This is a story which I believe. Of course, this is not my personal experience; but it has been repeated by so many men, who should have witnessed the incident, with such wonderful accuracy that I cannot but believe it. The thing happened ... Read more of The Examination Paper at Scary Stories.caInformational Site Network Informational
Privacy
   Home - Psychotherapy - Fear - Understanding Crowds - Psychology - How to Succeed - Imagination

Definite Dreads





Besides these rather vague dreads, however, there are certain special
disquietudes peculiar to individuals, even more groundless, if
possible, than the generic apprehension just spoken of and that have
been dignified in recent years by the name of phobias. Phobia means
only "fear" in Greek, but the term is much more satisfying to nervous
people than the shorter but too definite English term, dread, or fear.
There is acrophobia, or the fear of looking down from a height;
claustrophobia, or the fear of narrow places, as the dread of walking
through a narrow street because of the sense of oppression that comes
with the shut-inness of it. Then there is agoraphobia, market-place
dread, or the fear to cross an open space because one has, as it were,
grown accustomed to be near buildings and misses their presence. There
are many others, indeed as many as there are dislikes in human nature,
for any dislike apparently may be exaggerated into a dread. I mention
a few at the beginning of the alphabet and some of special
significance. There is aerophobia, dread of the air, a symptom
sometimes mentioned in connection with hydrophobia; aichmophobia, the
dread of pointed tools; ailurophobia, the dread of cats; anthrophobia
or the dread of men; pathophobia or the fear of disease, microbophobia
or bacillophobia; kenophobia or the dread of emptiness; phthisiophobia
or the dread of consumption; zoophobia or the dread of animals;
sitophobia or the dread of food, and even phobophobia, the dread of
dreading. Neuropsychologists seem to take a special pleasure in
inventing some new phobia or at least giving us a fine long Greek name
for a set of symptoms by no means new and that might well be explained
in simpler terms. The most familiar examples are: the fear of
lightning, which is more frequently brontophobia, the fear of thunder.

These learned words are all formed on the same etymological principle
as hydrophobia, but they are entirely psychic in origin, while
hydrophobia, as it is well to explain to patients who think of the
word phobia in connection with their symptoms, is, of course, a
misnomer for an infectious disease--rabies--which develops as the
consequence of a bite of a rabid animal, and the principal symptom of
which is not fear of water, but the impossibility of swallowing any
liquid because of spasm of the esophageal muscles.

Almost any function of the body may become the subject of a dread or
phobia that may interfere even seriously with it. Any disturbance of
any function is likely to be emphasized by such dreads. The French
have described the basophobia, which makes the patients suffering from
beginning tabes dread so much walking that it becomes a much greater
effort than it would otherwise be and often interferes with walking
rather seriously. Then there is the fear of tremor which exaggerates a
tremor due to some organic cause, but yet not necessarily of grave
import, nor likely to increase rapidly. Many of the hysterical palsies
are really due to dreads, consequent upon some incident, motor or
sensory, which produced a profound effect upon the patient's mind. A
patient who has been surprised by a digestive vertigo while descending
a stairs, even though nothing more happened than the dizziness which
required him to grasp the balustrade, will sometimes develop a fear of
vertigo that will actually make it difficult for him to go down stairs
without such an effort of will as is very exhausting. Even the
slightest functions may be thus disturbed. Pitres and Regis described
some ten years ago what they called the obsession of blushing, or
erythrophobia, the fear of turning red. Patients make themselves
extremely miserable in this way. Only training and self-control will
help them.

