Category: Healing Process

Tangles or Tapestry?

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Other fears I’ve listed in a previous post:

  • Apathy (within myself) I guess I’m not really afraid of this.  It’s just something I’ve never experienced, and it’s something I tend to condemn.  Apathy implies a lack of concern where care should be given.  To recognize I don’t need to be interested in something or to discern I cannot make a productive response, is not apathy, and is often wisdom at work.  So while I hope I am never apathetic about something for which I should actively care, I am fully content to let go of what I cannot improve or to which I cannot productively and appropriately contribute.
  • Not knowing my purpose in something.  This is something I have experienced only during major transitions in my life.  I seek purpose, and I typically find it! I can identify two times in my life when I knew I needed to walk away from my life as I knew it then and walk into an undefined, undetermined future.  Of course the future is always truly unknown, but most of us establish plans before we end former commitments.  I am currently in my third transition.  I have yet to “discover” my “new” purpose.  This is extremely uncomfortable for me, however, I am discovering it’s not as unbearable as I thought it could be!
  • Vomiting.  This is an irrational fear that I have had since childhood and continues today.  As a young child I got the “stomach flu” frequently and often found myself vomiting into the toilet in the middle of the night.  I would wretch until there was nothing left to throw up; then my body would convulse with “dry heaves.”  I thought I could die, and I felt so helpless.  Sometimes Mom would hear me and come to my emotional rescue holding me until I quit convulsing.  As an adult I realize I won’t die, but I feel my historical terror none-the-less.
  • Failure to protect a child in my care.  I don’t believe this has ever happened, and I hope it never will.  To me, failure to protect a child in my care would be unforgivable.  I can’t imagine living with myself were I to fail in doing everything I possibly could to protect a child.
  • Not being prepared, if I’m the one in charge.  This is one of those fears of something I’ve never experienced, but it has been the drama of nightmares.  To me, “not being prepared” is on par with being naked when I should be clothed.
  • Poisonous creepy crawly creatures or flying things that sting (especially hornets).  I am somewhat allergic to bees so this fear is quite understandable.
  • Crashing in a car (because I’ve experienced this twice now, & I hope to never again!)  The moment before an actual crash is truly terrifying.

As I work through my list of fears I realize none of them are more than I can handle.  I suppose I could conjure up hypothetical situations that would be more terrible or terrifying than anything I’ve listed, but I tend to not concern myself with unlikely hypotheticals.

Facing my fears was an exercise I imposed upon myself.  It was mostly difficult, but I’m glad I did it.  Having done so, I believe the fear that still cripples me to some degree is that of Fear-of-Shame, fear of being misunderstood or unjustly condemned.  One constructive way I can address this is to write.  Much of what perpetuates shame is silence.  To write my story in my words with my voice helps me break that silence and dissolve the faux-shame.  Using my voice seems to be one of the most important avenues for my healing.  This is why I blog.  I mostly blog for myself.  But I am truly grateful for my readers.  To know someone has taken the time to read my writing, to “listen” to my thoughts, is amazing gift, and is a cherished thread in my tapestry of growing wholeness.  Thank you!

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Pacing My Perseverance

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Really? I must? My core’s philosophy is more of the “Follow Your Bliss” perspective.  But when I run into something I know I need to do in order to move forward with whatever is the next step in following my bliss, then I not only accept Eleanor’s wisdom but gratefully embrace it as a productive prod to persevere.

Tangentially, it’s a bit interesting to see what images people choose to accompany this quote in their memes. I’m sure these wise words have as many interpretations as there are people who quote them.  I chose this meme because 1) The woman’s posture is the shape I take in my dreams when I fly, so I resonate deeply and joyfully with this gesture, and 2) She’s really only a couple of feet off the ground!  This is no mountain she is climbing; there is nothing heroic going on here; she is simply moving herself into a space of interior freedom symbolized by a whimsical yet celebratory movement.  This is a do-able dare.  This is a manageable mandate.  This is where challenge meets bliss.

