Its a cool Sunday morning, and the chill allows you to see vapor rising from your coffee mug while keeping watch out on the front porch. Every sip is still scorching hot but you hardly notice. Your husband didn’t return last night from a friend’s cottage across the lake and you barely slept, having thought the worst without any cell service this far north.
The sound of a boat’s outboard motor can be heard approaching the cottage as it cuts through the local sounds of loons and insects. You place the mug down and dart forward. Your sandals barely stay on while you scramble down the porch’s wooden steps and head towards the lake.
The path to your boat house is gravel and partly overgrown, despite how many times you ask your husband to clean it up. You stumble but recover, looking up just in time to see the thick, dewy trap of a spider’s web, illuminated by dawn light. It stretches the entirety of the path, clinging to trees on either side. In the middle of their contraption is the architect itself, a long legged black spider. Your sworn enemy, and frequent subject of nightmares.
You let out a shriek as anxiety and fear mix within. Your greatest fear divides you and what you want most in life right now – to know he’s safe.
Okay, not my normal type of introduction but it was fun anyway! I wanted to take some time today and describe the difference between real threats and perceived threats. Its a topic my wife and I discuss frequently as we find ourselves on polar opposites of the fear spectrum.
For the most part, I happen to fear relatively little, but when I do, it tends to take the form of very real threats. These are the tangible threats to a life like snakebites when a snake is near you or falling while climbing a steep hill. The story I began with up top has a more real threat of the spider; however, the reaction to this little guy is more fired up than likely called for!
Perceived threats, on the other hand, are much harder to unpack. They require guesswork with probability to understand the potential damage at hand. What threat level does the missing husband in the story above carry? Does he do this often or would he always come home, no matter what? How well do you know the friend that he went to visit? Does he drink? Should you get the police involved?
If we are to work on the 1 – 10 scale for a threat level, 1 being nothing to fear while 10 being your flight-or-flight in full effect, then it can sometimes help walk through those perceived threats and deescalate them. For me, I feel like I register far too little and am constantly in more danger than I know! At least, that’s what my wife tells me.
Anxiety, that old chestnut, can play harsh games on your threat level. Its the fire that gets the levels raising artificially, and in a hurry. Missing keys? 8! C- on your latest test? 9! Home alone? 10! Knowing that, or having a loved one to talk it out with, can often get that needle to drop back down to a more objective threat level.
In my creative writing, I like to track these two types of threats as best I can for characters and always have both in play somewhere. Mind you, there can be crossover – a perceived threat can turn real in a hurry. In a story, that’s the fun part! In real life, it can be potentially traumatizing. While I just wanted to touch on the difference with these two, and the dramatic beats they can add to a story, I hope this helps to give perspective on threats in general to those who are curious. I look forward to hearing from anyone who would like to add to this thought or maybe even feels otherwise! Until next week, stay safe.
Keep turning the page,