These names are long and mouth-filling and consequently satisfying,
and most people who are suffering from a particular phobia are almost
sure to think that they have a very special affliction. When the word
dread is used instead of the word phobia they are less likely to
misunderstand the character of their affection and to realize that it
is not a disease but only an unfortunate mental peculiarity that needs
control and discipline, and not fostering care. Neurasthenia only
means nervous weakness, as we have pointed out, but most people are
rather rejoiced when informed that they have so high-sounding a
disease as neurasthenia, while to be told that they are nervously weak
or suffer from nervous weakness seems quite a come-down from their
interesting Greek-designated affection. Most psychiatrists feel that
it is better not to give the long Greek term, but to state in simple
short Saxon words just what is the matter with the patient. They are
suffering from the dread of a height, or the dread of a narrow street,
or the dread of open spaces, or the dread of dirt, or of cats, or of
whatever else it may be. This makes it easier for them to begin to
discipline themselves against the state of mind into which they allow
themselves to fall with regard to these various objects, and mental
discipline is the only therapeutic adjuvant that is of any avail in
lessening these conditions. With reasonable perseverance most
people can, if not cure themselves of these affections, at least
greatly lessen the discomfort due to them. A consideration of
particular dreads brings out the specific suggestions that may be made
with regard to each and the directions that may be helpful to the
patients. Probably the commonest is acrophobia, so that the detailed
consideration of it shows the indications for other dreads.


Dread of Heights.--Almost without exception men have a sort of
instinctive dread of looking down from a height. In most people this
can be conquered to such a degree that almost anyone, if compelled by
necessity, can learn to work on a skyscraper and continue to do good
work without much bother about the height, though he may have to go up
ten to twenty stories, or even more. When he takes up the work at
first every workman finds it difficult. It gives most of us a trembly
feeling even to sit in our chair and think of looking down from such a
height. To see pictures of men standing on the iron frames of
skyscrapers twenty or thirty stories up in the air looking down 300 to
500 feet below them gives one a series of little chilly feelings in
the back and in many people a goneness or sense of constriction around
the abdomen that is almost a girdle feeling. To sit at a window
opposite where a skyscraper is going up and to see the men lean over
the edge of a beam calling directions of various kinds to workmen
below will give most people, even those who are not nervous or
especially sensitive, creepy feelings with sometimes a little catch in
the breath and an iciness in the hypochondria. It would seem
absolutely impossible that we should ever be able to perform these
feats of looking from a height, yet experience shows that most of us,
after a little training, learn to do it without difficulty.

Even the men who work most confidently have some creepy feelings
return to them whenever they stop and think about this and let their
eyes wander to the distance below them. It is not difficult for us to
walk across a plank raised a foot or two from the ground, though to
walk across the same plank at a height of ten feet may be quite a
trial and at thirty feet may become quite impossible. This is all due
to lack of confidence on our part and there is no reason in the world
why, if the plank is amply wide for us at two feet from the ground, it
should not be just as wide and safe at 30 or 60 or even 100 feet. This
is what the men who have learned to work on skyscrapers have
disciplined themselves to. They have learned to disregard the wide
vacant space around them and the yawning chasm beneath their feet;
they keep their eyes fixed on something in the immediate vicinity,
excluding thoughts of all that might happen if they should lose their
balance.


Physical Basis.--There is a physical basis in many of these cases
that constitutes the underlying occasion, at least, for the
development of the psychic dread. Our eyes have grown accustomed to
being fixed on near objects. Whenever they are not so fixed we get a
feeling of trepidation. Even those who have done a little day-dreaming
know that sometimes when they have been looking into space, objects
around them have suddenly seemed to be transferred to a long distance
and at the same time a curious sense of insecurity came over them.
Anyone can get this feeling experimentally by making two large dots on
a piece of paper about two inches apart and then gazing between the
dots into vacancy beyond the paper as it were, until the dots have a
tendency to become four because of the fact that each eye sees
each of the dots on a part of the retina not corresponding to that on
which the other eye sees it (see Fig. 25).



diameter and 4 inches apart.)]


When the experiment is successfully performed the dots begin to float
before the eyes, then they may coalesce into one or become three, but
any number up to four may readily be seen. This will give the sense of
insecurity that comes from the eyes not having any fixed object to
look at and illustrates the discipline of the eyes that must be
learned in order that looking down from a height may not be productive
of the usual dread.


Dread of Small Heights.--It is often thought that acrophobia, or the
fear of a height, concerns only great heights and that ordinary
elevations produce no discomfort. I have had patients, however, who,
when compelled by circumstances over which they had no control or at
least by social obligations that were hard to break, to sit on the
front row of even a low balcony, have been extremely uncomfortable.
There was a sense of tightness and oppression about the chest that
made it difficult for them to breathe, that disturbed their heart
action and gave them a general sense of ill-feeling. I have had a
curiously interesting series of cases in clergymen who found it trying
to say Mass or conduct services or to preach from the step of a high
altar. One would be inclined at first to make little of their
description of their utter discomfort. There is no doubt at all,
however, of their real torture of mind and of the extreme effort
required to enable them to support themselves in the trying ordeal.
They are often so exhausted because of the effort required that only
with difficulty can they do anything else during the day.