That’s pretty much what this whole blog is about: perseverance: Pushing through that which is most difficult so I can fly forward with a freer spirit.  However, sometimes this dogged devotion to breaking the bonds of what would shackle my soul feels more like a crippling compulsion or a pigish plowing ever deeper a rut that risks burying me.  So I take frequent and long breaks from this necessary but unwelcome task.

There are times, when writing, my mind just goes blank, and then flits to something completely unrelated. One might be tempted to think that I am easily distracted.  Actually, I am capable of extreme concentration, and too often engage in a chosen activity with metaphorical blinders on, screening out my surroundings and not even noting the passage of time.

But when I try to write about something difficult, my mind throws up all kinds of obstacles.  And when those distractions don’t work, it just “walks out,” vacates!  My mental landscape becomes something like a desert: all white sand with a cloudy sky and nearly no perceptible horizon.  I could have chosen a “white-out” blizzard as a metaphor except that I enjoy snow and cold and am not easily disoriented by it.  But heat and lack of water make me feel sleepy and unmotivated to move.  This is another thing my mind does when I don’t want to address a painful topic head-on: persistent play with words (developing metaphors, etc.) rather than using words to actually TELL something.

Ach du lieber!  And then there’s that too: clichés.

So, I just keep typing. I let my mind move through its avoidance maneuvers, until I exhaust them. Explore, express, explain, exhaust. Return to topic?

Today, doing what’s difficult means finishing my last post regarding strong emotions.  Some so strong, so painful, I once attempted suicide.

Do I still fear the strength of my emotional capacity today? Yes and no.  I am still capable of a rage that is truly fear-worthy.  But I’ve learned to recognize when I am nearing the edge of that storm.  (I think of how rage feels and moves within me as something like a tornado.  It can pop up seemingly suddenly, yet there are warning signs.  It turns very fast, powerfully, and could be destructive to things in its path, but it doesn’t have to “touch down”.  And most importantly, it really is a storm within me, but it is not me; I can walk away from it.)  While I can’t control my world so much as to guarantee I avoid all possible triggers to my rage, I can even-so sense the perimeters of triggers and walk away when too near.  Even if I temporarily engage, I can walk away.  Walking away is a very important skill!  Walking away is always an option, and one that is as powerful as rage, actually more powerful because in walking away I dismiss the rage.  I won’t go into here and now what triggers rage for me; the significant thing is that I’ve learned how and when to walk away.

Other emotions which I can feel so powerfully that I fear being overwhelmed by them are grief and fear itself.  However, grief represents territory with which I have become familiar enough I am comfortable navigating rather than feeling lost.  Feeling a foreign fear, or fear before I understand what has caused it, or panic, or pernicious anxiety, I have learned to treat that sensation like a ferocious dog.  I can be terrified by a growling, teeth-baring dog.  And while it’s reasonable to be afraid of a dog that could attack, and it’s justifiable to simply avoid such a threat, I have been in situations where a dangerous dog had to be faced in order to get away from it.  The main thing I learned was to not SHOW my fear, to not show that I am intimidated, to refuse to submit to its terror tactic, to pretend to be the one in charge!  So when I experience a feeling of panic flare up within myself (and usually its accompanied with a racing heart and a rush of adrenaline), I’ve learned to bring up within myself, the “Commander,” She who takes Charge.  Taking Charge is not my preferred way of being, but I’ve found it’s a very handy tool in my skill-box.

Where, when, and how I’ve “learned” these things I won’t explore here.  Some of these capacities are unconscious instincts I’ve “discovered” I already have at my ready use; others are skills I’ve consciously and deliberately chosen to learn and develop.

The last fear of strong emotions I’ll mention here is when I notice (usually retrospectively) that others are somehow led by or dependent upon my “power.” Sometimes my “power”, that which I am exuding and others are following, is emotional; in those times its usually expressed as enthusiasm.  Sometimes my “power” is intellectual: clarity of thinking.  Sometimes it is spiritual: wisdom, or moral courage.  I don’t mind being a leader when I have chosen that role and those being led have consciously consented to my leadership.  I don’t mind leading in areas where I have expertise.  But when I find that others are led by my emotions I feel wary.  I don’t like that kind of “persuasion” exercised on myself, so I don’t want to manipulate others.

