Tag Archives: phobia

Hit the Road Shaun!

31 Jan


Halloween is a distant memory and the scary costumes are long gone , but most childhood fears are not so easily left behind. Our five-year-old grandson and his little sister spent the night with us last Saturday. That meant that we had to exile“Shaun the Sheep” to the trunk of our car. Shaun is a character from a stop-action BBC children’s series. The show was a spinoff from the popular Wallace and Gromit films. My wife Diane bought a “Shaun the Sheep” hot water bottle cover, while on a trip to England. To most people, Shaun is an adorable little stuffed lamb with big eyes. But that’s the problem. Shawn’s plastic eyes are rather large and protruding. For some reason, these “google eyes” really scare our grandson.

We promised to take Shaun out of the house before he came to stay. I suggested that we could put Shaun in a box and then put the box on a back shelf in the closet, but he said he was still afraid that Shaun would “pop out” of the box, so we put Shaun in the car trunk instead. At first I thought this innocent expression of childhood fear was rather endearing, but the more I thought about Shaun’s cold dead eyes, the more they bothered me. I started fantasizing about it and imagined that maybe late Saturday night I would heard a loud knocking sound. I’d look out the window and see that the car trunk was open and when I reached the door, all I would see was those big “google eyes” staring back at me through the window.

None of us ever fully recover from our childhoods. Our deepest pleasures and fears reside there. Film director Steven Spielberg managed to successfully tap into his childhood fears creating scenes like the threatening trees and the terrifying clown under the bed in the movie, Poltergeist. I also remember a childhood nightmare about being chased by a Tyrannosaurus, that could have been a scene right out of Jurassic Park. Especially in his book, “It”, Stephen King exploited many of our earliest fears with another horrifying clown and a monstrous spider-like creature.

Researchers at the University of Sheffield in England were seeking data in order to update the decor of a children’s hospital. They surveyed 250 young hospital patients and found that all the children even the older ones disliked clowns. The technical term for fear of clowns and mimes is “coulrophobia” and psychologists believe that the exaggerated expression seen in traditional clown make-up is the main reason that children fear them. Being able to recognize familiar faces and interpret emotional expressions is an important developmental task for children. The grimacing clown face presents an unexpected and unwelcome enigma for kids.

When they were little, our two youngest sons were given a pair of handcrafted large and small Raggedy Andy dolls for Christmas. Our youngest son never like them and over time he started to be afraid of them. He may be our most creative child and he developed an interesting coping mechanism. Every night before he would go to bed, he would thoroughly beat up each of the dolls and then he would make them face the wall, so they couldn’t stare at him while he was sleeping.

As for our granddaughters, they seem especially frighten of spiders and bugs and they have a thing about “beetles”. They are even afraid of killing them, because they might be “stinkbugs” and smell up the place. Even our three-year-old granddaughter picked up on her sisters’ hysteria and screamed when she saw a “spider” on the floor near her toys. I was impressed by her eyesight since this “spider” was the tiniest of specks and was barely visible. I squashed it for her and she seemed satisfied and momentarily grateful.

As a child our middle son, Andy also had a fear of insect. We lived in Florida, which is well known for its palmetto bugs. Dave Barry once said, “We call them palmetto bugs because if we called them ‘six-inch-long flying cockroaches’, we’d all have to move out of the state.” In elementary school Andy had a terrible conflict. He wanted to ride his bicycle to school more than anything, but it was outside in a shed, teeming with palmetto bugs. From inside the house we could hear him scream every time he saw a bug (about every 2 seconds). Despite all the screaming, he still managed to get out his bike and ride to school.

According to psychologist Jodi Mindell from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, childhood fears stem from two major sources: real life experiences and internal feelings. She believes that the childhood fear of monsters, for example, comes from personal experiences that show children that people behave destructively towards others. These experiences might include being actually injured, observing others being hurt, or being shown or told of scary possibilities.

Stories and movies are common sources of childhood fears since they often employee archetypical images and characters that have historically engendered feelings of terror. For example, as a child Diane was afraid of the witch and the flying monkeys in the classic movie, “ The Wizard of Oz”. Like many children, our oldest son was afraid of witches when he was little. Witches are archetypal and symbolize ambivalence towards the mothering figure, as well as, the fear of the dreaded “Bad Mother”. As for me I was thoroughly terrified by the old Universal Studios’ Frankenstein and Wolfman movies that my older brother insisted on watching every Friday night when my parents went out.

The second source of childhood fears is the child’s own unacceptable internal feelings. Such feelings, such as intense anger, can be extremely frightening and children often employ the defense mechanism of externalizing to help control them. Mindell says, ” Externalization refers the remarkable and normal capacity of children to create the illusion that their own unwanted feelings belong to something else rather than themselves.

Even schools can serve as an unintentional source of childhood fears. Once our middle son was frightened at school because they talked about devastating mudslides taking place “far away”. All he knew was that his grandma lived “far way” and therefore conceivably might be harmed.

When I was in elementary school our teacher taught a social studies lesson that told us the alarming story of Pedro. Pedro lived in some Central American country. One day he was out in a beanfield with his father, when all of a sudden, rocks started spontaneously floating in the field. Pedro had left his sombrero on the ground and one of the rocks even made it fly around scaring everyone. The villagers thought that the field must be haunted. It turns out that Pedro and his family didn’t realized that a full-fledged volcano was forming in the beanfield. Within a couple of weeks, a massive lava-spewing, smoke-belching volcano completely covered Pedro’s home and we never heard from poor Pedro again. Where was FEMA when you needed them?