To most people such a state of mind is inexplicable. There are deeply
intellectual men who, in my experience, are quite disturbed by
apparently so simple a thing as having to say Mass on an altar that
has three or four steps to it and is elevated five or six feet above
the surrounding floor. As for higher altars, like the main altar of a
cathedral, they usually find it quite impossible to conduct services
unless they are in company with others, when their feelings are much
relieved. This same thing is true of agoraphobia in some people. To go
alone across an open place or square is agony, but even the company of
a little child is sufficient to relieve them to a great degree. I told
a distinguished American prelate of this curious dread in priests so
often called to the physician's attention, and he said that he had
never heard of it. To his surprise some of his clergymen present at
the table told him that there were two examples of it in brothers in
his own diocese.


Mental Discipline.--The lesson of the many men who, by discipline,
have succeeded in conquering the aversion and the dread of heights
that everyone has to some extent at least, shows the possibility there
is for even those who are extremely sensitive in this matter to so
lessen their timidity and the uncomfortable oppression that comes over
them, as to make it possible to accomplish whatever is in their line
of duty. It is no more difficult for the sensitive clergyman to learn
by practice and discipline to walk with confidence on a reasonably
high altar or platform, than it is for the workman to learn to
walk a beam on the top of a twenty-story building without a thought of
the dangers of his position, or at least putting the thought away from
him so that it does not interfere with his work. At the beginning he
cannot do it, but he disciplines himself to form a habit that makes it
easy. Yielding to his feelings makes it difficult to withstand the
discomforts that come to him. After an accident on a high building, as
a rule, men have to be sent home for the day to get their nerves
settled by the night's sleep before they can work with sufficient
confidence, and yet accomplish their usual amount of work.


So-called Misophobia--Dread of Dirt.--Misophobia, or the fear of dirt,
has grown much more common in recent years, and the spread of the
knowledge of the wide diffusion of bacteria has added to the
unreasoning dread that possesses these people. Some of them wash their
hands forty to fifty times a day, and one young man who was brought to
me with the worst looking hands, because of irritation from soap and
water, that I have ever seen, seemed to be always either just plunging
his hands into water or wiping them dry. These people make themselves
supremely miserable. They do not care to shake hands with friends and,
above all, with physicians, and they invent all sorts of excuses so as
to wait outside of doors till someone else opens them so as to avoid
touching the knob or door pull, "which" with a poignant expression of
repugnance they tell you "is handled by so many people." When the
patients are women, getting on and off cars becomes a nightmare to
them, because they do not want to touch the handle bars and unless
they do they find it difficult to ascend and descend. The curious
excuses they offer for their peculiar actions in avoiding the touch of
objects around them are interesting.


Claustrophobia.--This sort of dread seems quite irrational to most
people and many would probably conclude that individuals thus affected
could not possibly be quite in their right minds, or must surely be
rather weak-minded. On the contrary, many of the people who are
affected by these curious dreads are above the average in intelligence
and sometimes also in their power to do intellectual work. A typical
example, for instance, of claustrophobia, or the fear of closed
spaces, is found in the life of Philip Gilbert Hamerton. He was a
distinguished painter and essayist, editor and novelist. Few men of
his generation were able to do better intellectual work than he. His
book on "The Intellectual Life" was more read perhaps than any work of
its kind in the last generation. He was not a profound thinker, but he
was a very talented practical man. The fact that besides being a
writer whose books sold he was a painter whose works were in demand,
shows a breadth of artistic quality that is quite unusual. His was not
the sort of genius, however, that is so often supposed to be allied to
insanity, for he was rather a worker who obtained his effects by
plodding, than a brilliant genius that got his thoughts by intuition.

