Why We Are All Afraid Of Deep Water
Posted on 24. Mar, 2011 by The Gimcracker in Science, Theory & Philosophy
One of my biggest fears is deep water. I have always wondered why I’m so afraid of it. One time I was jet skiing in the Cayman Islands and I was cruising around within 50 yards of the shore. One of the boat captains had previously explained to me that about 200 yards off shore the depth of the water sharply dropped off from around 40 feet to a mile. A MILE DEEP. That is 5,280 feet, way deeper than 40! I decided to venture out and see what it was like to cross the “threshold” of depth. I revved my trusty Yamaha and went straight out toward the horizon. Suddenly, all around me, the water turned from light blue to black; I had journeyed over the great shelf. I was immediately filled with an ominous fear I had never experienced before (aside from when Taco Bell took the Volcano Taco off their menu). When I scampered back to safety and calmed down, I posed this question to myself: “Why is it that absolutely nothing changed when I crossed the barrier – my jet ski still worked perfectly, I had the same ability to swim, and the waves remained the same – but I was absolutely horror-stricken?” I researched the answer to this question for 3 solid years and have finally figured out the answer. In keeping with the TGM tradition, this is all totally scientific and full of completely accurate science.
The true fear presented here is actually going down beneath the surface into the depths, either in an ocean or a lake (lakes are almost scarier), and the jet skiing example is what happens as a result of that fear. Though filled with horror, I was able to be on top of the deep water and could probably do it again. It would be absolutely out of the question for me to actually dive into the depths and be “down there” by myself. But why is this so? As you will see, it is not due to any one fear, but a combination of all of our most common fears. Here are the reasons why deep water is a ridiculously scary concept.
1. Fear of the Dark
When you’re at the bottom of a body of water, you can’t see anything. It’s pitch black. Have you ever tried to swim as far down in a lake as you can? It gets really dark and cold really fast – about 10 feet down. Imagine being 20 feet down. Or 5,280 feet down. But even that’s nothing compared to the deepest point on the entire crust of the Earth, located at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean near Japan, called the Mariana Trench, which is 38,000+ feet (or 6.8 miles). If you put Mount Everest at the bottom of the trench, the top of the mountain would still be over a mile below the surface of the ocean. The bottom line is that you can’t see anything. Even if you’re not that far down and there is faint sunlight, everything below you would be complete darkness, and this definitely plays into our collective fear of the dark. In case I haven’t hammered my point home by now, just think about taking a walk in the woods by yourself. Not really scary. Now picture yourself alone in the woods in the middle of the night. I don’t care who you are, the dark is a scary thing.
2. Fear of Suffocating
This is the most obvious reason, but it still needs to be addressed. Have you ever gotten to the point where you swam down too far in the swimming pool and you seriously considered the fact that you might not make it back to the top before you ran out of breath? If you’ve ever been rough-housing as a kid with blankets and pillows and you accidentally got pinned down inside of a sleeping bag or something, and you get to that point where laughter temporarily turns to screaming, you know what a scary concept not being able to breath is. Even if you have scuba gear with you down in that deep dark abyss, there’s a chance a valve could pop out or you could run out of oxygen. You can’t see and you can’t really take a deep breath. Could it get worse? Yes.
3. Fear of the Unknown
Need I remind you there are lots and lots of weird, dangerous, freaky-looking creatures everywhere in deep water? There are over 1 million species of creatures in the ocean. I’d be scared if there were 1 million creatures in the ocean, let alone species of creatures, and scientists estimate there are an additional 9 million species yet to be discovered. That means we only even know what 11% of the creatures in the ocean are. Most of the beings in the ocean are things mankind has never even seen or heard of. Who knows what could be down there?
But it’s worse than you’re even imagining. Allow me to use another analogy that’s happened to you in real life so that you can gauge how truly scary this is. Think about a time when you were walking in a dimly lit basement trying to find something, or, again, walking in the woods at night armed with only a flashlight. All the sudden, something brushes up against the back of your neck. What do 10 out of 10 people do at that point? They become airborne similar to a frightened cat, possibly let out a very girly scream, and instantly turn around and shine their flashlight to see what it was. And every time, what is the thing that touched you? A leaf from a branch or the flap of a cardboard box. It’s never anything actually scary. But in deep water, it’s always something scary.
