Do you remember your first memory of fear? We all have a moment in life where we felt fear for the first time. That feeling can carry into other areas of our life, even when there is nothing to fear. Here is a true story of how I helped my daughter overcome and understand the role of fear.
My daughter H is a confident 9 year old. She has a strong sense of self and personal identity and rarely feels insecure. And so, when she does feel insecure, she has a very easy tell.
Her tell is when she clings onto me. Last night, instead of happily going to bed and quickly falling asleep on her own, she crawled into my bed next to me. She said she was afraid, but could not articulate what was making her feel so bothered.
She had recently commented on how the internet meme "Momo" made her feel afraid. She had seen an image of it and it deeply disturbed her. I assured her that Momo is not real, but I understood how, in her imagination, the feeling of fright Momo created was indeed very real to her.
Using my technique found in my book The Money Formula, I asked her, where do you feel fear in your body?
She said in her head. (She had been complaining of headaches recently and I have extensive coaching experience to know that people store unprocessed emotions in different parts of their bodies). I instructed her to use her imagination to pull the fear out of her head and into a jar in front of her. I then asked her to describe the fear.
She described that the fear was black with the consistency of scribbles (a tell-tale sign of body-mind disorganization).
I then asked her, "When was the first time in your life that you felt afraid?
She began to tell me a story. She said,
"When I was three, you and Daddy were putting up the Christmas tree. I walked over to the balcony and looked down to see an owl in a tree. Then, two boys threw a plastic bottle at the owl and flew away. I felt scared."
I said, "Look at the fear in the bottle and tell me what it was trying to tell you."
She said, "I don't know."
When clients tell me I don't know, it means that the information is not yet verbal, meaning that it has not yet entered into the verbal processing center of the brain.
I typically say, "Even if you were just making it up, what would it say?"
She said, "It's not real."
"What is not real?"
She said, "Fear. Fear is not real."
"Right," I said, "Because nothing bad happened to the owl or you."
"That's right," she replied, "It flew away."
"But it wasn't kind of the boys to throw the bottle at the owl, huh?"
"No," H answered.
"But, fortunately, the owl saw the bottle and took action and helped itself to get away from the threat."
"That's right," H responded.
"And you can take action, too, whenever you see unloving behavior," I reminded her.
"Yes, I can," she responded.
I said to her, "Look what you did tonight. You felt fear and you came for help. You shared with me how you felt and allowed me to help you. That's loving action and you did that all by yourself. Do you see how that you can do that now that you're older?"
"Yes," she replied thoughtfully to this new knowledge.
"You automatically know what to do, that's good!" I encouraged her, That's something to feel good about it."
I asked her, "Do you still feel that fear?"
"No, I don't feel it anymore," she responded.
I waited for her to say something, but she immediately fell asleep. So did I.
The next morning, I asked her if she felt any more fear. She said no and went about her morning. In such cases, when a child doesn't indicate interest in the stimuli (the bad memory or the feeling) it means they've moved on psychologically. Unless my child comes back to me with a need for help to address the issue, I allow her to go about her day.
As I was driving home from dropping the kids off at school, I heard a still small voice say, "The opposite of fear is not "love" in the sense that people mean. The opposite of fear is knowledge. Think of all the clients who have visited you. They were looking for knowledge. Knowledge helps people stop feeling afraid, to make decisions, to take informed action. Scared people are looking for truth. In that sense, truth is love. Because truth is unconditional - that truth is truth no matter what you see, hear, feel, or experience with your senses - love in that sense is unconditional."
As parents, we want to love our children. A part of loving our children is helping them uncover the truth and to live truthfully. Children experience emotions deeply and do not have the verbal capacity to express it. So, they feel it and express it (through violence, or yelling, or acting out). Parents, who are verbal, can help their children to express emotions in a healthy way through exploring the truth and reacting positively to truthful expressions.
In my daughter's sense, H expressed her truth through physical discomfort and through seeking comfort. Symptoms such as headaches, tummy aches, and self-comforting mechanisms such as hugging and hiding allow parents to recognize when their child needs help.
A child will not typically articulate, "Hey, I feel this intense emotion and it's overwhelming my parasympathetic nervous system, can you help me process this emotion so that I can understand myself and my feelings?"
So, when you see your child self-soothing, take it as an opportunity to help them and bond. You'll actually find a chance to build emotional intimacy, psychological safety, and create healthy coping mechanisms to stress.
I hope this helps you build a happy family.