In a word, in spite of the fact that he was just the sort of man that
one would not think likely to be affected by a phobia, he had a series
of attacks of claustrophobia, some of which were intensely annoying to
him and seriously disturbing to his friends. His wife has described
some of them in his "Life and Letters." Once after crossing the
English Channel, he had a severe attack in the railroad carriage on
the way up to London. He had not been nervous on the voyage and
had not been seasick. He was returning from a vacation and was in the
best of health and spirits, yet suddenly the feeling of inordinate
dread that he was shut in came over him and he could scarcely control
himself or keep from plunging out of the window in order to get into
the open. His wife says that "His hands became cold, his eyes took on
a far-reaching look, his expression became hard and set and his face
flushed." He seemed "as if ready to overthrow any obstacle in his way;
and indeed it was the case, for, unable to control himself any longer,
he got up and told me hoarsely that he was going to jump out of the
train. I took hold of his hand and said I would follow him, only I
entreated him to wait a short time, as we were near the station. I
placed myself quite close to the door of the railway carriage and
stood between him and it. Happily the railway station was soon
reached, when he rushed from the train and into the fields." His wife
followed him like one dazed, and almost heart-broken. After half an
hour he lessened his pace, turning to her and said, "I think it is
going." For two hours they continued to walk, at the end of which
Gilbert said tenderly in his usual voice, "You must be terribly tired,
poor darling. I think I could bear to rest now. We may try to sit
down."


Dread of Cats.--One of the most interesting of dreads, very frequently
seen and producing much more discomfort than could possibly be
imagined by anyone who had not seen striking cases of it, is the dread
of cats which has been dignified and rendered more suggestively
significant by the Greek designation ailurophobia. While the great
majority of individuals suffering from this unreasoning dread of cats
are women and usually of a delicate nervous organization, it must not
be thought that it is by any means confined to them or has any
necessary connection with hysterical symptoms. One of the most
striking cases of this dread of which I know personally occurs in a
large, rather masculine-looking woman, who cannot abide being in a
room with a cat, and who is quite unable to do anything while one of
these animals is within sight. Yet she is not at all what would be
called timorous and she has more manly than womanly characteristics in
every way. She once proceeded to thrash within an inch of his life a
small burglar who entered her house and she rather prides herself on
being able to protect herself. Nor is this dread necessarily
associated with any other disturbances of mind or nervous system. Some
of the patients I have seen, who confess to suffering from it, were
thoroughly sensible, brave little women, able to stand suffering well,
not at all hysterical in nature, and who in the midst of worries found
time to be thoughtful of others and not to have that selfishness
which, even more than physical symptoms, is so apt to characterize
hysterical patients.

I have had men confess to me their dread of cats, and while, as a
rule, they were of delicate constitution and inclined to be nervous
and did not have the phobia to an inordinate degree, there was no
doubt that they were extremely uncomfortable whenever a cat was near
them. On the other hand, some of them were vigorous, husky men with
strong aversions. One of the most marked cases of ailurophobia that
was ever brought to my attention was in an army officer who had
exhibited bravery in battle on many occasions, and what requires much
more strength of mind, calm fortitude in difficult campaigning, yet
for whom a cat had many more terrors than the battery of an enemy or
even an ambuscade of Filipinos. More cases of this particular
aversion seem to occur in clergymen than in other men, yet one of the
worst cases I ever saw was in a priest of great moral courage, who had
served a pest-house over and over again in smallpox epidemics.

All that can be said about such a dread is that it exists, that it is
unreasoning, that some patients have been known by discipline of mind
to overcome the abhorrence to a great degree but never quite entirely.
In this regard, however, it must not be forgotten that there are many
things abhorrent to human nature that seem impossible to overcome the
aversion for, yet discipline does much to relieve them. For instance,
the handling of dead bodies so familiar to physicians brings with it
an aversion that we never quite get over and which resumes most of its
original strength with disuse, but that can be overcome to such an
extent as to make pathological work produce very little aversion. Even
Virchow, after all his years of occupation with pathological material,
confessed toward the end of his life, that whenever he was away from
his work for a few months his aversion had to be overcome anew.


