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Old 04-14-2010, 12:50 PM
Bricker Bricker is offline
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Can a fear of heights develop later in life?

I'm not afraid of heights.

I think.

In my youth, I hiked right to the edge of Sugarloaf Mountain in Michigan's UP, and balanced on the edge of pictures. I loved being at the top of the Empire State Building and the Sears Tower. Roller coasters and narrow high bridges gave me no worries.

But now... looking at the video link in this thread, with a young kid two feet away from a huge drop, gave me the shivers, a weird feeling in the soles of my feet and a real sort of internal panic reaction.

I always thought you were either Afraid of Heights, or Not Afraid of Heights.

Is this something that commonly comes upon someone in later years?

Or am I a maladjusted freak?

Or both, like the late Earl Warren?
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Old 04-14-2010, 02:40 PM
constanze constanze is offline
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I don't have an answer for you (yet), but I can tell you that scientists are working on researching more about fear or illness of heights, because just a couple of months ago, my alpine club magazine had a questionaire from the Clinic of the University of Munich (I think department of neurology, but am not sure) doing a study. They specifically asked for as many people as possible, even the unaffected, to reply, so as to have a wide base for comparision, and also asked about other illnesses in the brain. (And as usual there's a small drawing to motivate people to participate).

It appears that the cause, and possible treatment, of height illness/ fear is not clearly understood. I think there might have been a mention in the introductory letter of eventually broadening the scope to countries like Nepal with population living for generations in high altitude.

Basically, it's a neurological and/or psychological issue, and therefore, much more complex than ... well, I was going to say "a chemical one", but a lot of chemical processes in the body are also poorly understood yet, ....
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Old 04-14-2010, 02:42 PM
Roderick Femm Roderick Femm is offline
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It might help to say that the relevant link is in post 25.

I am afraid of heights already, and that one did not trigger that panic reaction that you refer to as much as some others I've seen. I suspect it is the little kid being so close and knowing that little kids can have bad judgment, even where their own survival is concerned, i.e. you're afraid he will get too close to the edge and fall over.

If it's of any interest, I think I know where my fear of heights stems from, a particular incident in my childhood when I was 9. I suppose if it could happen to a 9-year-old, a sufficiently traumatic experience could trigger such a fear in an adult.

In the movie Vertigo, James Stewart's character apparently "discovered" that he had vertigo at an inopportune moment. I mean really, he was supposed to be what, 35 or 40 years old, and he didn't know that he was afraid of heights before? Or perhaps I am mis-remembering the backstory of that film.


Roddy
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Old 04-14-2010, 03:13 PM
enipla enipla is offline
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I sort of have. I used to do exterior trim when I was younger. No problems walking around on a wobbly 18" plank 20 feet in the air.

Now? No thanks. Discovered when I sided an addition I put on my house. I did it, but I did not like it. No sir.
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Old 04-14-2010, 03:18 PM
CookingWithGas CookingWithGas is offline
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I don't know what the statistics are for the general population but I am certainly a case of someone who developed it later. When I was about 35 I got the shit scared out of me on a relatively mild roller coaster that wouldn't have fazed me as a teenager. I get pretty freaked anytime I am suspended over a large open space, like standing on a bridge, on the edge of a steep precipice. I would absolutely never be able to visit the Grand Canyon Skywalk. I never had this when I was under 20.
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Old 04-14-2010, 03:20 PM
jonesj2205 jonesj2205 is offline
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Anecdotally, the answer is yes. My wife definitely developed it in adulthood, I don't enjoy them as much as I did in my youth. My wife's ex-uncle used to be in construction, spent a lot of time on roofs and then around the time he hit 50 and said all of a sudden he wasn't comfortable with heights. Couldn't even look over the side of a flat roof anymore.
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Old 04-14-2010, 03:32 PM
engineer_comp_geek engineer_comp_geek is online now
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Quote:
Some specific phobias, such as fear of large animals, the dark, or strangers, begin early in life. Many such phobias stop as people get older. Other phobias, such as fear of rodents, insects, storms, water, heights, flying, or enclosed places, typically develop later in life.
(bolding mine)

From here:
http://www.merck.com/mmhe/sec07/ch100/ch100e.html
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Old 04-14-2010, 04:42 PM
constanze constanze is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roderick Femm View Post
In the movie Vertigo, James Stewart's character apparently "discovered" that he had vertigo at an inopportune moment. I mean really, he was supposed to be what, 35 or 40 years old, and he didn't know that he was afraid of heights before? Or perhaps I am mis-remembering the backstory of that film.

