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Showing posts with label fear. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fear. Show all posts

Sunday, October 21, 2012

My Year of Living Fearlessly!

When we know who we are, we can overcome our fears and insecurities. We surpass our smaller selves who suffer the slings and arrows of our conditioned reality, and we move to the unconditional truth of our larger selves. The answers to the questions of what to do, what to say, whom to let in, and whom to keep out become a clear and simple matter of listening to our hearts. That inner voice helps us align with our purpose, because each of us has a purpose, even if we judge it to be insignificant the voice is there. We just need to listen to it. When we do that, we live in fearlessness.” – Arianna Huffington, excerpted from On Becoming Fearless in Love, Work, and Life


Since my last blog post, I’ve been busy crossing things of my list of “Fears to Conquer and Dreams to Live,” as part of my intention to live fearlessly in 2012!

At the beginning of this year, I wrote about my decision not to make a list of New Year’s resolutions in my post What Would You Do if You Weren't Afraid? Instead, I decided to embrace the idea that by striving to live fearlessly, an even more authentic and courageous self may emerge. The thing about fear is that it limits full self-expression while keeping us fearfully, anxiously captive. Perfectionism, the underlying culprit behind many New Year’s resolutions, is fear’s evil twin (I’ve written about it in Making Failure Okay). Therefore, I also made a commitment to embrace the belief  “I’m already enough.”

We seek to help our kids to conquer their fears every day, and the best place to start is with ourselves!

The first thing I did after writing my New Year’s post was to make a list of my fears. I was pleasantly surprised to find that none of the classic phobias were on the list. I’m not afraid of spiders, snakes, heights, public speaking, or flying. Of course, when I see a snake on the side of the road on one of my long distance runs, I still jump. That type of fear is biologically-based, instinctual, and the kind of self-protective response we need for survival. Pure fear, instead of anxious “fright,” can be a powerful protector and teacher. In 2012, however, I wanted to coax the monsters from out under my bed, rid old skeletons in my closet. Simply riding more roller coasters wasn’t going to do the trick.

So, here’s where things got interesting. Once I was willing to commit to living fearlessly, I found that every single fear I may have avoided, stuffed, or otherwise denied, when given permission to be expressed, written down on paper, or otherwise invited to show its ugly face, did just that! Around about January 15th, it looked like Halloween in my own head!  Therefore, as I became willing to face my fears, it became very important to identify specific goals and steps to take to conquer those fears. The fastest anxiety-busting technique I know is to take ACTION! As the old adage reminds us: “The only way out is through.” No matter how small the steps you take through fear, it just matters that you keep taking those steps. For every fear on my list, I came up with a fear-busting goal.

Here's a sample of some of the fears from my January 1st, 2012 list:

"I'm afraid of becoming blind." So, I promptly booked an appointment with an optometrist who reassured me I had neither a fatal brain tumor nor impending blindness. Instead, she prescribed a cheap pair of readers and told me “You have excellent vision, but you're in your forties.  The good news is that your forties aren't fatal! Your eye strain isn’t a tumor, you just need readers.” Phew!  One fear down, nine to go!

"I'm afraid of not having friends and family for support during tough times." So, I started reaching out to old and new friends and hosting more social gatherings, whether my house is clean or not, and repaired my heart and upped my happiness a little more in the process.  I booked flights for myself and my family home to Canada for a much-needed family and friends fill-up after a two year absence. I’ve reconnected with old friends and estranged family members. I’ve learned to sit in the discomfort of misunderstandings and past hurts without needing to be right, but instead seeking to forgive and cultivate peace.

A few of the fears on my list involved overcoming previous experiences that had evoked survival responses of fear, like my fear of snorkeling after getting caught off a coral reef a few years ago in the Caribbean (read about that by clicking here). But most of my fears were more existential in nature. Fears that, upon reflection, I realized were holding me back in my relationships and career. Those fears were the ones rooted deep in childhood experiences that required some careful uprooting. Previous hurts in relationships still haunted me in the form of a fear of making mistakes, being unlovable, or being judged. The imposter syndrome was on the list. And like many others, the bag lady fear also made my list—minus the house full of cats.

