Want to Face Your Fear?

Most modern-day anxiety is a by-product of our ancient brains. Like the whac-a-mole game, the mind’s alarm system is doing what it’s designed to do. Discover what happens when you don’t play the game.

There are countless tips and tricks to consider when it comes to overcoming a fear. Everything from imaging exposure to the big “F” to taking it on the anxiety-producing source in increments.

Let’s say you have a fear of elevators. You might imagine pressing the button to the elevator, hearing the doors swoosh open, and stepping inside the machine, all while you remain at home. Or perhaps you stand in front of the elevator one day and the next, press the button to go on, observing any anxiety that shows up (i.e., a racing heart, sweaty palms, etc.) with each increased exposure.

Whatever tactic you choose, there are two things worth noting:

  1. You have to SIT WITH any discomfort to overcome said fear.
  2. The fear isn’t real.

Fear is generated by the thoughts we think based on the experiences we have. Fear is your mind playing tricks on you in order, (so the mind falsely, well thinks) to protect and help you survive.

There are those who love a scary horror flick and loathe the idea of public speaking. Yet both activities manifest some kind of adrenaline. It is the mind’s interpretation of each event that makes all the difference, determining which you perceive as fun and which as frightening.

The brain is an organ, no different than the heart or kidneys. It has a job. It thinks. Our ancestors depended on the mind to protect us, flooding us with flight-or-fight catecholamine activity to help us survive a grizzly bear heading toward us. 

But we are no longer living as our ancestors did. There are no wild beasts coming after us as we sleep in a field. Our brains, however, have not adopted to our modern-day world of indoor plumbing and central air. 

Our brains aren’t cruel. They are like puppies with a new chew toy. As Dr. Amy Johnson writes (author of Just a Thought):

Our minds are “a very smart machine that isn’t always wise, but it loves you.”

Fear can’t sit still when you face it. It changes form. The emotion we feel is real, but the thought behind it can change. You can talk to your busy mind as you would an overtired child whose had too much sugar:

“I know you [mind] think I’m in danger, but it’s really okay. I got this.”

If you sit long enough with the fear, the fear will morph into something new. The fear of touching an elevator button will change to the fear of getting on the elevator to the fear of allowing the elevator doors to close. Your mind will continue to generate new ways to protect you since that’s what a mind does.

Discomfort shows us “psychological experience is being mistaken for something solid, personal, and true…. When we get lost in our mind’s narrative and temporarily forget who-we-are, which we often do, we feel discomfort. Discomfort is the built-in alarm that alerts us to our misidentification.” Dr. Amy Johnson

Take comfort in the discomfort; allow your beautiful mind do what it is meant to do, knowing it is manufacturing worst-case-scenarios to unnecessarily protect you. Watch it compare, compete, create negative bias, warn, exaggerate, and sit with any negative sensations that may arise within your body. You’ll know you’re on the right track when you notice new fears pop up. Just like the original fear, your higher self knows they are all illusions.

*Source: Just a Thought: A No-Willpower Approach to Overcome Self-Doubt and Make Peace with Your Mind

Ferberizing Your Teen

Ferber-izing is a self-soothing technique where young children are taught to self-comfort when it comes to bedtime. The Ferber Method is a behavioral tool also to be considered for older children.

A mom is in the mall with her toddler and preschooler. The preschooler sees the Tollhouse Cookie sign, the image of a drool-worthy chocolate chip cookie displayed against the familiar yellow background. Her preschooler points to the confectionary delight and says:

            “I want a cookie.”

The mom sighs. “No.”

            The preschooler whines, “But mommy, I want the cookie.”

            “It’s almost dinnertime.” Mom reasons.

            Now the toddler, bound in his stroller, points to what his older brother wants. “Cookie.”

            “No. No cookies.” (Mom looks like she needs a nap.)

            Now both boys are whining for the cookie. The preschooler stomps his foot. The toddler bears an expression that is akin to someone losing his puppy.

            Mom gives another audible sigh and says, “Fine. Only one cookie each.”

            The only seconds ago storm of emotions felt by the young children is gone, their grins bright enough to light up the sky.

            End scene.

            Unfortunately, the scene above isn’t fiction. Years ago, that very event took place with me as the observer, my friend as the mom to her two young boys. I remember silently judging my friend:

            How could she just give into her boys? Doesn’t she understand that she’s teaching them to walk all over her? 

            Of course, it’s easy to judge when you aren’t the one who’s sleep-deprived and in the line of proverbial fire. After all, it wasn’t my kids puffing out their adorable cheeks in frustration, their large, innocent eyes begging for a little treat.

            There’s a technique, invented by Richard Ferber, called The Ferber Method or Ferberization. The technique’s goal is for young children to learn self-soothing—specifically regarding “sleep-training,” by allowing children to cry for specific, predetermined intervals before receiving external comfort.

Watching my friend next to the Tollhouse Cookie Company with her young children made me wonder if we can’t extend this idea of “Ferberizing” to our daily interaction with children.

So, I applied The Ferber Method to my own children over the years, allowing them to sit with the very things they did not want to sit with in an effort to grow. Some examples include:

  • If my son wanted pancakes, having him crack the very eggs he feared cracking.
  • Bringing my child to an animal shelter when he was reluctant to be near or touch dogs.
  • Apologizing to another child he hurt (despite never meaning to)

And then…they were teenagers…

Who knew teenagers could use some Ferberizing??

Ferberizing is based on the idea of self-soothing. Teens face a panoply of challenges and stressors that foster a great need for self-soothing.

Only the shape and form of Ferberizing looks different than it does at 5 or 10 years old. Young children may have the tantrums that parents can resolve to walk away from (i.e., the screaming meltdown in the grocery store); teens may turn to drugs or alcohol or fall into a bad peer group for self-soothing.

What can we do? We can be present; we can listen without judgment; we can remind them we are there for them and support them, loving them unconditionally.

But here’s the tough part:

We have to accept where our kids are, regardless of where that is and what that looks like. And just like those young children at the Tollhouse Cookie Company, we need to let them experience their physical, verbal, or spiritual tantrum in order for them to grow. We need to let our teens figure it out (while reminding them we are always there to listen and advise—when asked!).

The instinct is to want to fix, to have our children grin like my friend’s young kids did once they knew cookies were in their imminent future. But the “fix” is a short-term gain with long-term consequences. Sure, the cookie will taste sweet in the moment, but the lessons learned were:

 If I make enough noise, I get my way.

Mom is easy to walk all over.

Mom’s job is to please me.

Teenagers are much more subtle when it comes to “pushing” for what they want (i.e., money, a car, a later curfew, etc.) Get comfortable with your own boundaries while letting them know you are there for them—a balancing act, for sure. The more you put the onus on them, the more you are nurturing their autonomy, their ability to self-regulate.