Roddy
I think you are mis-remembering the backstory (though it's been sometime since I've seen the movie myself), but the way I recall it, Stewart's character had a mild-to-normal fear of heights until that crucial point where he needed to step right onto the edge of the roof to save his partner and couldn't, and the trauma resulting from that lead to a full case of vertigo-with-dancing-walls.
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Old 04-14-2010, 05:03 PM
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Were you afraid for yourself, or for the kid?
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Old 04-14-2010, 05:22 PM
Triskadecamus Triskadecamus is offline
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Generalized anxiety disorders often have roots in brain function, either chemical, or specific functional architecture. However individual anxiety triggers are more often based on experience. Then, one must consider that anxiety is a self inducing state. If you are anxious, you can more easily become more anxious than if you were not.

Fear of heights is not entirely irrational, of course. And fear triggered by other powerful emotional states, like protective feelings for a child, or loved one is certainly something that has beneficial behavioral consequences for the species. So, yeah, You can become afraid of heights, pragmatically, and then brain chemistry, and emotional state can modify that fear. it is probably less frequent in stable, confident adults outside of stressful environments, but your imagination is an emotionally real environment.

Tris

Last edited by Triskadecamus; 04-14-2010 at 05:23 PM.
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Old 04-14-2010, 05:47 PM
notfrommensa notfrommensa is offline
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I had no fear of heights when I was kid. there was a swimming hole that had high cliffs that i routinely would jump off into the water. 30 to 40 ft high. Now, at age 49, the mere thought that makes my stomach turned upside down.

I have also develop claustrophobia in my old age.
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Old 04-14-2010, 06:05 PM
Robot Arm Robot Arm is offline
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I've been afraid of heights, but under certain circumstances.

It never used to bother me as a kid, but about fifteen years ago, I went to the World Trade Center. On the observation level, I was fine; pressed my face right up against the glass. But then I took the escalator up to the roof. There was a raised catwalk about fifteen feet back from the edge, and something about that just really started doing a number on my head. It was only thirty feet higher than the indoor observation level, but it was all I could do to walk around to the down escalator.

The only thing I can think of is that there was a sense of exposure; that if I backed up from one edge, I'd fall off the other side. It was a big building, but with no wall behind me, there was a feeling of being balanced on top. I couldn't watch every direction at once.

And I've never had it quite as bad since. I've been to the top of the Eiffel Tower and the Stratosphere in Vegas. I climbed up to a tiny little catwalk at the cathedral in Ulm, about as tall as the Washington Monument. I was a little shaky for a bit, but not too bad. Climbed seventy feet up the rigging of a ship and went out the yardarm with a footrope and finger holds, too. I don't know why it comes and goes.
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Old 04-14-2010, 07:12 PM
picunurse picunurse is offline
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WAG: As we age, we become more aware of our own mortality. We also become aware that we can break; and it hurts. Ergo, thinking about the consequence of falling from a height gives us pause.
  #14  
Old 04-14-2010, 07:18 PM
billfish678 billfish678 is offline
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I've always had a decent respect for heights.

After I developed an interest in activities the involved heights my emotional response to heights got WORSE.
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Old 04-14-2010, 09:22 PM
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My younger brother first knew he had acrophobia at age 11, but I assume he'd had it all along and didn't know it.

The reason I assume he'd had it all along is that we all did. (Is acrophobia hereditary?) We visited one of the famous suspension bridges in Vancouver (must have been Capilano or Lynn Canyon, I don't remember). Of course none of us went on the bridge ... except my brother who ran onto the bridge, went half-way and then froze in fear! "Go get your brother, septimus junior!" said my father (his name was septimus, too). I did, and still remember it some decades later.