Looking at my list of fears, it struck me that I had inherited most of my fears from my parents and that, almost by osmosis, I had absorbed many from our culture primarily through fear-based media messaging. Fears like: losing everything and becoming homeless, being a bad parent, and getting sick and old.

Many of my underlying fears I know I share with others. As a therapist I have the unique opportunity and privilege to listen as children, adolescents, and adults in my office peel back the layers to reveal the underlying fears that keep them unhappy and afraid in life. Our materialist society capitalizes on these very fears to sell stuff. “If you buy this cream, you’ll look young and stay lovable.” “If you buy this insurance, you won’t get sick, grow old, and die alone.” But life is unpredictable. Until we learn to live more fully in the present and take action, instead of worrying needlessly about future “what if’s,” we leave ourselves vulnerable to fear’s tight grip. It’s not as if anti-aging face creams, insurance policies, and saving for a rainy day are bad ideas. But I’ve found that when fear motivates my decisions, my goals are less aligned with being authentic and courageous and more about avoiding some kind of possible pain.

After writing down my fears, my next step was to use the surest, quickest way I’ve found to release oneself from fear: author Byron Katie’s Four Questions method. Her method helps folks to reveal how irrational most fears are and to discover what it might be like to live life without fearful thought.

Here are her Four Questions:
1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely know that it's true?
3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without the thought?
Source: www.thework.com

The four questions have helped me to discover that most all fears are irrational. I also found that once I identified key fears to conquer, more than enough opportunities presented themselves to help me overcome them! Don't say I didn't warn you! My responses to question 4 also helped me generate my list of dreams to live this year.

For example, if I wasn’t afraid of being lost in New York City (which resulted in a mild panic attack a few years ago on Ellis Island), then I would sign up for the 2012 ING NYC marathon and run through all the city’s boroughs. So, I promptly signed myself up.  On November 4th I will be completing my first marathon in fifteen years. It turns out that at age 45 I do have to stretch more, and my first few long runs were painful.  But otherwise the optometrist is right, our forties aren't fatal!

"I’m afraid of asking others for help" was also on my list of fears to conquer.  Plenty of opportunities there when I put my ego aside and open myself up to others' help and what they have to teach me!  I'm now fundraising and asking friends and family for money for the Alzheimer’s Association on behalf of my mother and uncle who have been recently been diagnosed with this devastating disease. Instead of running from my genetic heritage, I’m running towards a cure before anyone else in my family is afflicted! Here’s my fundraising page, in case any of you are interested and/or would like more information on behalf of your own family.

Thus far in 2012, I’ve flown in an open helicopter with my daughter (who was afraid of flying, as some of you may remember from reading Fear of Flying: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Feeling). I got back into the ocean and snorkeled in Cuba. I’ve completed five months of marathon training and two half-marathons in preparation for November 4th. I’ve made sure to focus more on all the good in others, instead of looking for something to judge—thus, effectively curtailing my own fear of others judging me!

I catch myself when I’m worrying and remind myself what I’ve taught my own children since they were little: “A change in your thoughts, leads directly to a change in your feelings.” So, I pick a different thought. A kinder thought that evokes faith and peace, instead of worry.

I completed Kathy Freston’s Quantum Wellness 21-day cleanse as a way to kick start healthier habits, get in better shape for the marathon, and genuinely feel more at ease in the present moment.

I listen more—especially to my kids who’ve felt free to give me feedback on what it is like to have a therapist for a mom who looks too often for problems to solve and advice to give! Once they hit adolescence, I started asking if they wanted to hear my thoughts. Surprisingly, more often than not, they do still want to hear what I have to say especially now that they have a choice.

I’ve made sure to do at least one thing that makes me happy every day. Subsequently, I've cultivated a much more grateful heart.

And after completing all my mental health therapist licensure requirements after moving five years ago from Canada to the U.S., I'm finally listening to that wise inner voice Arianna Huffington's quote refers to and gave notice at my job a few weeks ago.  I will be devoting much more time in 2013 to pursuing a higher purpose and integrity in my professional life, which includes making Lion’s Whiskers into a book.