The Spectator on Dreads.--There might be a tendency to think that
these curious dreads came only as the result of the individualistic
over-occupation with self and the introspective sophistication of the
modern time, but the dread is not confined to our time nor special to
it in any way, for we find Shakespeare talking of those who cannot
bear a harmless, necessary cat. A number of other writers of different
periods refer to it. As in so many other things The Spectator
reflects his time in this and so we have a letter with regard to the
dread of cats. It would not have been a subject for discussion in one
of these popular communications only that the writer felt that a good
many people would realize how like it was to things that they
themselves knew of. In number 609 the following letter, supposed to be
from a correspondent, seems worth giving in full, because it touches
on other subjects in which uncontrollable, unreasoning feeling plays a
role:

I wish you would write a philosophical paper about natural
antipathies, with a word or two concerning the strength of
imagination. ... A story that relates to myself on this subject may
be thought not unentertaining, especially when I assure you that it
is literally true. I had long made love to a lady, in the possession
of whom I am now the happiest of mankind, whose hand I should have
gained with much difficulty without the assistance of a cat. You
must know then that my most dangerous rival had so strong an
aversion to this species, that he infallibly swooned away at the
sight of that harmless creature. My friend, Mrs. Lucy, her maid,
having a greater respect for me and my purse than she had for my
rival, always took care to pin the tail of a cat under the gown of
her mistress, whenever she knew of his coming; which had such an
effect that every time he entered the room, he looked more like one
of the figures in Mrs. Salmon's wax-work than a desirable lover. In
short, he grew sick of her company, which the young lady taking
notice of (who no more knew why than he did), she sent me a
challenge to meet her in Lincoln's Inn Chapel, which I joyfully
accepted; and have, amongst other pleasures, the satisfaction of
being praised by her for my stratagem.


Cat Fear and Furs.--This dread of cats is sometimes exhibited to a
surprising degree under rather unexpected circumstances. For instance,
it is not unusual, since the fashion for the longer-haired furs came
in, to find that some of these patients cannot wear certain supposedly
elegant furs, since they are really dyed catskin. At times this is not
suspected until other possible causes for the discomfort have been
eliminated. Some women cannot even bear to be near catskins in muffs
and other such furs, though the imitation may be so good as to
deceive any but an expert, and they apparently had no suspicion at the
beginning of the presence of cat fur near them. I have been told by a
physician the story of a man, poignantly sensitive to cats, who
purchased a fur-lined coat and found it quite impossible to wear it
because of the sensations it produced in him, though he had no
suspicion of any connection between cats and the fur when he purchased
it.


Recognition of Presence.--Why this dread of cats occurs and, above
all, the reason for the ability to know that a cat is near when the
animal is concealed and others are not at all aware of its presence,
or that its fur should produce a disagreeable sensation, is not easy
to decide. Its discussion is suggestive for other forms of dreads, for
there are probably like refinements of sensation, normal and abnormal,
connected with them. Much has been said about this as a reversion to
powers possessed by man in a savage state when there was necessity for
guarding against animal attacks. Unfortunately for any such
supposition as this, these people, who are most fearful of cats, that
is, of the ordinary domestic animal, have no uneasiness in the
presence of the huge cats in the menageries--the lions and the tigers.
It is with regard to these that such a specialization of scent would
be particularly valuable for men. There seems no doubt but that it is
an odor or a sensation allied to an odor, though perhaps below the
ordinary threshold of recognition as such, that enables these people
to detect the presence of a cat. Dr. Weir Mitchell in his article on
"Ailurophobia and The Power to Be Conscious of the Cat as Near While
Unseen and Unheard," in the Transactions of the Association of
American Physicians, 1905, discusses odor in this connections as
follows:

To be influenced by an olfactory impression of which (as odor) the
subject rests unconscious, may seem an hypothesis worthy of small
respect and beyond power of proof. Nevertheless it seems to me
reasonable. There are sounds beyond the hearing of certain persons.
If they ever cause effects we do not know. There are rays of which
we are not conscious as light or heat, except through the effects to
which they give rise. There may be olfactory emanations
distinguished by some as odors and by others felt, not as odors, but
only in their influential results on nervous systems unusually and
abnormally susceptible. No other explanation seems to me available,
and this gains value from certain contributory facts.

