

I don't experience nameless fear, but there have been times I have been irresistibly drawn to those who do. There have been times someone has behaved inexplicably toward me and instead of standing there impervious, like I did with the woman at the bus stop, I have experienced emotion at the level... the level that I love, love, love to experience emotion. And then I have wanted to dance that person off on a white horse.

I do experience intense fear. Mostly it's aroused by the fear of losing those who manage to evoke strong emotion in me.