However, some people really enjoy experiencing the emotions of an artist-type.  That’s when I find myself being put into the role of Muse for others gratification.  And I don’t like it.  To me, it might be something like when a patient projects onto their therapist, or a parent lives vicariously through a child, or a fan stalks a celebrity!  Those things are not equal to each other, but what they have in common is the observer loses touch with the parameters of reality in relation to the observed; the receiver (or taker) of gratification assumes as their own something that actually belongs to another.  If I were a true performer, I would probably like being used as a Muse by others.  I think Performers know how to and enjoy developing a Public-Persona, and can keep their private-person shielded from the public experiences.  I however am mostly “just me.”  I struggle with the idea and use of shields.  I prefer to be fully integrated and to act consciously, directly, deliberately; it’s something I work toward every day.  It’s true I know how to take on various roles in different situations, but I don’t wear them as a mask; I use them as tools or skill-sets.

As a victim of abuse I quickly learned how to compartmentalize my experiences, my world, my self.  But as a survivor and one who would thrive, I work to become fully  integrated.  Facing my fears, especially fears about my own nature, helps me heal, become stronger and healthier, and I hope eventually whole.

 

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“Where Night meets Day” by Loyan Mani (aka Maxine Noel)

To Live Or Give Up?

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This post talks a bit about my emotional struggle at a time in my life when I considered suicide. If you are depressed or could be in any way adversely triggered by this topic, please don’t read further and instead talk with someone who will give you life-affirming support.  Remember, there’s always a listening ear at:

1-800-273-8255

(National Suicide Hotline)

or 911.

Fear of my powerful emotions & whether or not I have the capacity to control them.

After I began to be sexually (and psychologically) abused, I began to have intense emotions that were so powerful I found it hard to control them.  That’s one of the reasons I eventually attempted suicide.  That feeling of “just wanting to die” was a desire to be free from the hell I was in: not only contextually, but also in my own mind, heart, Self.  I’m pretty sure I was born with the capacity for an extensive range of emotions and depth of feeling them, being aware of them. And I’m even more sure I experienced intense feelings before I was ever abused.  It might be fair to say that I was (genetically and socially) predisposed to being vulnerable to emotional turbulence and especially at risk to others’ provocation or manipulation of my vulnerabilities.

I was an easy target for bullies, predators, pedophiles.  I can identify characteristics in my family dynamics that contributed to all of this.  I can also identify (nearly? or outright?) institutionalized dysfunction in societal elements that definitely cultivated all types of bullies, predators, pedophiles, while offering nearly no protection for their targets. However that’s not the primary topic for this post.

My focus here is on what I have personally experienced within myself, and how I manage my emotions now.  I mentioned a suicide attempt.  There were actually several times I thought seriously of how I might end my life and made partial attempts, but there was only one time I made a serious attempt.  Again, more on that some other time.  But it’s important that I talk a bit about that here because, for me, it reveals how STRONG was the battle within myself.  It wasn’t “simply” a spiritual battle.

There are some, I would say naive, Christians who think turbulent emotions or any kind of psychological struggle happens and can be resolved strictly in the arena of the soul.  They don’t recognize the physical, psychological, medical, and/or societal factors and causes involved.  Thus, they don’t recognize the legitimacy and necessity of addressing those factors accordingly.

My view regarding the role of my faith at the time is that my soul, my spirit, my faith in Christ was SO STRONG that it kept my will to live dominant within myself! But the abuse, and my silence about it, was unbearable.  I think the stress of the dichotomy (my abused self vs my healthy self) was so profound that, had I not been fundamentally mentally healthy and spiritually strong, I might have developed a split personality or something like that. [I really can’t say that in clinical terms because I don’t know what causes split or multiple personality syndromes.]  But this is my way of saying there was a war (a life vs death battle) going on for my mind, my psyche, my Self between all that would keep me a Victim versus my capacity to be a Survivor.

