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Phobia causes actions beyond reason

Aftermath of freak crash by

You may have heard of the bizarre accident in Northern Indiana where a woman found a spider on her shoulder and leapt from a moving car. Her nine-year old son was in the back seat and tried in vain to get control of the car, which crashed into a school bus. If you managed to miss it, here’s a brief report from local TV station WXIN.

While most stories have focused on the strange nature of the crash, we are interested in the incredible fear that caused a mother to overcome her instinct to protect her son in order to flee a spider. You see, at the Museum of the Weird we encounter certain levels of fear like this daily.

Small children will sometimes be nervous about the shadowy nature of our artifacts, expecting something to jump out at them, though it never does. However, adults are sometimes taken aback by the idea of our ghost and the dealings that I might have with objects and spirits. Some people have needed to leave the Museum at the very thought of such things.

What causes such strong reactions? The term “irrational” is sometimes used, but is that a fair judgment? This article from Scientific American talks about the nature of phobias and our difficulty in finding root causes for them. There doesn’t seem to be a specific genetic reason for an overpowering fear of spiders, but there might be genetics that would make one more susceptible to environmental issues or conditioning. What would develop as an aversion becomes a devastating fight or flight reaction.

One thing to keep in mind is that someone experiencing such a phobia is not thinking rationally. They may even be fully aware of the way their response is out of proportion to the situation. That doesn’t matter. Understanding that it’s irrational doesn’t fix it. It must be treated using methods that range from hypnosis to reconditioning.

When I encounter a child who is scared I will get on their level and do my best to assure them that everything in the Museum is safe and that they are surrounded by parents and myself who want to look out for them. When I encounter this reaction from adults I have to do my best to simply bypass the subjects altogether. In either case I take their concerns seriously and don’t use it to mess with them.

As we saw in the news story, fear like this can drive people to do things that are far beyond even their own expectations. They can abandon their own safety and yours just to get away from what frightens them. If you are lucky it’s just awkward. In a worse-case scenario someone gets hurt.

The 9-year-old boy, who sprang into action to stop the moving vehicle, thwarted only by not having driving instincts—because he’s 9—received some minor head injuries, but seemed to be otherwise OK. The school bus that collided with the car had no children and its driver was unharmed. The mother will be haunted by the fact that something she could not control made her do something unimaginable.

Please respect people’s fears rather than preying on them. If you know you have a serious phobia consider looking into ways to conquer it. We want you safe!

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