When I was a kid, I would have told you that the most terrifying thing in the world was the poison arrow tree frog. I'm pretty sure I came across it in a nature documentary. Not even David Attenborough's soothing tones could downplay the terror that arose when I learned that if this frog just touched you, you would die.
This frog became the source of nightmares. It was also what I was afraid of when I woke up from a dream.
I now realise that I was just afraid. And my brain, being the clever thing that it is, pinpointed something to be afraid of.
As I got older the nightmares changed. It was loud arguments, people leaving, or the seam of my pants splitting.
Here's the tragedy: the thing I was afraid of had already happened.
I was merely afraid of being hurt by something outside of my control. So any signal that could hurt me became something to control (if I could) or something to be afraid of.
Most irrational fears or reactions I have now are something to be curious about. What is the stimuli? What is the feeling it's driving? Has this already happened somehow?
It's not often that I'm actually terrified of someone dying (last night). It's probably that I had a nightmare (stimuli) that drove a feeling (fear) that I attached some old memory of being abandoned (already happened).
Or maybe I just ate some bad chicken.