Think if you couldn’t shine your flashlight on the thing. And think if the thing was lots of things. And think if, even if you could see the thing, you probably would have no idea what you were staring at. You would be forever locked in that initial fright index of 100.
It’s dark, you can barely breath, and some weird things just touched you and you have no idea where they just went. But there is more to fear, I’m afraid.
4. Fear of Flying Insects
Think if you were in a canyon somewhere in Colorado taking a hike. It would be very much like the bottom of a lake except without the water, wouldn’t it? If you answered yes, you clearly don’t appreciate the gravity of the fear of deep water. Imagine that, as you’re walking along, all of the beetles and scorpions crawling along the ground, the huge, black, hairy spiders that are hidden from view in the cracks of the canyon walls, and the slimy worms and snakes that are burrowed beneath the ground, simultaneously started flying anywhere they wanted. That is what the bottom of a lake without water would be like. For the strange creatures underwater, there is no up or down. They simply go wherever they want as if they were flying.
Ever been around someone when a huge bug flies near them? Then you know how even the manliest men, even though they appear to be calm, quickly tense up and become filled with a secret fear that the bug might land on their eyeball or fly into their mouth, and that’s why men try so hard to kill them. Go to a park in the summer and observe a large group of people. You will most assuredly witness at least one person run for their life because a bug is flying around their head. Flying insects are just plain scary.
Unfortunately, in deep water, you can’t see any of the undiscovered freakish flying creatures that brush past your body as you grasp at your suffocating throat. That’s gotta be it, right? Wrong.
5. Fear of Being Caught
Have you ever been chased by a dog, even if you were just playing with the dog? It’s so scary. Dogs will always catch you, and there is nothing more thrilling than when you are running full speed away from the dog and each time you glance back the dog is 10 yards closer until it’s finally nipping at your heels. Now, imagine that same scenario, except instead of a dog, you’re running from a bear. You will be eaten if you are caught, and it doesn’t help that bears can run faster sideways than the fastest human can run forward.
When you’re at the bottom of a lake, everything that is around you was built to move in water. Everything, except you. If something truly frightening like a shark or a giant squid caught site of you, you could turn the other way and flail about all you want, but the monster will catch up with you in a split second. You can’t get away from anything.
Even if you had the wherewithal to see and breath, you couldn’t run from danger. It would simply find you and devour you.
There are lots of places that I wouldn’t want to be, such as trapped in a burning house or alone in the vacuum of space. But in the burning house at least I can see, and in space at least there aren’t any creatures that could get me. There are no other places in the universe that combine as many common fears as places like a mile below the surface of Lake Baikal or 7 miles below the surface of the Pacific Ocean. It is because of the combination of all of these fears that I am so horrified by deep water.
Check this out, this guy is in a hole in the ice in the top of that really deep lake you linked to AT NIGHT:
I wonder how much the video game Dark Forces fed into your fear of water? That game freaked the crap out of me, I get the jitters, like, seriously shivering, when they make me get in murky water in video games. To the point where sometimes I just stop playing.
Also, Super Mario Bros. 2-2
Dark Forces is one of the best and scariest games of all time.
I know exactly what you mean. I can't watch TV shows about underwater creatures or the oceans or anything… even that WaMu commercial with the giant whales freaks me out. I've even changed the channel from cartoons that show anything underwater. My husband thinks I'm insane but I haven't stuck so much as a toe in the shallow end of a swimming pool in at least ten years.
This is one of my biggest fears of all time. I have a hard time getting into any depth of water that isn't contained within a small concrete rectangle that I can see the bottom of. When we go to the ocean I have to make myself, MAKE myself get in. And I have to be almost fully clothed. Shoes, pants, shirt. I call them swim-clothes but they're not. In fact there's no way I could swim in the fall-like wardrobe I wear in to the water. I don't want to feel anything that might be swimming or floating around me. And by shoes I mean real street shoes so I can't feel whatever weridness I might step on. And I only go in until the water hit my shoulders, no more. Ugh, I've got the heeby-geebies now. Thanks. Thanks a lot!
There is nothing more dreadful to me than going a few feet down in a like and feeling the slippery bottom. (sshhiver) I always swim with my legs close to my body. I think that falls under #3 – Fear of the Unknown.
