From Fear to Possibility

Of all the people with whom I’ve worked, Rosie is someone who left a clear impression on me.  If you saw Rosie on the street, you’d probably give her some extra room and avoid eye contact.  But if you had the opportunity to know her, she was a kind and endearing person.

Rosie suffered from severe anxiety.  Her anxiety was so severe that she walked hunched over, looking down, and was very stiff.  When she’d sit, she’d just rock back and forth.  As I said, her anxiety was severe.

More than a quarter of people experience anxiety disorders in their lives.  Most of us experience anxiousness at times, like before a speech or a job interview.  But when it begins to interfere with how we live, then that’s a sign of a real problem.  That happens to a lot of us.  Rosie was much more anxious than most.  Her anxiety made other people uncomfortable.

Rosie was a client in my private practice as a therapist nearly twenty years ago.  In working with her, I often used hypnosis.  She’d sit in a reclining chair and without hypnosis, she’d rock and bounce and couldn’t be still.  But once in the trance of hypnosis, she was quiet, peaceful, and calm.

I learned that Rosie loved classic movies, especially musicals.  Her favorite was The Sound of Music.  While she was in hypnosis, I invited her to join Maria in the Sound of Music.  In the privacy of my office, Rosie would run with her arms extended singing, “The hills are alive with the sound of music!”  She’d gently sway in time to other songs.  She experienced great joy in those moments.  Unfortunately, she couldn’t hold that comfort when not in trance.  She’d quickly revert back to an anxious state.

Most people are able to learn to control anxiety.  While there are a variety of ways to treating anxiety, including medications, a typical approach is to learn to identify the cause of anxiety and to learn to respond in other ways to what’s happening.

We live in a world in which many people are anxious.  The possibility of nuclear war seems possible in ways that it hasn’t for decades.  The future of countries and governments is unsure. Many people face huge amounts of debt. What about drugs, terrorism, random violence and so many other worries?  Yes, anxiety is probably a rational response to many of the problems that face the world.  On top of that, most of us feel powerless in resolving any of these problems.

When our anxieties get the best of us, they lead us to fear.  Ultimately, fear immobilizes us and prevents us from finding ways to address our anxieties.  Fear is paralyzing.  We want to hide and not be seen or somehow escape.  When fear becomes pervasive, we find that, much like Rosie, we behave in ways that cut us off from others and prevent us from appreciating life.

We live in a time when people experiencing fear often characterizes life.  There are personal fears and insecurities, like wondering if one will find love, happiness, or health in the future.  But there are other fears and anxieties related to political chaos, random violence, and economic stability.  These fears need to be acknowledged and faced.

In the face of fears and anxieties, I remember the many times Jesus told his followers:  Do not be afraid.  Instead, he admonished his followers by saying that fear is useless; that what is needed is trust.  Further, love overcomes all fear.  In other words, we get past our fears when we engage with others, build trusting relationships, and learn to accept others out of loving respect in the midst of our differences.

Perhaps the best antidote to the fears and anxieties that pervade life today begins with a simple affirmation.  In his first inaugural address as President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt immortalized a profound affirmation about fear:  “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”  Affirming this perspective, we then have the possibility to reach out to others for both companionship and community.  By creating connections with others, both those who are like us and those who stretch us beyond our usual levels of comfort, we are empowered to embrace life and be people who live in ways that create possibilities for the future.


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© 2018, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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