I can't even really go on ferris wheels, though roller coasters bother me much less.
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Old 04-14-2010, 10:44 PM
Harmonious Discord Harmonious Discord is offline
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I don't like to go near cliffs anymore and can't stand tall buildings with floor to ceiling glass windows. I developed this over the last twenty years. Before that I would go within a foot of a cliff without problems. I now have balance and tripping issues I didn't. This wouldn't really matter for windows, but it still bothers me.

Last edited by Harmonious Discord; 04-14-2010 at 10:46 PM.
  #17  
Old 04-15-2010, 01:00 AM
Terra1041 Terra1041 is offline
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I've largely got over my fear of heights. I grew up in a house with only 1 floor and my school also was 1 floor, so I didn't face even small heights much. However, when I went to college I lived in a high-rise and some college buildings had 3 floors, so I got over my fear pretty quickly.

I still get afraid when there's literally nothing between me and outside but open air though, like when I climbed the Ulmer Münster in Germany.
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Old 04-15-2010, 01:09 AM
BaneSidhe BaneSidhe is offline
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My fear of heights and claustrophobia developed around age 25. The fear of heights thing has lessened over the years, and I think I owe that to flying out to Colorado and up to Ottawa on my own. Still, I can't go on rollercoasters and most of the rides at an amusement park or carnival. Which sucks, because my husband is a rollercoaster fan. Meh!
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Last edited by BaneSidhe; 04-15-2010 at 01:11 AM. Reason: Lost my train of thought and hit "post"
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Old 04-15-2010, 08:59 AM
robby robby is offline
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I've always had a relatively mild fear of heights, but it never really prevented me from doing anything when I was younger. In fact, I would often intentionally confront it, like forcing myself to look over the edge of a high balcony, for instance. I went up on a the flat roof of a 14-story building once that had no railings, and I could only approach the edge by lying flat on my belly. I also went skydiving and rappelling when I was younger. (Interestingly, the rappelling was far worse.)

However, when my son was born, the fear of heights was much worse when he was with me. If we went on so much as a Ferris wheel or a cable car, I got this sick feeling in my stomach/groin, and I always had a death grip on him. I could just envision him going over the side to his death. I also became much more aware of what was supporting us (mechanically speaking), and all the possible modes of failure (by the chain or the cable supporting our car, for example).

I've also become much more aware of my own mortality as I've gotten older, I think, which may also have something to do with being a father and having a family. I had to go up some scaffolding on a building a couple of years ago, and I couldn't go past the third floor (out of seven). A few months later, I was asked to inspect the top of a 150-foot high water tower, and I flatly refused.
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Old 04-15-2010, 09:12 AM
Kenyth Kenyth is offline
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As a young person, you don't fully understand the inherent danger of many things instinctively. As an adult, you do. Fear of heights, and other things that could lead to serious injury or death, is probably an advantage rather than a detriment.

In youth, one is rash because they know they have everything to experience. In adulthood, one is careful because they realize they have everything to lose.
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Old 04-15-2010, 09:28 AM
Markxxx Markxxx is offline
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You can develop a fear at anytime. You can even have a fear, get over it for years and have it come back.

There are some fears you overcome and others you control. For instance, I was terrified of thunderstorms as a kid. Then when I was in the 8th grade we studied meterology and almost overnight I lost my fear. I now love storms

On the other hand I was severely afraid to fly. I missed out on so many opportunities because of it. But now I fly. I don't like it, but I can do it.

In the first example I conquered my fear and in the second example I am controlling it.
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Old 04-15-2010, 03:21 PM
Cheshire Human Cheshire Human is offline
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I used to be one of those idiots who climb cliffs without ropes, until at age 23, I had a fight with a mountain and lost. Now I turn into a gibbering idiot around heights. It can be aquired the hard way, as well as developing with age.
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Old 04-15-2010, 04:34 PM
Anaamika Anaamika is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kenyth View Post
As a young person, you don't fully understand the inherent danger of many things instinctively. As an adult, you do. Fear of heights, and other things that could lead to serious injury or death, is probably an advantage rather than a detriment.