As I conquer the last few fears on my list, I notice that I’m trusting myself, others, and the Universe a lot more. I’m back to laughing a lot more, stressing less, and generally being a much more relaxed parent.  Fear is no longer a foe, but more a scaredy-cat I'm making friends with—cause let's face it, everyone could use a little more friendship in their lives!

My daughter crossing the finish line with me at my recent half-marathon!

The truth of the matter is that these past ten months I've been most inspired by my own children and those I work with therapeutically to learn what it is to live life fearlessly. I wholeheartedly believe kids have a lot to teach us about courage. It's in everything they do!

I also know that as parents we could be much more aware of how we project our fears onto our children. By trusting our children—instead of letting worry get in our own way and theirs—we intentionally uproot fear's tenacious roots before they grow too deep, thus encouraging our children to develop trust in themselves. But more on that topic in upcoming posts!

Feel free to enjoy the follow-up chapter to this particular story by clicking here: Running Plan B

Care to share a fear of yours and what action you might take to conquer it!?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Scared of Flying No More!

Fear of flying is no joke--especially for kids!  Here’s some advice to help children overcome aerophobia--most of which I put into practice with my own daughter to help her overcome her fear of flying, which I wrote about in my previous post “Fear of Flying: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Feeling!”:   
  • Talk about your child's fear.  Let's face it, it is kinda' strange to fly so high above the ground!Empathize with them by normalizing fear as part of life and that we become stronger and more courageous by facing our fears--which gets easier the more we do it!  Don't unnecessarily minimize how big their fear may feel.  Help them to break it into smaller, more manageable, pieces.   For example, if your child is afraid of flying figure out if it is being in a small, enclosed space; or is it the loud sounds of the engines; or leaving their doggies behind at home; or possible turbulence during flight? Next, take steps to overcoming each fear.  Brainstorm ways to have courage facing a particular fear and perhaps even simulate facing those bite-sized fears like leaving the dog for a day, using ear plugs around a loud lawnmower, or likening riding in a plan to the roller coaster you may have ridden last summer. 

  • It is helpful to demystify flying and address some of your child’s questions about how safe it is as a method of travel.  Reading books about air travel, describing and visualizing a flight from beginning to a safe and happy landing, and educating your child about how safe flying is and how many millions of people arrive safely to their various destinations every day can be helpful in reducing anxiety.  Even going through a car wash together, or simulating a flight by watching a YouTube clip like this one, or setting up the pillows and a cardboard plane control panel in the living room—complete with self-made sounds and effects—may help to acclimate your child to the feelings, sounds, and sensations similar to those of being in an actual plane.  Normalize turbulence as part of the natural waves of wind the plane will ride up and down during the flight—especially when riding over mountains. 

  • Provide some valuable facts about flight safety.  Frame those facts in ways that kids can understand.  For example, explaining how safe flying is in comparison to driving doesn’t help really--it just made my daughter begin to question even getting into the car.  Fear is contagious that way!  Ask them to visualize the 4.5 million people everyday who fly safely in planes!  Remind them that many of those millions are kids off to visit their beloved grandparents or to see Disneyland for the first time.  Help them visualize such a large number like 4.5 million:  it is way more people that all the people living in Alaska and Hawaii combined, and about as many as live in the entire State of South Carolina. 

  • It is helpful to challenge some of those fear-inducing thoughts by brainstorming solutions to every worry and/or testing if the fearful thought is actually accurate, true, or simply irrational.  Take a piece of paper, divide it in two, and make one side for thoughts that are “True” and one for those that are “Not True.”  For example, “Everybody dies when they fly”— phobic thinking actually sounds like this.  This particular thought would go on the “Not True” list.

  • I’ve also taught my children that if they change their thinking, they can change their feeling.  I encouraged them to notice that when they pick a different thought, their feelings follow suit.  As I've written about previously, in Mental Pathways of Courage, it can take only approximately 90 seconds for feelings to catch up with our thoughts.

  • It is important to focus on the positive benefits associated with flying.  For example, the fun stuff you can do on board, the nutritional/favorite snacks and drinks you will pack, his/her favorite stuffy along for the ride, the movie you will bring to watch or book to read, special friends/family you are travelling to visit, the sights you might see along the way, and any other things your child might be looking forward to about the trip. 