We must admit that all animals and human beings emit emanations
which are recognizable by many animals and are in wild creatures
protectively valuable.

This delicate recognition is commonly lost in mankind, but some
abnormal beings like Laura Bridgeman and a perfectly normal lad I
once saw, have possessed the power of distinguishing by smell the
handkerchiefs of a family after they had been washed and ironed. In
this lad I made a personal test of his power to pick out by their
odor from a heap of clean handkerchiefs mine and those of others,
the latter two belonging to his father and mother.

I have seen a woman, well known to me, who can distinguish by mere
odor the gloves worn by relatives or friends. This lady, who likes
cats as pets, is able to detect by its odor the presence of a cat
when I and others cannot.

Two French observers believe that they have proved the sense of
olfaction to be nine times more acute in women than in men.

So far as the present paper might serve in evidence, I should be
inclined to say that the sense of smell was keener in women than in
men, but as to this there is extreme diversity of opinion and the
whole question awaits further investigation. [Footnote 48]

[Footnote 48: This question of the varying acuteness of smell in
different people is very interesting to the psychotherapeutist for
diagnosis and therapy. We have a number of striking cases of very
acute olfactory power. This is what might be expected since
animals whose respiratory and smell apparatuses are very like our
own show extreme differences. The extent to which human power to
recognize odors can go is marvelous. In his "Thinking, Feeling,
Doing," Prof. Scripture says: "I have a case--reported by a
perfectly competent witness who lived for years with the person
mentioned--of a woman in charge of a boarding school who always
sorted the boys' linen after the wash by the odor alone."
Personally, I have sometimes wondered whether this power, like
that of feeling in the blind, could not be developed. The blind
are supposed actually to bring about an evolution in their nerves
of feeling. No such thing happens, however. An examination of them
by means of an esthesiometer shows that their nerves are no better
developed than those of other people, though they may be able to
recognize much minuter differences between the "feel" of things
and may be able to read raised type, which the seeing cannot. This
is all due to a training of their attention to note slight
differences in sensation, however, and not to improvement in the
nervous apparatus. ]



Dread of the Dark.--The discipline suggested with regard to overcoming
the dread of heights must be applied to any of these dreads if
patients are to be made comfortable. They can form the opposite habit
and by refusing to yield to their fears can do much to lessen them.
Nearly everyone who is unaccustomed to sleeping in a dark house alone
has dreads that come over him when he first tries to do it. Every
noise is exaggerated in significance and the creaking of stairs and
rattling windows and doors and the wind through the trees are all made
significant of something quite other than what they are. Nearly
everyone knows, however, that this can be overcome simply by refusing
to pay any attention to the idle fears that come over us as a
consequence of the tension due to loneliness, and after a time,
sleeping in a strange room and a strange house in the dark is not a
difficult matter. It is harder for some people to accomplish than
others, but it is impossible for none. Here is the lesson that all the
sufferers from dreads must learn. Gradually, quietly, persistently,
they must resist the dreads that come over them, must deliberately,
without excitement, do the opposite to that suggested by their
apprehension, until habits are formed that enable them to accomplish
without discomfort what was before a source of even serious
ill-feeling.

The dread of darkness that so many people have is usually supposed to
be cowardice. It is not, however, in most cases, but is due to
idiosyncrasy or to certain special physical factors in the
environment. If children have been brought up so that when they were
small a light has been constantly shining in their eyes, even though
only a dim light, it will often be difficult to accustom them to be
quite comfortable in the dark. Much depends on habit in this matter. I
have known men, who, when they came from Ireland, feared the darkness
of the coal mines very much and their dread was increased by the awful
horror of possible ghostly appearances, since so many accidents had
taken place where they worked. After some years, however, they were
quite placid about it and would calmly go into the mine as fire bosses
at three and four in the morning, long before others were to go in,
examining absolutely dark passages by the mile, with no human being
near them and with the creaking of the pillars, the dripping of water,
the rumbling of the sides and the occasional fall of a small particle
from the roof, besides the noises of rats to add to the disturbing
factors. Like going up on a high building, one may get entirely
accustomed to it so as scarcely to notice it at all.