While I agree with you, I also have to say that I'm one of those weirdos that loves deep water. I love the ocean and I love exploring the unexplored, so naturally I'm always wanting to snorkel deeper, swim further, and find out what that "thing" is that I just stepped on. Granted, it IS creepy when you can't see anything down there, but ultimately, it's also kind of cool knowing that there might be something cool you don't even know about lurking below the surface as well. I've always dreamed of finding Atlantis, or at the very least, proving the existence of Mermen and Merwomen. I've been forever haunted by the account of the Mer-kingdom in Lewis's "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" and how Lucy describes seeing what equated to an underwater forest, roads, and entire realm. I want to go to there.
There may be a four-toed statue down there as well….
It's amazing that there are so many species in the ocean that we haven't discovered yet. Knowing that I could see something no one else has kind of sparks my interest. But when you talk about the darkness and especially not being able to get away from anything chasing you, well it pops the balloon of interest pretty quick.
If a dog catches you yeah the bite will hurt, but a shark well some of them can swallow you whole.
AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!! I experienced real fear and held my hand over my mouth so I would not audibly scream. Holy Moly! I remember my brother getting stung by jelly fish in South Carolina and it was game over me at the age of 11. Thank God for dry land.
you do a great job,this topic is very interesting.
I am 13 years old and I have this huge fear of lakes and the sea. Swimming pools are ok but if they're more than 4m deep I feel scared to be in the middle or on my own. My Dad has just bought this fantastic new speedboat, we have a rubberring that goes on the back and three people can get on it, I have two brothers. One 12 and the other 10, the 10 year old is keen in water but the 12 year old can be scared every so often. We have water skiis and I just can't bring myself to go into the water without freaking out. We are currently residing at Loch Lomond (for those of you who don't know, Loch is the Scottish word for lake) we came here for a watersports holiday in the 190m deep water.
I can't go in, I just start crying my eyes out. The peat from the mountains turns the water an eery black colour with a tinge of green. You can barely see your feet in it ! I feel scaared when I straighten out my feet and see if I can touch the bottom and I know I can't. Something about it is just horrendous. My mum and dad feel upset and angry that I dont like water after them buying all the stuff for it.
Don't think it's something I'll ever get over. It's nothing about or to do with the depth I am scared of, it is litterally the depth. Thanks for posting, will help me get my point accross.!
I've been afraid of water my entire life. My mom always tells how my friends and other kids my age would paddle around in the shallow end of the pool in about 2 feet of water, but she could barely get me to hang my feet in. I wouldn't even walk near the deep end of our swimming pool and wouldn't have dreamed of using the diving board. I am now 30, and my irrational fear of water has, if anything, only worsened. I tried to watch that "Planet Earth" DVD series on the oceans, and had to turn it off. I can't even look underwater on the television… sometimes even cartoons make me uneasy. Nothing bad ever happened to me in the water and this hysterical, irrational fear seems to have come from nowhere. Just reading this post about being on a jet-ski over a dark section of water that was a mile deep sent a dark chill down my spine. I would LOVE to get over this but have no idea how to do it. I'm expecting my first child and it makes me sad to think that I won't even be able to put my little one in an innertube or water-wings and hold her as she floats around the shallow end of a pool or the shallow edge of a lake or ocean. Has anyone managed to overcome a really, really severe fear of water like the one I have????
Yes. You want some operant conditioning, if I remember the terms correctly. Go check out some psychologist stuff.
Basically start out small and get more familiar with stuff, and reward as well.
Deep, deep water makes me want to barf, no lie. I imagine all of the millions of creatures under and around me and I swear I hydroplane all the way back to shore. It's irrational (unless there's sharks, or box jellyfish, or anything else that can eat or kill you).
You exactly have a point with what you are saying. I am one of those people who are afraid of deep water not only because of what you have said but also because i have a big fear of drowning into the deep water.
I do know how to swim but believe it or not, I'm scared of swimming on the ocean. I'm scared of what lies beneath the blue waters. I can't bring myself o think that under me is a beautiful and colorful world.
: A blog on the different human phobia is interesting and also funny. Maybe it would help if the writer could also provide remedies to these fears.