I have to continue this in a next post.  Thinking again about that time in my life and the details of it is really exhausting.

To be continued…!

Judging Judgement

Fear of being judged.  This is a fear I am out-growing.  In fact, I’ve almost completely out-grown it, but I still remember the pain of some early experiences of being (what felt to me) condemned, and the anxiety of pending critiques by others.

One of my earliest memories of being “judged” was when, in first grade, my teacher made “an example” of me.  I know I excelled in math.  I was doing multiplication and division by the age of four.  I don’t think I was aware at the time of my advanced skills.  I just enjoyed math activities, and I greatly enjoyed my dad teaching me!  However, there came a day when I neglected to sufficiently read the instructions at the top of a test paper.  The test comprised only subtraction problems.  Each problem was presented with a larger number over a smaller number with a line below, but there was no plus or minus sign beside the second number.  The instruction to do subtraction was indicated only in words at the top of the paper.

I sped through the test, adding each pair of numbers.  I even took time to check my work.  I knew my addition was correct.  I was the first to turn in my paper.  I was expecting an A+ per usual.  When everyone had finished, the teacher called everyone’s attention, held up my paper, and said something like “I’d like you all to learn from a mistake by [she said my name].  The instructions were to subtract, but she added each pair of numbers.  Her addition was correct; however she failed the test because she did not follow the instructions!”  As she held up the paper, everyone saw a huge black “F”.

I was horrified.  I felt such burning shame.  I was shocked I hadn’t done what was instructed.  And I was appalled to receive an “F”!  But I was even more dumb-struck that the teacher was humiliating me in front of everyone.  I wanted to hide, but there was no-where to go.

I don’t remember if I told my mother about it when I got home.  I probably did.  I think she looked at all my school papers.  She probably “consoled” me with some unspoken sign of sympathy, yet reinforcing the teacher’s lesson that it’s important to follow instructions.  I certainly learned the lesson to read instructions, but I’m too much of a non-conformist to pretend I always follow them.  But I also learned another lesson, one I believe is even more important: teachers should never, ever humiliate a student!  Shame is cruel.  And as a teacher, I follow THAT instruction faithfully and consistently!

In fact, the #1 rule I set for myself is to ALWAYS show respect to each student, and if they make any kind of mistake (which all learners do because that’s part of exploration), first find the good in what they’ve done.  I believe in first empowering what is good in a child’s native ability, and reinforcing the goodness of every particle of excellence.  More often than not, what needs correcting can be done in terms of showing how what they did well could be furthered.

A simple example of first focusing on what works regards fingering: if a piano student stumbles through a passage, and I perceive it’s because of faulty or sloppy fingering, I don’t immediately point out what they did wrong and how it marred their fluency.  Instead, I point out passages they played correctly and beautifully/ fluently/ meaningfully, and then I show them how their good fingering facilitated that.  Then I ask them what they think they might improve.  Most of the time, students will know well enough for themselves without being told what could be better and how to make improvements.  If they need a little nudge, I gently help them notice.  Often simply modeling better alternatives is sufficient.  Even if a student were to play a piece composed in a minor key entirely in the relative major, I still wouldn’t make them feel shame for not reading the key signature!  I might even note how interesting it was to hear it in a new key!  We could have a chuckle at how marvelous it can be to hear something from another angle!  But then, that’s the luxury of being an artist: multiple viewpoints are valuable.

Even (especially?) as a teacher, I sometimes discern a mistake need not be corrected at all.  I am aware that often the guidance a student needs from me in a particular situation is simply how to think, how to focus forward, what to actually DO (rather than what to avoid).  I find that, for myself, and I believe for most creative types, what we focus on in our thinking is what will be made manifest in our art.  If I were to instruct a student to not do a particular thing and they kept thinking “don’t do x,” they would likely DO x, despite the “don’t” in the instruction.  But if I were to say “focus on y,” they would focus on y and they would DO y.  I.e. the object of focus is the issue, not the instruction about it.  So, in my opinion (and vast teaching experience!), it’s far more important to direct growing minds towards good habits, strengths, goals, choices, rather than call (especially any unnecessary) attention to mistakes, weaknesses, or what to avoid.

