Fear is an interesting thing. In many ways, we go out of our way to avoid it in life. In others, we fully embrace it. So what’s with the paradox? Well, it all depends on the circumstances behind the fear. Some fears are based on personal safety or emotional pain; both relate back to the fear of death in some way.

Deep feelings of fear can evoke a sense of losing control, which on the whole, we aren’t keen on! Any fears related to loss of life, illness or emotional pain are usually avoided at all costs. It’s an instinct we see in ourselves, others, and even animals and insects: the instinct for survival.

Imagination plays a key part

Humans have a more developed spectrum than animals, as the range of emotions seems to be more complex. Animals don’t strive to avoid emotional pain, because they are always in the present moment. Humans have the capacity to analyse potential consequence, so we are able to project possibilities onto the future, thus creating our own fears

Imagination also plays a key part in this process. We are able to imagine scenarios of all kinds, and we use this ability to create stories in our minds… some of which we like, and some of which terrify us!

Sometimes fear is actually enjoyable

There is another side to this coin, however: sometimes fear can actually be enjoyable! If that were not true, there would be no market for horror movies, for instance; nobody would ever go and see them! Horror movies play on our imagination. They create scenes that we unconsciously try to relate to. It’s an automatic process in which we empathise with the characters of the story. We do this on such a deep level that genuine emotions are generated.

A good horror movie will have us gripping onto each other, jumping out of our skins and shrieking, or sleeping with the lights on for nights afterwards! Why would be put ourselves through this? The answer is surely that on some level, we are enjoying this fear. There are many levels to fear, and many ways you can use it to your advantage.

Fear is educational and confidence boosting

Fear tells you what is going on in your body and psyche. Books like “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” acknowledge that everybody feels fear and that our fears are a self-preservation tool, but they halt our own progress if we don’t overcome them. Some people, like public speakers, feel intense fear beforehand – but they do it anyway.

In a strange way, putting ourselves through scary experiences and coming out the other side serves as a confidence boost. We feel strong, because we have proved that we can challenge ourselves and come out unscathed.

This relates to the reason that people watch horror movies. It’s because the conscious mind knows that in reality, no danger is present. The difference between truly uncomfortable fear and enjoyable fear is the rational awareness that there is no real risk to our safety; no harm is likely to occur.

Heightened states make us feel alive

Fear is a heightened state, and heightened states make us feel alive! Happiness, excitement, laughter and surprise are all appealing to us because they shift us up a gear emotionally. Fear can do the same thing. It sets off adrenaline in our systems, and we’re as stimulated as if we had just drank an espresso or run around the block

We love an occasional adrenaline rush; it brings us fully into the present moment, for one thing. When adrenaline rushes are shared with others, it becomes a bonding experience. That’s why we mostly love to watch scary movies with friends. We have each other to lean on, and knowing they are there not only takes the edge off the fear; it also gives us a shared heightened experience. It’s scientifically proven that those who share heightened experiences together form stronger emotional connections and memories.

Couples can use fear to their advantage

This would explain why couples love to go and see scary movies on their dates. The girl can cling to the guy for support, and he can feel like a knight in shining armour – her protector. It gives them a perfect excuse to grab hold of each other too, let’s be honest! Whatever the means of generating the fear, we embrace it because it’s incredibly entertaining.

It pulls us out of the mundane and into a world of alertness, imagination and depth of feeling. We temporarily tap into the full spectrum of the human experience. The bottom line is that as long as we know we are ultimately safe, we just love the thrill of being scared. We take the innate fight or flight response and turn it into a positive experience instead

So then, here’s a test. Horror movies are one thing, and haunted houses are another. Would you dare? A haunted house is the next level… it’s one step up from a horror movie, as you’ll feel that you’re potentially part of the script. It could be a whole lot of fun and a strong bonding experience to visit a notoriously haunted building with your friends. The question is… have you got the guts?!