  • Move around during the flight, should aerophobia’s close cousin, claustrophobia, also be contributing to your child’s fear of flying. 
  • One parenting site recommended wrapping little gifts to unwrap each hour on the flight to add something to look forward to and to countdown the hour(s) until you arrive at your destination.  

  • It is also useful to inform the airline staff that you have a hesitant flyer on your hands and any and all treats or accommodations they can make to ensure a relaxing flight would be most appreciated. 

  • Arriving to the airport relaxed helps (not that my family has ever been able to manage this one—which may well have also contributed to our daughter’s anxiety! We even slept through two alarms for our most recent early morning flight.  We were the last to check in and board, but we made it!) 

  • Teaching some simple body relaxation techniques to your child can help them learn the difference between tense and relaxed muscles.  Kids don’t automatically notice the difference.  So, start with your toes, showing them how to squeeze/tense and let go/relax each muscle group, ending with your faces.  Liken a tensed body to uncooked spaghetti (straight, rigid), relaxed bodies are like cooked spaghetti (loose, wiggly and jiggly).  Use visual imagery to help them tense and relax, this audio script may help. When stressed or worried during the flight, remind each other to use progressive relaxation to help your body tell your mind that all is well.  To learn more about Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR), consult this book: The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook (Davis, Eschelman, & McKay, 1988).

  • Airline attendants are full of helpful advice. Those vomit bags may also come in handy for some much needed anti-panic deep breathing relief.


  •  If your child’s fear is debilitating, or close to being so, it is also a wise investment to consult a local child-oriented mental health therapist to prepare for any upcoming trips—especially if as a parent you, too, suffer from aerophobia.


  • Lastly, clap those hands loud and proud to thank the pilot for your safe arrival on the tarmac.  Be sure to celebrate each of your child’s successes along the journey to conquering their fear—no matter how small the steps or how short the flight—just keep gently moving forward through the fear instead of letting it limit your lives! 

Any advice you'd like to share about how you've helped your child overcome a fear?  We'd love to hear from you!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Fear of Flying: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Feeling!

My husband and I travel a lot with our kids.  They’ve ridden in planes, trains, automobiles, bike trailers, RVs, and a hot air balloon; on bicycles, ferries, kayaks, canoes, sailing boats, power boats, and inner tubes; by air, sea, river, lake, and land.  So it came as a bit of a shock when our daughter announced at age 8 that she would no longer fly in an airplane.  She would drive across country to visit our family that particular summer, but refused to fly.  Houston, we have a problem! 

Our daughter had officially joined the approximately one in six Americans who are afraid to fly.  Fear had her in its tight grip and wasn’t letting go anytime soon.  Problem was we were a few months away from flying home to visit our relatives in Canada.  We were not prepared to drive the over 3,000 miles again in our RV.  Two summers of such travel had worn us, and our somewhat anxious and diarrhea-prone dog, out!

Aerophobia, it turns out, is one of the top fears of most people.  The website www.fearofstuff.com/phobia-stats indicates that approximately 1 in 23 people suffer from phobias, with nearly 11.5 million sufferers in the U.S. alone.  A quick Amazon.com search yields some 4,000+ titles devoted to the topic of overcoming fear of flying. 

What I’ve learned about children who fear flying is that they can learn that fear through the anxiety of a parent.  Aerophobia can also be triggered by watching some disturbing news or movies, reading a book featuring air tragedies, experiencing turbulence on a flight, or due to the death of a family member or friend (either in a plane crash or not), or by overhearing people talking about plane crashes or other anxiety-provoking stories.  We could all be more mindful that our kids are ALWAYS listening, whether they seem to be or not.  They hear and absorb the news we listen to on the way to school and work, or the TV news we leave on while we cook, or the conversations we have with friends on the phone.  Though it is always useful to discuss with children the origin of their fear; it can be often be difficult for them to recall or pinpoint the exact triggering event. 

My daughter’s fear of flying might not have been such a big deal except for the fact that we live across country from all our family!  The particular summer after she became a card-carrying aerophobic, we weren’t prepared to drive across country to accommodate her fear.  Given my training as a child/family and mental health therapist I also know full well that avoiding what we fear has a nasty way of not only perpetuating fear but also contributes to what is commonly termed (by mental health professionals anyway) “generalized anxiety.”  I wrote more about this topic in my last post, Making Friends with Fear. 

