When I was little I had plenty of fears– I was afraid of the monster under my bed so I would get a running start from the hallway and then catapult myself into bed from what, at the time, felt like 6 feet away. I was also afraid of the dark so my night light came in handy during these launches onto safer, higher ground. In session with a young person yesterday, I asked her if we could have a conversation about her fears. With hopes to encourage her honesty I admitted that it would take a long time for me to explain all of my own fears. “You mean it would take a long time to talk about what you were scared of when you were my age?” she asked. Nope. I explained that, even now as an adult, I still have many fears. She didn’t look completely shocked by this, but I can’t be completely sure she believed me either.
As I reflected on this conversation in therapy yesterday and another chat I had with a friend last night, it occurred to me that I don’t hear many of my peers talk about their fears; at least not with any amount of sincerity or transparency. Facebook posts—those aren’t about my friends’ fears. Texts I may receive from friends throughout the day—I can’t remember many of those being admissions of fear. Conversations, even deep ones–not many include confessions of fear.
On the other hand, during therapy sessions I participate in many conversations with clients about this difficult subject. I have advanced training in anxiety disorders, and I have experience working with phobias so fears are a common subject at my office. There is a big difference between phobias, anxiety disorders, and everyday fears but I would argue there is a commonality in that these topics are most frequently unspoken.
As a therapist who believes in the art and power of conversation, I would like to make a simple suggestion. Let’s talk more about what we fear. Let’s be less critical of others when they share what keeps them awake at night. Let’s open the door for children AND adults to admit to being afraid. Let’s do this in our everyday lives and conversations.
Meanwhile, in the therapy world there is plenty of evidence indicating that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure and response prevention (ERP) are the best treatment protocols for anxiety disorders. I don’t want to suggest that evidence-based practice methods be abandoned, but I would argue that a simple conversation at home might be the best place to start healing. We are living in a world that praises strength and discourages vulnerability. Maybe someone wants to tell you what scares them—maybe your own child is too afraid to say what haunts them because they aren’t hearing anyone else do it.
So, let me just tell you. I am afraid of many things. How about you?
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