A woman, known as SM (to protect her identity) has been held up at gunpoint twice and twice at knifepoint, once with her three small children in tow. Each time she felt no fear. No, she isn’t just extremely brave, she suffers from a neurological disorder that does not allow her to experience fear.
This rare, hereditary genetic disorder is called Urbach-Wiethe syndrome. There has only been 400 diagnosed cases of the fear-disabling illness. According to Yahoo Health, “there are only 400 known cases of Urbach-Wiethe, which causes the development of calcium deposits in the brain. In SM’s case, those deposits are on her amygdalae, the parts of the brain responsible for triggering one of the most basic evolutionary instincts, fight or flight.”
NPR’s Invisibilia podcast spoke to the lady, known as SM. She talked about how she is not only incapable of feeling fear, but she isn’t even able to understand the concept of being afraid. The perfect example of her incapacity to be afraid is during an incident involving her being held up at knifepoint with her three small children.
“Years ago, when my three sons were small,” explained SM in the podcast, “I was walking to the store, and I saw this man on a park bench. He said, ‘Come here, please.’ So I went over to him. I said, ‘What do you need?’ He grabbed me by the shirt, and he held a knife to my throat and told me he was going to cut me. I told him — I said, ‘Go ahead and cut me.’ And I said, ‘I’ll be coming back, and I’ll hunt your ass.’ … I wasn’t afraid. And for some reason, he let me go. And I went home.”
This is the perfect example of how patients with Urbach-Wiethe syndrome put themselves in danger. If SM could feel fear, she would never of approached the man in the first place.
Psychologists continue to study this disorder and the science behind fear.