Fear and Fascination

I wrote about my morbid fascination for plane crashes a while ago. Long before that, back in my childhood, I had a different fascination: Fire. I´m not talking about campfires, though. My fascination dealt with house fires. When looking out of the window at night I would see light in other windows, and I would wonder if it was normal light or if, in fact, a fire had broken out in that house. If the light appeared unusually red or orange, I would try to determine if it flickered. If I thought it did, I might tell somebody about it –  and typically they would dismiss it. I was obsessed with the thought of one day seeing a house fire.

At the same time, however, I had a phobic fear of fire. I was afraid to light matches, I developed a compulsion to check the stove and at some point in my early teens things went as far as me being scared to even  think  words that had anything to do with fire, leave alone say them out loud. I was scared that a thought alone would be enough to set my own house on fire. And having a fire in my own house was probably my greatest fear of all. The terror this idea induced went even beyond my capacity to verbalize it. So I developed an additional compulsion: I had to perform thought rituals every time a dangerous word popped up in my head. I had to mentally drag the words out of my house and drop them onto some non-inflammable material so they could do no damage. Naturally, if you try to avoid thoughts, they will pop up quite frequently…

I guess one typical example of my parallelism of fear and fascination would be this: There had been a house fire somewhere in the neighborhood. I guess I should note that there had never been any danger that the fire might spread to my house. That event preoccupied me all day, and I absolutely wanted to go and see the site of the fire. I eventually went there with two of my friends and their mother. As we approached the site, however, and before I could see much, my phobia took over. I was overwhelmed by fear and I only wanted to run away. It was like that burnt out house was somehow contagious, like if I looked at it something terrible would happen to me. So I stayed behind as the three of them went to see the site.  When they returned, I was somehow angry I hadn´t seen it, but at the same time, even they, now, seemed contagious and dangerous. And the days after that house fire I was nervous and worried. I felt like I would never feel safe again.

Writing this entry has not exactly been comfortable. Even some of the compulsions returned. I often wonder if what I have is really a fire phobia, or if fire just symbolizes something else. Is it normal, actually, that people are obsessively fascinated by the objects of their phobias?


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