Focus forward!

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Understanding My Fears

The Nut Gatherers (Credit: “The Nut Gatherers” by Bouguereau)

My “fear of not being understood” is really a fear of being misunderstood.  Surprisingly there’s a big difference! I have a longing to be “understood” but what I actually fear is being positively misunderstood.  And the worst is when someone thinks they understand me or “have [me] all figured out” and in reality they have jumped to conclusions, assigned a label for me and a box in which they can contain me or cast me away.  Possibly everyone does this to some extent in our genuine attempts to become acquainted; we look for what we know, and what we don’t, we explain to ourselves in terms of what’s familiar.

I very consciously and actively try to let my understanding of others be a blank book in which they write the chapters they choose to share with me.  Not only do I hope to let them be the authors of my knowledge of them, I assume they are sharing only part of their story.  It’s wrong for me to draw too many conclusions.  I can’t claim to do this perfectly or 100% because I am human and as it’s a natural or instinctive way for humans to learn by comparison of what’s new to what’s familiar, I realize I am going a bit against the grain of what’s a natural way of functioning. However, I find it is much more fun and interesting to let people reveal themselves to me rather than to make assumptions and then try to force their round gifts of self into any square holes of stereotype I might have on hand.

So when I try to count the people who have done this for me, persons who have allowed me to reveal myself to them and I think have really understood me as well as anyone not in your own skin could possibly do, I find the list is shockingly small.  In fact, I find I recognize gradients of being known.  Which is really what one would expect; only God knows us through and through, totally, without buffer or distortion.

“For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

~ Psalm 139: 13-14a

When I consider how this “being understood” manifests itself to me in these relationships, I realize that they actually have acknowledged they don’t know me entirely, they are open to getting better acquainted with me, they recognize and honor that I am the author of my story or the expert of my personal experience, they value me for who I am, and (it tends to be true that) they love me as unconditionally as any human can.  Given that I define this group of people in my life with such rarely fulfilled criteria, it’s no wonder my list of Those Who Understand Me is so small!

Considering all that, I recognize the relationships I have with each of those people are wondrous gift.  Being “known” like that is extremely rare in this world.  The other thing I realize is that as I mature, I find I don’t need an abundance of such benevolent intimacy.  I am content to be mostly unknown with most people.  The thing I have to work on is two-fold: First, don’t assume others should understand me.  I am (as my dad sometimes said) “not your average bear”!  Truth is, none of us are!  But maybe some of us are less “average” than others?  I don’t know.  I choose to view each person as terra nova.  At any rate, it’s up to me to reveal whatever I want understood by others.  And another truth is: very often being “understood” is not a prerequisite to being accepted!  I know many people who accept me even though they know they don’t understand me.  That too is great gift!

So my fear of being misunderstood is now a recognition that it is my responsibility to communicate what I choose, to correct when necessary, and to accept that most people don’t really care how accurate they are in their perceptions of others, and that’s actually mostly okay.  Society gets along pretty well without everyone understanding everyone else.  I think the human family needs more empathy than it does actual understanding.  In fact, it’s more often willingness to be empathetic that opens the door to understanding, than it is the other way around.

It’s so lovely how analyzing my fears dissolves their power!

“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.”

~ Lau Tzu

There are so many great quotes and scriptures (and by the way, all of Psalm 139 is a lovely and encouraging passage) about the wonder of being known but one of my favorite songs about this is “On A Clear Day” by Alan Jay Lerner:

On a clear day,

Rise and look around you,

And you’ll see who you are,

On a clear day,

How it will astound you,

That the glow of your being,

Outshines every star,

You’ll feel part of,

E’vry mountain, sea and shore,

And you can hear,

From far and near,

A world you never heard before,

And on a clear day,

On that clear day,

You can see forever

And ever more.