Here’s my interview with my daughter about her fear of flying.  I thought it would be helpful to get a kid’s perspective on how to combat fear--because in my experience, kids have a lot of clarity about life, and are most definitely some of the most inspirational people I know: 

Me: When did you first become afraid of flying?
My daughter:When I first heard the story of 9/11. I was about 8 and we had just moved to New York. A friend’s mom told me about it and I thought I would never want to be on a flight like that.  I couldn’t understand how someone could do something so terrible as fly a plane into a building.”
(My personal preference here is to always have these kinds of difficult discussions between a parent and child—but we may not always be our child’s loving bearer of bad news.  Debriefing news they may hear at school or on playdates or from older friends is important.  Share your perspective on tragic events like September 11th, your values and life-affirming beliefs, with the goal of reassuring your child of his/her safety).   

Me: What about the next flight you flew after becoming afraid? Can you remember the next flight was with me and your older brother going to visit family in Vancouver?
My daughter:I was just after my 9th birthday.  I had to work up the courage to fly.  I just thought about how beautiful it would be when we got to our destination. I just kept thinking of all the people I would get to see again.  We even flew a couple of those littler commuter planes for shorter times, which were kind of cool.”

Me: Do you remember that you wanted me to hold your hand and to give you some Rescue Remedy® gummies?  Do you think that helped?
My daughter:I don’t know.  Not really.  The Rescue Remedy® gummies were tasty and helped with chewing so my ears didn’t pop.  It helped more to think of positive things that I was looking forward to.

Me: Most recently, you flew with the most confidence I’ve seen in the past few years during our last winter vacation.  What do you think shifted?
My daughter:I just thought that my fear was just in my mind.”

Me: How did knowing that your fear was just in your mind help?
My daughter:Because then I knew it wasn’t real.  Which meant I could get over it in my mind. It was up to me to fix it.”

Me: You still wanted to hold my hand on the way to our destination, but do you remember saying to me on the way back “I don’t want to hold your hand this time ‘cause I’m going to fly with my big bro next summer on our own and I need pretend now that I’m okay, so I’ll be okay when it comes time to fly on my own”?
My daughter:Nope.” (Typical!)

Me: What made you decide to get over your fear?
My daughter:I wanted to be able to go on all sorts of family vacations.  I’d also like to someday fly without you guys, just with my big brother to visit family in Canada on our own.”

Me: If you were to offer some advice to another kid who was feeling afraid of flying, what would you tell them?
My daughter: Just think about what it will be like when you get to your destination.  Just focus on all the beauty around you, as you look around you on the plane.  Like the clouds and ocean you can see below you. I took a lot of really cool photos on our last trip.

Me: What do parents need to know about helping a child with a fear of flying?
My daughter:You can help them, but ultimately it is in their minds so there isn’t a lot you can do.  You just need to listen to them.  It helps to talk about it.  But not too much.  Just enough to let them know it is okay to be afraid sometimes.  Let them figure it out on their own, because if you try to fix it—which you can’t anyway—it won’t help them solve the problem on their own for the long-term.”

Me: Do you feel afraid anymore of flying?
My daughter:Nope.” (She's 11 now.  It took some practice, with a few flights between ages 8 and 11 and visualizing herself someday being able to fly confidently, but I'm happy to report that she is a confident flyer today!)


For some tips on helping your child overcome his/her fear of flying read my follow-up post, "Scared of Flying No More!"

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Making Friends with Fear

Me making friends with Fear
As some of you dear readers may recall, I decided to adopt a fearless approach to life in 2012.  Trust me, co-writing a blog about nurturing courage in kids will force you to examine (in depth) the ways you may be both the brave and cowardly lion.  Since I also currently treat both children and adults with anxiety, I thought it especially important to put into practice some of the approaches I’ve been encouraging my patients to adopt.  Taylor Clark’s new book Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool (2011) also woke me up a little.   

