Stories That Cause Terror: Why Focusing on Fear is Counterproductive

By: Stephanie Weichert

A woman who took her three children to IKEA experienced what she believed was harrowing escape from would-be human traffickers. The story is not alarming. It’s terrifying.

If you can get past the first blush response of never wanting to leave your home ever again, I’d like to suggest you do much more than that and look beyond the headlines. It seems there is something deeper to be learned here. For the most part, events recounted as terrifying don’t serve as a warning to others; they create suspicion and terror. Did she have a brush with danger? Possibly. I am not suggesting she didn’t.

Here’s what I am suggesting: when we read stories like this, we have to choose how to respond. Her story is not the first of its kind. How we think about stories and verbalize our insecurity can create an unhealthy response pattern both in us and in our loved one’s. This story can serve as a gentle reminder to use a healthy sense of caution and prudence, or it can elicit feelings of helplessness and terror.

This story loosely reminds me of the Ebola scare. For a time, it was top of mind for a large percentage of our population. It turned into a source of panic for some. People were terrified that they would wind up quarantined in a small room awaiting an inevitable, horrific, and lonely death. It played on the news 24 hours a day. Realistically, there was a lot of news coverage for a very small number of cases treated on American soil. Even still many of us continued to obsessively worry about catching it much like we would the common cold or flu from a weary traveler who unbeknownst to them were carrying the disease that would wipe out an entire city – or worse. (You can read what I wrote about it in 2014 here.)

Was it statistically possible? I don’t know. Maybe? It’s not the point. We didn’t have a widespread Ebola outbreak and that woman’s alleged attackers never laid a hand on her or her children. However, the stories did result in widespread fear and panic. This one hits close to home because abduction is real and so is human trafficking.

Feeling fear is a natural part of life. The Ebola stories were scary. Stories about possible kidnapping are terrifying. Other stories we see in the news elicit the same reaction of focusing on the fear and what-if’s.

This woman’s story should be cause for reflection. Are we using caution and prudence or are we living in reaction to what we read and see on the internet, TV, etc?

This story was covered on the news and made one of the top 20 trending stories on Facebook. It is being shared like wildfire out of fear by well-meaning people who want to warn their loved ones and friends about the possibility of abduction.

My goal in sharing this story is to show how easy it is to spread fear, panic, and terror.

My hope is when you read it (I’ve posted a slightly different version of the story) and other stories that create the same negative feelings is that you take a moment to pause and reflect.

Use caution and prudence, but don’t let these stories stay in you. I suggest you take what you need from them, and then, choose to reflect on life-giving stories instead. Why? Because quality of our lives are directly related to the stories we choose to tell and ponder.