Monday, March 29, 2010

Face to Face with Fear

“The hens they all cackle, the roosters all beg, But I will not hatch, I will not hatch. For I hear all the talk of pollution and war, as the people all shout and the airplane roar, so I'm staying in here where it's safe and it's warm, and I will not hatch!” ~ Shel Silverstein

After coming in from playing in the creek behind our house, yesterday afternoon, my son needed dry clothes. Since I was busy preparing dinner, I asked him to go up to get them. A short while later I found him, still in wet clothes, sitting on one of the steps of the staircase. He smiled at me, half embarrassed and half frozen, and simply said that he was scared to go up alone. I later found out from my older son that the night before they had watched a scary movie before going to sleep.

The fear of imaginary monsters lurking around the upstairs overpowered the discomfort of wearing wet clothes. When we approached that discussion - after changing into dry pajamas - he said that although he knows nothing is really up there, he could not shake the feeling of dread.

It is easy to come up with intellectual facts as to why one should not be afraid, but fear is ultimately a force with a hidden switch, one that is hard to isolate through rationality. We might know that something is possible to overcome, but when fear is triggered, all good propositions fly off like leaves in a hurricane.

One can be stuck in an unpleasant situation – and wishing to get out of it – but remains frozen in a state of paralyzing fear and accepts living in dire conditions rather than standing up to what he or she is afraid of. Fears are sometimes triggered by blocks buried in the subconscious. One lady I knew lived under constant fear that her husband would cheat on her, and was terrified of snakes. Her mother had dropped her off with her grandparents, at the age of two, after kissing her goodbye, and had never returned. As a young child, she had no control of the circumstances surrounding her abandonment, but as an adult she desperately tried to prevent being “left out” again. Snakes were a symbol of deceit and betrayal in her mind, and she could not stand being around them. Being aware of patterns is useful in understanding the inner blocks that trigger our fears.

Overcoming fear is possible, and it can be done in small steps. An initial rationalization of the facts surrounding the issue is usually the first milestone. Small animals project a big shadow, and that projection is what we are afraid of. This realization enables us to gather strength and prepare for the showdown - There is no monster bigger than the one we create in our own minds.

Once we are ready to come face to face with it, it is okay to hold our breath while we gather courage, but it is important to know that we are the only ones who can ever hope to defeat the monster. And we can do it, regardless of its size.