When the fear is allowed to take hold of one, however, and no effort
is made to overcome it, it may prove quite seriously disturbing. The
unaccustomed, however, means more than anything else in this matter.
Sometimes, indeed, people have a dread of the dark that seems to
be inborn and that apparently cannot be overcome, that, like the fear
of cats or of lightning, may be quite beyond rational control. Hobbes,
the English philosopher, was so perturbed by darkness that he kept a
light in his bedroom all night. I know this to be the case in a
clergyman who had been quite undisturbed about darkness until he was
awakened one night by a burglar. He demanded "who's there?" and
received as answer without further parley a bullet that fortunately
struck only the head of the bed, but so close that it singed him. The
burglar escaped, but the clergyman was never afterwards able to sleep
without a light. Rousseau, the French philosopher, was also much
afraid of darkness. Ordinarily it is presumed that superstition has
something to do with this fear and that the victim of it has ghosts in
mind or at least dreads spirit manifestations. Neither Hobbes nor
Rousseau, however, was likely to be timorous about ghostly visitants.
It was with them a physical idiosyncrasy.

Associated with dread of darkness is the fear of finding some one in a
dark room whose presence may startle us. Sir Samuel Romilly, famous
for his labors for the reform of the English criminal law, and who
must be considered one of the great humanitarians of the nineteenth
century, had this dread to an acute degree. It went so far that
whenever he slept in a strange place he carefully examined all the
possible hiding-places in the room and in wardrobes or closets
connected with it and, as a last precaution, never failed to look
under the bed. He did this even when he was in his own house.
[Footnote 49] This, however, is not so unusual, even among men, as
might be thought. Most women who sleep alone want to investigate under
the bed and in a hotel closets and wardrobes and even bureau drawers
are likely to be examined. Habit in this regard may make one quite
miserable and over-solicitous. I have had patients whose sleep was
seriously disturbed by the remembrance that they had not looked under
the bed and who feared to get up and light a light to do so lest there
should be someone there. Indeed, the idea of putting their feet on the
floor before the light had come to reassure them seemed quite out of
the question.

[Footnote 49: Curiously enough. Sir Samuel Romilly, in spite of his
dread of the dark, committed suicide and went prematurely into the
darkness of the beyond, apparently without his usual tendency to
precaution.]


Dreads Connected with Water.--Strange as it may seem, water
constitutes a source of dread for some people. We have the records of
it in the peculiarities of great men and it is not unusual to meet it
in common life. Dropping water is a source of disturbance for most
people. It is quite impossible for the majority of men and women to go
on writing or reading with any comfort if water is dropping near them.
Dropping water, when one is trying to go to sleep, is one of the worst
of awakeners. The Chinese are said to put people to death in horrible
torture by having a drop of water fall at regular intervals on their
heads. Robert Boyle, the great father of chemistry and a very sensible
man in many ways, is said to have been thrown into convulsions by the
sound of water dropping from a faucet. The splashing of water on some
people is a poignant source of torture. I have had a woman patient who
could not go to services where there was a sprinkling of water, for it
seriously disturbed her and gave her a sense of depression that would
not be overcome for some time. Peter the Great, though the father of
the Russian navy, and though he passed many years of his life in
Holland, used to shudder at the sight of water, and if, when out
driving, his carriage passed near a stream or over a bridge, he would
close the windows and be overtaken with terror that brought the
perspiration out all over him.


Dread of Death.--The fear of death is one of the dreads that bothers
young as well as old, and, curiously enough, as its inevitable
approach becomes more certain, men are prone to dread it more. Long
ago Sophocles said:

None cleave to life so fondly as the old,

-- and this has remained true for all the centuries since. A young man
is quite ready to throw his life away, but the old man hesitates and
even in the midst of suffering, if it is not absolutely continuous,
craves that death shall not come. Sophocles' great rival, the elder
Greek dramatic poet AEschylus, had said:

How far from just the hate men bear to death
Which comes as safeguard against many ills,

-- but his message was only for those with the character to face the
worst. One may reason with the dread of death, however, and patients
can be given motives from philosophy, literature, religion and
experience that will help to relieve, though it will not entirely cure
them. Shakespeare said in "Julius Caesar":

Cowards die many times before their deaths.
The valiant never taste of death but once,

-- and people may be aroused to appreciate this.