Clark’s research shows that currently the U.S. is ranked “the most anxious nation on the planet, with more than 18 percent of adults suffering from a full-blown anxiety disorder;” stress-based ailments costing “an estimated $300 billion per year in medical bills and lost productivity;” and our annual usage of anti-anxiety medications doubling from “$900 million to $2.1 billion” (p. 11).  Clark also interviewed Dr. Richard Leahy, psychologist and anxiety specialist, who cautions that adults aren’t the only anxiety sufferers these days (something I, too, can attest): “The average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s” (p. 11).  Acceptance and Commitment Therapy specialists Steven Hayes, Jason Luoma, and Robyn Walser, in their therapy manual Learning ACT (2007), caution that one of the main contributors to anxiety is experiential avoidance.  In normal speak: the more we avoid what we fear, the more anxiety develops.  So, starting with identifying the things we’re afraid of and developing a plan to face those fears step-by-step is a good place to start boosting one’s courage capacity—and decreasing our generalized anxiety at the same time. 

 
I mentioned in my New Year’s post (click here to read it) that learning to snorkel without panicking would be one of my “learn to live fearlessly” goals.  Let me back up and explain a little.  Four years ago, I joined the masses of North Americans dealing with anxiety and had my first official panic attack. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

What Would You Do if You Weren’t Afraid?

"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.  To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable."
~Helen Keller


It’s New Year’s Day and I’m taking a different approach to planning my 2012 New Year’s Resolutions.  I’ve tried and failed many times in some of my previous vain attempts at perfectionism disguised as self-improvement.  In fact, when reading Gretchen Rubin’s bestseller, The Happiness Project, the only commandment for happiness (submitted by one of her readers) that resonated with me long after finishing the book was: “I am already enough.”  These days I prefer books that open my mind to possibility, rather than filling it with worry about all the ways I am not YET enough.  I'm trying to adopt a more relaxed, hands-in-the-air-less-white-knuckle-approach to riding this roller coaster called life.  I like books that are more bucket list than to-do list.  Though goal-setting is important and empowering, mining our dreams often requires getting fear out of the way first.  Diane Conway’s book What Would You Do if You Had No Fear?:  Living Your Dreams While Quakin’ in Your Boots, for example, is filled with stories of folks who mustered the courage to conquer their fears and follow their dreams. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Don't Be Scared!


I grew up in an old farmhouse that had two dim and musty attics, a dark, multi-chambered and cobwebby basement, a ramshackle garage and a variety of derelict outbuildings - corn crib, wood shed, henhouses, outhouse. The barn didn't actually come to us when my parents bought the house, but there it was right next door: huge, weathered, and full of mysterious, rusted farm equipment. All of these shadowy spaces were populated by wasps and/or spiders and/or mice and/or bats, bristling with potential splinters, and cluttered with hard-to-identify objects the previous (original) family had left behind. You can either interpret this landscape as spooky and ominous or fun and exciting. At various times in my childhood they were all those things in turn; what I can assure you is that at no time was I indifferent to these places. I was always attracted to them, either with a creeping dread or with a spirit of discovery, and I spent a lot of time in them.

Other friends lived in similarly old, minimally electrified, cavernous houses on large properties with tumble-down barns, sheds, guest houses, gazebos, stables, etc. This was the 60s and 70s, in rural New York, and the gentrification push from New York City hadn't yet begun. One of my friends actually lived on the grounds of a sprawling old mental hospital, and we wandered freely, poking our noses into rooms, or trying to wipe the grime off the windows of locked buildings so we could spy. We played in settings that have become horror movie standards, but back then it was just normal: usually fun, occasionally mysterious, with a once-in-a-while dip into real fright. But still normal. It was the brand-new homes with wall-to-wall carpeting, bright overhead lights, and shiny matching appliances that were truly foreign to me. Only one of my friends lived in such an outlandish house as that.

