What Scares Us the Most
Updated: Nov 9, 2020
Halloween is upon us once again and spooky things are the norm whether we like it or not. It just so happens that our spooky thing this year is reading the 4th installment of Harry Potter, which as far as I’m concerned, is the beginning of the darkest part of this epic series. I’ve read the stories twice now, alone when they first were published and again with my son several years ago. But now my little one Rachel is getting involved and has been attentively listening to her dad’s nightly read alouds. I think she enjoys them, though I happened to walk through the room the other night when they were reading and noticed that Rachel was hiding under a blanket. Clearly, whatever she was listening to was freaking her out! She was literally burying her head in fear. The chapter ended and with it, the scene turned less frightening so she emerged, none the worse for wear and ready to hear what came next.
Kids are just so good at just admitting what scares them. They are unfiltered about it, acting immediately, often to the chagrin of those around them, to address their fears. They freely and sometimes loudly admit they are afraid. I’m happy to admit most of my fears, too. Weapons of any kind and their abundance on our streets terrifies me. Dragons. War and racism. Heart surgery. Forgetting all of my lines while standing on stage. Tangled electrical cords. Raging lightning storms. Crumbs in the booths of seedy diners. Seedy diners, too. I am allowed to be scared of whatever I want! I may not scream and shout when confronted with them but I’m still scared.
Being scared or afraid is normal. Everybody is scared of something. Some of us just have a longer list but, we should find some comfort in knowing that fear is a universal feeling. It doesn’t actually matter if the cause is large or small. A child’s feelings of being afraid are valid if it scares them. So are ours. No one gets to tell us that we have no right to be afraid of something. People try, but that’s not how it works. I get to be afraid of things, Rachel gets to be afraid of things, and so do you.
So how do we deal and cope? How do we manage it? What should we do to not be so afraid? Since being afraid, to some degree, is a given, we can start by accepting that basic truth. Acknowledge that what you are feeling is fear. Accept what that feels like, in your body physically, and in your mind. For me, fears create something else altogether called avoidance. I’m sure you’ve heard of that. So many of our less helpful feelings are grounded in the most basic of them all - fear. Recognize how your own fear feels, manifests itself and potentially hurts you. What we are actually afraid of is probably not going to hurt us any more or less than our maladaptive reactions and coping mechanisms we have created in response to it.
Once fear has been identified and not ignored, we can take the next most reasonable step, which is some form of action. Rachel took action to address her fear - she hid under the blanket. No harm no foul. But we can’t always do that. Maybe action is learning more about what scares us so we can demystify it and bring it down to earth in plain view. Maybe action takes the form of talking about it. Action might even be closing your eyes and jumping in just so you can confirm that what scares you probably won’t kill you. One of the most important actions we can take to address our fears is to remember that fear, like any other emotion, is a construct of what we have decided to believe, and what meaning we have given to it. Again, that doesn’t mean our fear is not real. It is very real to us. But it is also created by us, too. So a huge step in dealing with our fears, if we choose to deal with them, comes back to us. I can’t change what is out there but I can change how I feel about what is out there. I can change me.
There are more serious things that I’m finding are scaring me lately. I’m scared that my children, and countless others, will fall behind academically and socially after this year at home. I am absolutely terrified that we - humans, neighbors, those on separate sides of the political divide - are going to be unable to talk to each other instead of past each other. We have always been allowed our differences but I do fear that we are on the brink of allowing those differences to justify casting others aside, without civility or empathy. I am scared that our inability to agree on a universal truth that exists out there will literally kill us. I am scared that we will stop caring enough about each other, especially those who are neither family or friends, and give not a second thought to their feelings, suffering, sacrifices, and reality. I am scared that once we are able to be physically together again as we were before, we simply won’t be able to, or we won’t want to because of these differences. I’m scared that we will stop believing in the best of humanity.
I can't ignore these larger fears, either. They offer deep insight into who I am and what I care about. I may not be able to solve these problems. But I know that by NOT running away from how I feel when I think about them, I can take the first steps to dealing with them in the best ways I know how. I absolutely can't solve the education crisis that terrifies me, but I can do something to make sure my kids are educated. Instead of ignoring it or fretting privately about it, I can connect with other parents who are expressing the same concerns and find motivation, support, ideas, and so much more. Fears may not go away. But when I access and use just a little bit of my own personal power against them something miraculous happens - I'm just not quite as afraid.
What scares you most? Are you allowing yourself to embrace why it scares you? And most importantly, what are you going to do about it? You can’t eliminate the existence of fear in your world, but you can eliminate how much what you fear affects you. You might even be able to take action to counter that fear and that action might provide you and others great comfort, eventually leading you to be afraid less, or afraid no more. Fear is there. It is ok to be afraid. And the opportunity to confront that fear is always there for us. I’m sure Rachel will let you hide under the blanket with her while you figure it out.