I personally found this tale terrifying. I even had nightmares about volcanos starting up in my own backyard. The story strikes at the core of my greatest fear, namely how life is so unpredictable. A spontaneous disaster can strike at any moment. Just when you think that things are going fine, a Frankenstorm or Shaun the Sheep can pop up out of nowhere.

Origionally Published in the Souther Indiana News Journal


The Biz-Quiz: Mastering Your Fear of Public Speaking

13 Dec


                         Would you  rather die than speak in front of group of people? Relax, you’re not alone. Surveys consistently show that more Americans are more afraid of public speaking than just about anything else– spiders, snakes, heights, even death. And yet  your ability to articulate your business’s mission, advantages, and benefits is crucial to its long range success. From local service clubs to press conferences, trade shows, and stockholder’s meetings,  public speaking is not a discretionary skill.

            Speech anxiety is  the technical term and over 85% of us suffer from it.  Symptoms range from sweaty palms, dry mouth, racing heat beat, tremors, gastric upset, weak knees, to tightness in the throat and general paralysis. Your nervous system acts as if  something is extremely dangerous and  has prepared itself for  flight, fight, or freezing.

            Speech anxiety occurs in a  three part cycle. First there is the development of a  “performance orientation”,  this followed by a surge of physiological arousal, and finally  there is maladaptive self-talk that defines the arousal  as fear. Research indicates that people with speech anxiety often produce a tremendous increase in  heat rate (up 200 to 250%) when they first start speaking. Fortunately this decreases  rapidly as the speaker proceeds, although the memory of the discomfort remains as a  powerful discouragement from future speaking ventures.  

            Many business people  have missed  tremendous opportunities  and a few have even abandon their enterprise entirely just to avoid public speaking. Perhaps you remember other pupils back in school who readily took a failing grade, rather than have to stand in front of the class to recite a poem.  And even if you have engaged in public speaking for many years, it is not unusual for periodic bouts of speech anxiety to return.

            The following quiz is based on  techniques  gleaned from  psychological and communication experts. These are most effective  techniques available today  to help master speech anxiety.

  1. You should think of your speech as a kind of performance and focus on remembering your  lines.        True    False 
  2. Exercise can help you relax before a presentation.  True  False
  3. Always memorize your speech word for word to build confidence.  True  False
  4. Your audience doesn’t matter a good speaker goes  on with the show regardless of the audience. True False
  5. Your speech should be natural and conversational in tone. True   False
  6. Once start feeling very anxious it’s all over and you’re heading for disaster.           True  False
  7. What you say to yourself about the speech is not important. True False
  8. Practice in imagination can be very help in making a speech. True False
  9. Always stay right behind the podium, moving makes you anxious and is very distracting. True  False
  10. Always come to the place where y9ou will speech a couples of hours early. The longer you stay there the more relaxed you’ ll feel.  True  False
  11. Don’t try o eliminate all the tension, you need some  True  False
  12. If you feel anxious or scared, tell your audience. True  False


1.  False  Adopt  a “communications” rather than a “performance” orientation. Keep in mind your primary goal is to  communicate effectively. Make your communication objectives    explicit, succinct,  and attainable. They should be the centerpiece of your presentation.

2. True  Take a brisk walk  or engaged in other exercise prior to going to the location of the speech. Physical activity is an excellent way to reduce stress and tension and prepare for making a presentation.

3.  False  Never memorize or  read  your speech. Think of the presentation as a one-sided conversation. Some good speakers often  practice by  standing at the podium with their notes and simply “telling” their  presentation to one or two people. Use an outline or roadmap for your speech rather than a complete text.

4.   False Your should always  know your audience. Have a good idea who they are and what their needs, attitudes  and interests are.   Try speaking  to one person in the audience at a time.  Tradition says to try to imagine  the members of your audience as naked or in their underwear  in order to reduce their capacity to intimidate you. You might also  imagine that the audience is composed entire of clones of yourself. It’s important to develop a positive attitude  towards your listeners. See them as attentive and helpful, not as the enemy.

5.  True Speak the way you normally talk. Don’t try to project a phony oratorical voice. Conversational tone is your aim. Use contractions, but limit idiosyncratic slang or jargon. 

6. False Realize that the  intense arousal you feel at the beginning of a speech is very short lived and will reside quickly. Reinterpret these arousal signs as excitement rather than  fear, it can even help.

7.  False  You should always actively challenge irrational and self-defeating assumptions and program yourself with encouraging positive self- talk. Replace “They are going to hate me and I can’t  stand it.” with “This is difficult but I know I can do it.”

8. True Picture yourself succeeding. Pick a good speaker you admire and imagine your self responding  just as they do during a presentation. There is good evidence that this imaginary practice  can effectively shape behavior. If you can’t imagine giving an effective presentation,  then it’s all that much more difficult to do in reality. Before long  computer technology will allow people to practice giving give virtual speeches and this will be a major advance in  overcoming speech anxiety.

9. False Moving around is very important as it  creates more interest and breaks up the monotony of a passive speaker and it gives you a chance to walk off some of the tension.

10. False Come to the area of the presentation about 15 minutes early. You might want to check it out earlier in the day to make sure all is prepared,  but don’t wait  in that area for any extended period of time or you will build up tension. A final  brisk walk just before the presentation is helpful.

11.  False Remember your goal  is to control and manage your tension. Don’t try to eliminate it entirely. This is neither possible nor particularly  desirable. You need  some of the arousal to energize and give life to the presentation.

12. False Warm up the group and yourself through self disclosure, but never make the audience uncomfortable by telling them you’re scared or by showing disappointment in your presentation.  Remember you probably did much better than you realize.


0-3 Nervous Nellie  3-5 Fair   6-8 Good  9-12 A regular  toastmaster