Anyone who’s ever been a kid, which means all of us with the possible exception of ageless celebrities like Cher, remembers their childhood fears. What was it for you? Maybe you were afraid of your closet, thunderstorms, or the neighbor down the street who was so old he might still owe Fred Flinstone a few bucks? For me, I distinctly remember going to the circus as a small child and bursting into tears when approached by a clown. He wasn’t exactly Stephen King’s “It,” but my fear still made sense. When we’re little and already wary of strangers, why would we giggle with delight at the strangest looking stranger we’ve ever seen?
Often, childhood fears go the way of our favorite blankies. But surprisingly often, childhood fears stick around well into adulthood—maybe you got bitten by a dog or stung by a bee and have freaked out at the sight of them ever since. Or maybe your fear has evolved, but fundamentally stayed the same. For example, a childhood fear of monsters may have morphed into a fear of burglars (how many locks are on your door?). A fear of strangers may have turned into social anxiety. Or a fear of doctors and dentists may have, well, stayed a fear of doctors and dentists.
In an excellent example, listener Oliver wrote in to say he’s an adult who’s been afraid of the dark all his life. As a kid, his parents told him to get over it, which of course is never helpful, and now his fear has continued into adulthood. For Oliver, fear of the dark means lousy sleep quality from sleeping with the light on and not being able to drive at night without feeling terrified.
So what should you do if, like Oliver, you have a lingering childhood phobia, or one that sprung up on your adult life like a boogeyman jumping out of a closet?
First, know you’re in good company. Nearly 10% of people will, at some point in life, have a phobia that gets in the way of living their life. This means way more than just making your partner kill the spider in the bathtub. This means not being able to take a job that requires using an elevator to get to your office or not being able to travel by plane, which means never seeing a Hawaiian sunset in person.
So if you’ve been foiled by a phobia, know these 4 things to finally face your fears.