 

Rejecting Fear

If I hold any superstitions, I’m not conscious of them.  I am aware of many superstitions common to others, and I sometimes wonder if my mere acknowledgement of them indicates a little bit of belief they have some kind of merit or influence on reality. For instance, I know today is “Friday The Thirteenth” and that many believe unlucky things will happen on this day.  So I take a different tack; I celebrate all that’s good on this day, or seek out what I can learn…  Does that give the day some sort of special power over me?  Maybe I indeed give the day some significance, but I think I exercise the power!  The worst kinds of fears are those for which we have no awareness. So today, on this lovely Friday the 13th, I want to examine some of my fears, do a fear-scrutiny if you will!

First fear of which I’m very aware is the fear of rejection.

Monsters Inc (Credit: Monsters Inc.)

It’s a bit strange that I have this fear because I really like being alone, and I admit, I most often prefer my own company to anyone else’s.  But there are a handful of people in my life I highly respect, and if I were to be totally rejected by one of them, I would feel a terrible loss.

Because of my own very long-held, (primal?), “issues” (emotional wounds/ weaknesses), I have sometimes “tested” the love or loyalty of the people I most want in my life. There’s really only one person however who temporarily rejected me (because I indisputably went too far in my testing of them), and later we “reconciled.”  However, our relationship was never again as close or as friendly and comfortable.

I must say though that there were some boundary problems (for me) in the relationship and I think my acting out was an indication that the other person had nurtured an attachment that wasn’t entirely appropriate.  I’m not talking about the teacher who abused me.  I am talking about a mentor who treated me like a much beloved daughter/ protegé and while I appeared old enough, I wasn’t mature enough to  be aware of (let alone define) the boundaries that would have been healthiest for me.  I wouldn’t say that mentor did anything immoral, but clearly it wasn’t right for me — and it was hard to “grow out of it.”  So I rebelled. By the time I did, I would say that I was definitely old enough to know better.  I understand what I did in terms of a larger emotional crisis.  However, while I understand the complexity of dynamics that triggered my “acting out,” I would still say I was responsible for my actions because I was old enough that I should be held responsible.  So I asked forgiveness of the mentor, and he later forgave me.

The challenge for me (even later) was that there really were things the mentor should not have done (should not have done in relation to me regardless of whether or not it was acceptable w/ other protegé), but I had again failed to define my own boundaries, so when I was finally aware of the conflict for me, I rebelled — I acted out what I should have spoken much earlier.  So I never really got to address w/ the mentor, in an appropriate way, what-all was not good for me in our relationship.

Because I’m not giving particulars, this might be confusing to people who haven’t experienced any side of this, but those whose boundaries were violated in formative years will likely understand what I’m talking about.  Repeating various dynamics in later relationships is very common to those who’ve been abused in childhood/ youth.  From my vantage point, it’s as if my subconscious was trying to work out things until I “got it right.”

The really tragic part (for the whole human family) is that there are so many flawed adults in society, especially in positions of leadership, who help create those unhealthy dynamics in relationships (even when no behavior goes to an extreme that would be defined as abusive or immoral).  They have absolutely no conscious intention of harming another.  So when others call them out on trespassing their boundaries, they don’t understand their role in having created harm, and they sometimes fail to learn their responsibility in PREVENTING harm; instead they feel themselves to be some sort of victim.  This is especially true any time there is inequity of power in a relationship that develops any form of intimacy beyond the definitions or demands of the outwardly defined relationship.  Most common examples of this are found between teachers and students, bosses and workers; maybe there are others, but these are the types of which I am familiar.

While I was gaining more and more awareness of my true feelings about my experiences, (at least from the time I got away from the abuser and progressively onward), it wasn’t until my 30’s that I was able to have enough perspective (and freedom/ safety) to understand my feelings, reactions, responses, choices, and gain significant control over my reactions & responses — and thus gain ability to exercise my own will.