Fear of Early Death.--Many fear that if they have shown symptoms of
delicacy of constitution at some time in life or suffered severely
from some serious disease, that they are not likely to live long and,
above all, that they are almost sure not to be able to accomplish
anything worth while in life. The old proverb is "a healthy mind in a
healthy body." This is, however, the ideal. There are very few ideals
realized in life. Just because a man has a weak body is no argument at
all that his mind may be weak and some of the world's finest work has
been accomplished by men whose bodies were always delicate.
Metchnikoff is the apostle of old age to our generation, but it is he,
also, who has pointed out that many distinguished workers in science,
in poetry, in art, men who have left a precious heritage in succeeding
generations, were delicate all their lives. He cites such typical
examples as Fresnel, the great French physicist; Giacomo Leopardi, the
distinguished Italian poet; Weber and Schumann, the great German
musicians, and Chopin, the Polish composer and pianist, all of whom
did work that the world would not willingly miss, in spite of delicacy
of health and weakness of body which shortened their lives.
Intellectual power is not dependent on bodily energy and
accomplishment is not a question of years of work, but intensity of
work.

It would not be difficult to add many other names to those mentioned
by Metchnikoff. Naturally his thoughts recurred to men of distinction
on the Continent, but in English-speaking countries we have a
number of typical examples of strong minds doing fine work in weak
bodies. Robert Louis Stevenson is the best remembered by our
generation. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, delicate all of her life, a
neurasthenic during the precious adolescent years that are supposed to
mean so much for future accomplishment, always an invalid to some
degree at least, did some of the best work that was given to any woman
to do during the nineteenth century. J. Addington Symonds, the
historian of the Renaissance and of Italian literature, is another
striking example of a man who had to do his work under great physical
difficulties, yet who left a long bookshelf of large volumes after him
as the product of the hours that he could cheat from caring for his
health. Henry Harland, whose recent death all too young was a blow to
the English-speaking world, is another striking example. The names of
such men and women and their stories must be made familiar to people
who are themselves delicate in health and who fear for their future
and, above all, are despondent about the possibility of ever doing
anything worth while.


Dread of Insanity.--People who have relatives who are already
sufferers from such severe forms of insanity as require asylum
treatment are often likely to be much disturbed over the possibility
that they themselves should become insane. Of course, there is no
doubt but that these people are much more liable to suffer from
insanity than others, but their worrying over the matter is sure to do
them harm rather than good. There are quite enough sources of worry in
life without the additional one of dread of a future event that may
not occur, and this must be made as clear to them as possible. The
people who have no obligations on them, who have nothing to do that
they feel they have to do, are especially likely to suffer from such
obsessions. The best possible relief for them is afforded, not by the
effort not to worry about their dread, which usually has exactly the
opposite effect and emphasizes their fear by the constant effort which
they make to put it aside, but by getting something else to interest
them. This must not be merely a passing interest, if possible, but a
serious attraction of some kind that fully occupies the mind. A hobby
is an excellent thing for this, but alas! a hobby must be cultivated
for many years, as a rule, to become powerful enough to bring relief
in such serious matters.

Occasionally the thought of the insane asylum or the sight of an
institution of this kind passed even at a distance in the train is
enough to give some people a fit of depression that may last for some
time. The thought of going to visit their ailing relatives is enough
to make them even more depressed. I have sometimes found that in
chosen cases, especially among women and those of sympathetic
disposition, the apparently heroic remedy of making them visit their
relatives in the asylum was excellent for them. It is the usual rule
for people who are themselves sane to consider that it is the greatest
hardship of asylum confinement for the patients to be associated with
those whom they recognize to be insane. Exactly the opposite effect is
the usual result. To be among people, many of whom are more irrational
than themselves and some of whom are quite beside themselves, proves a
stimulus and an encouragement. Contentment has been defined by a cynic
as the feeling that things might be worse.





Next: Dreads Of Men Of Genius

Previous: Dreads



Add to del.icio.us Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Del.icio.us Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
SHAREADD TO EBOOK


Viewed 2468