Publicly she is known only as Patient SM or SM-046.
Since 1994, when she walked into an emergency room with injuries, doctors and scientists have taken an increasing interest in her condition. What is that condition? She has no sense of fear – none at all.
Patient SM’s amygdalae, two almond-shaped sections deep in the brain, were destroyed by a rare genetic condition called Urbach-Wiethe disease. Evidently each amygdala is instrumental in triggering fear in the brain. Therefore SM never experiences fear. She is not the least bit squeamish about picking up snakes, spiders, or scorpions. Nor can the scariest movies (e.g. The Blair Witch Project, The Shining, Silence of the Lambs) arouse the least bit of fear in her. A team of researchers have led her through some of the most notorious “Fun Houses” – the kind with actors dressed up in scary costumes – and she has laughed her way through them all. She is also completely uninhibited around people. She walks right up to people, even nose to nose, regardless of their disapproving or concerned looks.
Wouldn’t we all love to “suffer” that affliction – to never know fear again? To be free of all inhibitions?
But let me tell you the other side of the story. Patient SM’s condition is anything but desirable. She has been a victim of violent crime numerous times – almost always because her brain fails to alert her that she’s in a threatening situation. She thinks nothing of walking through dark urban alleys or approaching druggies at night in crime-ridden neighborhoods. Her lack of fear has gotten her in trouble countless times. In fact, it’s a miracle she’s alive. Yes, “miracle” is probably the correct term, since Patient SM is a person of faith and I suspect only God has protected her.
People whose lives are controlled by fear may never appreciate the importance of fear’s role in helping them survive. Fear is an essential response to threatening situations. It keeps us alive. As Soldiers have told us for centuries – “Anyone who’s not afraid in combat is a fool.” And, as one famous author once wrote, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the mastery of fear.” Courage is admirable and essential. But fearlessness is pathological and dangerous.
So don’t crave a life without fear and inhibitions. Don’t numb down with alcohol or drugs what are healthy responses to danger. Rather, seek God for the courage to master your fear and face life’s challenges. Victor Hugo once said, “Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.” The Scripture says, “This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
Dear Father in heaven, thank you for the healthy dose of fear You’ve given me. Please grant me the courage to master my fears and the power to overcome my challenges. Fill me, O God, with Your wisdom and peace and help me to trust You at all times. Amen.
(Information from: http://www.brainfacts.org/sensing-thinking-behaving/mood/articles/2015/no-fear-the-brain-of-patient-sm-121715/; http://abcnews.go.com/Health/MindMoodNews/woman-iowa-damaged-amygdala-shows-fear/story?id=12404875; http://www.seeker.com/the-no-fear-woman-and-what-her-brain-reveals-1765153069.html)