DEAR KELLY: I have a stupid fear. I hate scary things and my friends all love it. I know that makes me seem like a little kid or something, but I really hate scary things. I don’t like roller coasters, spiders, clowns, scary movies, creepy videos. Honestly, I hate Halloween.
When I go to Six Flags with my friends they make fun of me because I don’t like to go on roller coasters. I really think I’m going to try but when we get to the front of the line, I just talk myself out of it and I can’t do it. When my friends all go see movies like “The Purge,” I don’t go and they think it’s funny to send me scary clips from the movie to try and freak me out. I think this is a problem even though everyone else thinks it’s a joke.
As a kid, I always had nightmares and could never sleep after seeing something scary and it hasn’t changed as I got older. My friends all go to things like Fright Night or haunted houses, but I don’t want to and get so nervous before that I feel like I’m having a panic attack. They tell me I’m weird for being like this.
What’s wrong with me? Why am I like this? I know this means I’ll be left out of things, but I can’t seem to get over these fears.
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DEAR PC: We are all wired differently. Some people enjoy fear. They seek it out through things like bungee jumping, scary movies, haunted houses or riding roller coasters. Others avoid feeling like that and don’t find joy in a racing heartbeat or feeling scared. You obviously are the latter, but there is no shame in being someone who doesn’t have the need for speed or seek thrills and chills. Being comfortable with yourself means accepting yourself for who you are and being OK if that means you are different than your fright-loving friends.
Just because you don’t like being scared doesn’t mean you are boring or unadventurous. What else do you like to do? Do you enjoy mountain biking, going to concerts or photography? You don’t need to follow them to still be able to join with whatever they are doing. Be the official photographer or find other ways to participate without putting yourself in an uncomfortable place. Or just be willing to say “no” to things you don’t want to do and be OK with taking a pass on situations that cause you to feel panicky or stressed.
You’re very normal to not like roller coasters. Don’t let your friends make you feel weird or wrong for not wanting to scream your way through a ride that dips and drops and makes you fear for your life. If that doesn’t entertain you, that’s OK. You don’t need the rush of adrenaline that comes from being scared (without actually being in true danger) to have fun. This doesn’t make you weird or abnormal, it makes you in tune with what works for you.
Set up boundaries that feel comfortable for you. Perhaps you offer to go but with the understanding that you will hold their backpacks while they ride the rides or you find a balance between the scary rides and fun rides/shows so you will involved and included. Or you suggest different movies when you go that aren’t scary, so you can still hang out and be with your friends. If your friends are understanding, they will respect your feelings and not put you in a position that scares you or causes you to get anxious. You can still be fun without having to be terrified.
If you continue to struggle with nightmares, you might consider talking to a professional counselor. Nightmares are common with children under 10 years old, but if they follow you into your teenage years, you may want to delve a little deeper and figure out what is going on. Many times bad dreams or nightmares are a reaction to stress, fear or trauma. They result in feelings such as terror, fear, extreme anxiety and panic. When nightmares start to impair your social, occupational or other areas of functioning, it is best to talk with a licensed professional to gain knowledge and understanding about what is happening and get tools on how to help you cope.
Scary dreams often confront us with our fears. By working with a professional, you can deal with any fears and gain a sense of empowerment over what you are processing in your dreams.
When your friends tell you that you are weird, laugh it off and be OK with who you are. By setting up clear boundaries about what you are comfortable with and not with, you will put yourself in safe situations that allow you relax and have fun.