My daughter came into our room the other night after a really scary dream. Her description of it alone gave me the goose bumps. As she climbed in bed with me, and I wiped away her tears, I assured her that the image in her mind would pass, soon enough.
But she was still shaken by it come the next morning and into the next evening.
I could see the waves of fear undulate across her sweet face as the memory of it crept back into her consciousness.
“I can’t get it to go away,” she confessed to me. “No matter how hard I try.”
Ahhh… there it was: the trying to make it go away.
I explained to her how our thoughts are similar to the weather – the thunderstorms, the rain clouds, the breezes, the heat waves, the snow, etc. They come and they go, forever changing and shifting and moving along. And how, on a particularly dreary day, it might seem like the dreariness will never go away.
And yet, it does. It always does.
But no matter how much we dislike the snow or thunderstorms or whatever it may be, it does us no good to rally against it.
And the same goes for our thoughts, and especially fear.
Fear comes, fear goes. Scary thoughts come, scary thoughts go.
Nothing sticks forever.
It’s not that I don’t believe in the power of cognitive behavioral therapy – or intentionally challenging or changing the beliefs we hold or the things we tell ourselves.
But I know what it’s like to feel super anxious. And how much fear magnifies – and overwhelms us – when we feel helpless to stop it, and yet desperately try to do so.
And I wanted her to know what took me so very long to understand.
It’s not about banning fear – or getting the scary thought permanently out of our heads. It’s about witnessing our ability to handle it – to bounce back from those terrifying moments, one by one.
It’s our resilience in the face of fear that gives us power. And it starts with how we greet it.
I suggested to my daughter that every time the scary dream popped back into her head, she say to herself, “Hello, scary dream. There you are again. So happy you’re not real.”
And carry on, even if the feeling of fear remains with her in the moment.
When she later told me, “it’s back”, I, too, reacted as if I were expecting it – very nonplussed and completely confident in her ability to move through it.
Even if she isn’t yet.
Because when I name it and normalize the experience and assure her that she can handle it, I see a flicker of hope or relief or lightness in her face.
Of course, there is more support that my daughter needs right now as she navigates her ever-changing, and sometimes rather scary, world.
My work is hardly done.
And yet, it’s had me thinking about how easy it is for me, still, to get hijacked by fear myself. To forget to check it into its rightful place; To wish it away rather than see it as part of the human experience; To let it stop me instead of focusing on my ability to move through it.
Getting rid of fear is not the point. Nor is it necessary for living bravely and boldly.
It’s the relationship – the alliance – that we create with it that determines if it gets (and keeps) us down or not. It’s learning when fear is serving us (and there is a true danger that requires our immediate attention) and when fear needs to be acknowledged, but put on a back burner.
It might still stick around, but we’re no longer looking to it to tell us our next move.
We move despite its presence and without needing to banish it completely.
We trust that there is not only room for our fear, but that we can use it to fuel our brave.
Maybe some of my talk with my daughter was lost on her. But it wasn’t on me.
Because this is what we’re all up against.
And so, we must choose: either we spend our energies fighting the fear or running away from it — or we look it squarely in the eyes, and carry on the best we can…
Even if it has us shaking in our boots at the moment.