Now that I have had more time and life-experience to reflect knowledgeably and wisely on all this, I don’t have much interest in working out anything between myself and persons of past relationships.  In relation to former relationships, it’s sufficient for me to understand all I can, to make better choices for myself now, and to forgive all I can as I’m ready.  I have the luxury of not having to relate at all with anyone who has abused me, or violated my boundaries in lesser ways.

For those who have been abused by family members or people with whom they don’t want to cease all connection, I admit I don’t know how you manage it.  I can’t imagine having to accept the regular presence of an abuser in my life.  To have to exert much energy guarding necessary boundaries I’m afraid would leave me insufficient energy to live positively my life.

By this point in my life I realize this old “fear of rejection” isn’t really about me fearing others rejecting me; it’s more about me wanting to have secure boundaries and knowing I have to set them for myself, but I’m not always sure I will know how. The fear is: will I be able to define my needs soon enough and will I be able to communicate those needs to the pertinent people in appropriate ways commensurate to the situation? With experience I get better at this, but it also helps that I realize I can survive and rebound from rejection when it happens.  I’d rather be my true self and rejected for it than to be accepted by others only because I conform myself to pleasing them.

For more fears I’ll explore see next posts:

  • Not being understood
  • Being judged
  • Being in the spotlight
  • Not being able to control my “negative” emotions
  • My own power
  • Apathy (within myself)
  • Not knowing my purpose in something
  • Vomitting
  • Failure to protect a child in my care
  • Not being prepared, if I’m the one in charge
  • Poisonous creepy crawly creatures or flying things that sting (especially hornets)
  • Crashing in a car (because I’ve experienced this twice now, & I hope to never again!)

Anecdotes to fears (see later posts):

  • Faith
  • Prayer
  • Meditation
  • Gratitude
  • Affirmations
  • Exercise
  • Review past successes
  • Review experiences of survival
  • Direct confrontation (if you are equipped to be productive)
  • Humor (especially finding the frailty in faux monsters)
  • Beauty
  • Purposeful attention to what gives you bliss
  • Breathing!

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Anatomy of Ambivalence: Story of Self-Sacrifice

One particularly powerful example of my dad’s courage occurred when I was around 7 years old.  The whole family was sitting at the dinner table when there was a loud knock at the door.  We had a lovely door-bell, but as I recall, the unexpected visitor banged on the door rather than press the bell.  I remember being instantly alarmed.  My dad went to the door while the rest of us remained at the table.  I could hear his voice and another man’s.  Normally my dad would immediately invite people in, but this time I heard him go out.  The other man’s voice sounded angry and my dad’s sounded urgent.

I ran upstairs and watched out a bedroom window.  I could see the man and my dad.  Dad had taken the conversation to the front curb near the man’s car.  The other man had a gun!  It was a big gun; I think it was a shot-gun or rifle.  Learning later who it was, I imagine it was a gun the man would have used for hunting.  The angry man was yelling at my dad and initially pointing the gun at him!

I knew instinctively that my dad’s body posture was oriented to calming and consoling the man.  It looked like my dad had spread his arms out as if to show he had nothing with him.  After a while, the man lowered his gun, and dad reached out to him, maybe to take his hand.  I couldn’t hear or understand what they were talking about, but I could tell that my dad was showing the man great understanding.  Eventually the man put his gun down completely and my dad hugged him.  The man was crying.  I learned later that the man’s wife had been a patient of my dad’s.  The wife had died and the man blamed my dad.  She had some sort of cancer, and in those days there weren’t the cures or treatments we have today.

As I watched from the window, I saw the man drive away.  My dad watched him drive away.  Then I heard my dad come back inside and I ran downstairs.  My dad looked very alert yet completely worn out.  He came back to the table and we all finished our dinner.  I don’t remember how much my dad explained to all of us then and how much I learned at a later time, but I know I didn’t tell anyone at the time what I had witnessed through the window upstairs.  In fact, I don’t think I talked with my dad about that until decades later.  I do know though that at the time I believed my dad had saved his family from the angry man with a gun by taking all the risk on himself.  I can’t over-state the enduring power for me of my dad’s example of heroic courage that day.