I don't know how many kids today get to roam around by themselves in such liminal spaces. As you may recall from my post about bedtime stories, liminal refers to thresholds. These places are neither here nor there, inside nor outside, inhabited nor empty. They are all between. They are openings, waiting in suspended time. It is here that the hero can experience the call to adventure, the invitation to step into the unknown and begin the quest. Yes, there is fear in the unknown, and fear in shadowy spaces. But I think that I, for one, spent much of this time unconsciously testing myself, measuring my courage against the courage I discovered in stories. If I had discovered a wardrobe that led into another world, I would have been ready.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What Animals Can Teach Us About Pain


“I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.” Wendell Berry, The Peace of Wild Things

“He who fears to suffer, suffers from fear.” French proverb

“There are more things that frighten us than injure us… and we suffer more in imagination than in reality.” Seneca

Anyone who has adopted a child in another country knows that obtaining a visa means getting a blood test and any missed vaccinations for the child. My daughter was eight when I adopted her; I went with her to the American embassy in Addis Ababa for a blood test, and the episode turned out to be the first of many frantic and nearly-hysterical encounters with needles. Without going into detail I will just say she had to be restrained. Upon returning to the States, I had to take her for more shots to bring her up to date. I always struggled to decide if it was better to warn her that there was a needle waiting for her at the doctor’s office, or let it come as a nasty surprise. I wanted her to trust that I would be honest with her, that I wouldn’t trick her, and yet the anticipation of the shot produced such distress that it seemed cruel to prolong it by an advance warning.
At twelve, she is calmer and less prone to tears at the doctor’s office. “But it does hurt,” she reminds me grimly.

“Not as much as getting hit by a truck,” I reply.

The answer to this is a glare.

“Well it doesn’t hurt as much as getting hit by a truck,” I say. “And I should know.”

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sharing Family Stories

There is a big difference between my family and my husband’s family.  My family relies on humor as the glue to hold us all together—the funnier the story at the dinner table, the better digested the meal.  We all eventually begin talking over one another, finishing each other’s sentences, eager to have the last word.  We all want to get the biggest laugh, to be part of the family narrative.  The focus in my husband’s family lies more on family loyalty—the nutritional content of the meal, the garden where the ingredients grow, and how it all looks.  My kids value greatly what they learn whilst hanging out on the limbs of each branch of our family tree.  But guess at whose table my kids are learning to become master story-tellers? 

(Not Lisa's real ancestors, they look like they had way more fun than these folks, but you get the point!)

It’s not as if my children don’t appreciate all they learn at my mother-in-law’s table, or most memorably in her kitchen and garden.  It’s just I think I’ve taught them to look more for the funny in life, and less at the ingredients needed for the perfect pie.  Comedy, it has often been said, is = tragedy + time.  So, in my extended family (where we've faced divorce, addiction, death, and other losses and have needed some courage!) we’ve learned to savor the moments together and focus on the funny.  So, it was with great delight that I noticed a warming shift at my in-law’s table during our recent visit:  my kids and their cousins were rising in their ranks, breaking the ice, and becoming leaders in the family discussions by telling their funny stories!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Courage as an Antidote to Fear


The difference between the diminished individual, wistfully yearning toward full humanness but never quite daring to make it, versus the unleashed individual, growing well toward his or her destiny, is simply the difference between fear and courage.
~Abraham Maslow
Courage is an antidote to the fear bred in our society.  Without courage, even tasks that require minimal effort can become difficult and seem insurmountable.

I gain comfort, and the insight necessary to face the situations requiring courage in my life, when I remember self-help author Byron Katie’s philosophy: “Reality is always kinder than we think it is.”  Intellectual courage often requires questioning our thinking. 

Intellectual courage also involves the choice to accept the circumstances of our lives, whilst clearing away the mental phantoms standing in our path towards creating what we want in our life and in the lives of our children.  My daughter and I have read Byron Katie's children's book together, which helps teach younger children (ages 4-10) the concept of 'questioning your thinking'...a self-reflective intellectual skill kids typically begin to develop around age 7.  I have also used this book with children I've treated as a child/family therapist who are dealing with worry, anxiety, or social distress. 

Here's a quick test, when you ask a young child to sing "Happy Birthday" to themselves (in their own heads), you will likely hear them sing "Happy Birthday to you!...out loud and proud! But, around age 7, when you ask a child to sing the song to themselves, you will not hear anything...that's the beginning of inner dialogue!  Therefore, especially when my kids were young, I was very mindful of speaking lovingly to them...knowing full well our dialogue would soon become part of the background track for their own inner dialogue.