Why do teenagers love roller coasters and horror films? Perhaps they have discovered for themselves what the poet Wordsworth proclaimed, that “poetry is powerful emotion recollected in tranquility.” Horror films, for example, work if they induce enough intense fear to allow the audience to recollect fearful moments, but without forgetting they are safe in the theatre or at home. Since modern societies teach us that fear is a negative and possibly cowardly emotion, we seem to have a backlog of unresolved fear hidden not only from others, but even from ourselves.

Fear, like other emotions, may be resolved in a safe zone. Although there is little agreement about a fear backlog and how to deal with it, my suggestion is to use not only film, theatre, and reading, but also to tell the parts of it over and over to a sympathetic ear, as in therapy for PTSD. Teenagers might not realize it, but fear signals its resolution by sweating and shaking. After recollecting some particularly dangerous experiences in my own life, I have shook and sweated to the point of having to change my sweat-soaked clothing.

It seems to me that all emotions are like breathing: they become negative only when obstructed.

Next time: A Safe Zone for Anger

About the Author

Thomas J. Scheff

Thomas J. Scheff is Professor Emeritus of Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara.

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