We can think of “fear” as a tool. This is a “tool” to help us figure out a response to an immediate threat.
When we’re curious about our fear, we want to understand what the fear means.
As we’re curious, we wonder: What does this experience mean to me? What does it represent? What choices am I making because of this situation? What choices or options do I see because of how I am looking at it? Are there other options or choices? I wonder what would happen if I were to look at the situation with another viewpoint?
If you’re willing to feel your fear - to look at it, to wonder what it is doing to you - then you can actually use it as a tool. You can sharpen your awareness of what is really going on, and you can use that information to focus on all aspects, not just one small aspect. This will allow you to step out of the issue, examine it, and see it clearly.
Our decisions are different when we see clearly. This will affect how we choose to respond.
I have a daughter who was extremely shy, especially when she was younger. She was often asked to give a small thought or read a scripture in her children’s class at church, but she would always say no, and shrink away, sometimes even bursting into tears. Doing things in public was obviously something that made her feel very afraid.
Her Sunday School teacher wanted me to just tell her she “had” to read a scripture or make a comment during class. “Just make her do it,” he’d say. Luckily, he respected my parenting role, and he did not force her to do it in class.
I didn’t see it that way. Emotions are real. I did, however, want to help her get over this disabling fear. Could principles help?
We talk a lot about emotions in our home, so I knew Sarah already understood that emotions are real, and that they are tangible, and that they are important. I wasn’t sure that she understood the concept that an emotion is really two things: a feeling, AND a thought. So we began to spend lots of time playing a “game” where I would give her a situation, and she would have to tell me what the person was feeling, and what the person was thinking. We’d do this over and over. I’d find little children’s stories, and take apart the plot, and ask her questions.
“What is the wicked witch feeling in Snow White and 7 Dwarfs?” (Jealousy)
“What is she thinking?” (She’s thinking that if Snow White is beautiful, people will value Snow White more than they value her.) (That is a word-for-word response that Sarah gave me at age 6.)
As we did this, she began to be comfortable with the idea that we have feelings and we have thoughts ABOUT those feelings.
So I began to teach her about paradigms. We brought out different pairs of glasses we had around the house. In fact, I involved her siblings, and took their glasses off of their face, and had Sarah look through them. It was funny to hear her say, “Zack, I don’t know how you see out of these things!” This had another benefit too - it involved others in her learning process, and told her that she had support as she figured out how to navigate the world.
We talked about how different people saw things differently, and how we could look at a situation from different perspectives.
Then I began to address the issue of her participation in Sunday School. It took a long time, but she could see that she was choosing her thought, which she labeled as, “I might make a mistake, and people might make fun of me.” We talked about what she could possibly do about that. If she worried about being able to read clearly, could we practice reading at home? This is important to think about, because we are thinking about how we can gain control in the situation. We also talked about what to do if the worst happened, and people made fun of her. This eliminates confusion and uncertainty. Confusion about what to do if something bad happens is honestly what causes much of our fear in the first place.
We also talked about how she could change her belief. What if she were to decide that her friends would support her, and not make fun of her?
It took several weeks, but eventually, Sarah got up in front of her class, and read a scripture. In a few months, she even got up in front of the entire large group of kids, and gave a talk. This was a huge step forward for her, and it was a very important step to helping her gain control of many different situations in her life as she grew.
Note: I am a passionate believer in the idea that feelings are very important, and that they are beneficial. Feelings tell us what we need. I am very glad that I could take the time to help my Sarah work with her feelings. I’m glad that she wasn’t just made to do something, without having the luxury of having the time needed to truly figure out her feelings, and to learn how to make decisions that served her more fully in life. Sure, it took more time, but in the end, she learned that she could choose to be confident, and that she could choose to remain in charge of her feelings. That’s true power. That’s the ability to be self-governing.