In youth, one is rash because they know they have everything to experience. In adulthood, one is careful because they realize they have everything to lose.
This. Death is so much more real to you...not to mention, you have some idea of what two broken legs is going to cost you in pain and money and agony. You know just how long you will be in the hospital because you've seen it happen to other people. I fear I am developing a bit of a fear of heights. I don't feel as confident as I used to. Sad.

Last edited by Anaamika; 04-15-2010 at 04:35 PM.
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Old 04-15-2010, 06:09 PM
Hari Seldon Hari Seldon is offline
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I have a well-developed fear of heights and always have had, for as long as I remembered. But my mother developed severe agoraphobia about when I was born. For years, it was hard to get her out of the house. Eventually, it dissipated, she got a driver's license, a car, drove everywhere, etc. On the other hand, she also had a morbid fear of bees and passed that on to me somehow. I used to flinch just seeing a bee. That lasted until the first time I got stung and dissipated immediately since bee stings are extremely minor (nothing, say, like getting novocaine injected into a gum).
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Old 04-15-2010, 06:46 PM
Cheshire Human Cheshire Human is offline
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This. Death is so much more real to you...not to mention, you have some idea of what two broken legs is going to cost you in pain and money and agony. You know just how long you will be in the hospital because you've seen it happen to other people. I fear I am developing a bit of a fear of heights. I don't feel as confident as I used to. Sad.
I didn't break my legs, I just had every joint on my right side (shoulder, elbow, knee, hip, jaw, etc.) dislocated. I only broke my right arm in 2 places (and had a nasty, bloody gash on the left side of my chin). I didn't spend the night in the hospital, I was "treated and released". Still, that HURT! There is DEFINITELY a "hard" way to learn about your lack of immortality.
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Old 04-16-2010, 06:21 AM
Lust4Life Lust4Life is offline
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I have parachuted often in the past, climbed, abseiled and jumped from height into water but I have always been IMO afraid of heights .
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Old 04-17-2010, 02:27 AM
Oslo Ostragoth Oslo Ostragoth is offline
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Originally Posted by Cheshire Human View Post
I used to be one of those idiots who climb cliffs without ropes, until at age 23, I had a fight with a mountain and lost. Now I turn into a gibbering idiot around heights. It can be aquired the hard way, as well as developing with age.
I'd love it if you would do a thread on this.
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Old 04-17-2010, 10:48 AM
Chief Pedant Chief Pedant is offline
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Coupla years ago I bungeed the Verzasca Dam, which is a little over 700 feet to the base. Went there with my kid on the first planned day, and just plain chickened out, even though it is a good operation and totally safe. The (newly-developed?) acrophobia surprised and irritated me, so I went back a couple days later and jumped, with fairly minimal anxiety. I don't think I would have thought twice about jumping 30 or 40 years ago.

I'm not sure if it's new acrophobia, or just the wisdom of geezerdom. I can tell you I was by far the oldest individual jumping Verzasca that day. Oddly, skydiving doesn't bother me. Perhaps because the ground is not so close.*

*(Yeah, I know; it's not the fear of jumping but the fear of landing...)

Last edited by Chief Pedant; 04-17-2010 at 10:51 AM.
  #29  
Old 04-17-2010, 10:59 AM
Cheshire Human Cheshire Human is offline
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Originally Posted by Oslo Ostragoth View Post
I'd love it if you would do a thread on this.
Which? Climbing cliffs w/o ropes, or turning into a gibbering idiot?
  #30  
Old 04-17-2010, 10:32 PM
Oslo Ostragoth Oslo Ostragoth is offline
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Originally Posted by Cheshire Human View Post
Which? Climbing cliffs w/o ropes, or turning into a gibbering idiot?
Losing a fight with a mountain. After climbing without ropes.
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