first a story…
This morning I brought both my boys to the dentist for their cleanings. After a while, a Mom and Grandma came in with a boy who looked to be about 6 and his little sister who couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5. She was a little thing, but I took notice of her because her eyes were wide with fear.
Her brother went straight over to the play center in the waiting room, but the sister plopped herself down on one of the chairs and crossed her arms defiantly in front of her chest. She refused to answer her grandmother’s urgings to go play with her brother. I thought anyone could see that that was the LAST thing she would be interested in doing. This little one was ready to make a break for it. I didn’t want to stare at her so I looked over at her shoes, sticking out like little sticks over the edge of the chair. Her patent leather Mary Jane’s were visibly shaking in fear.
stuck in fear
It was at that moment I was called in to talk to the dentist. At the same time, the hygienist walked past me and approached the waiting family. She may as well have been the grim reaper though, because the moment the little girl saw scrubs coming at her, she went from a low-grade panic to a wild-eyed and cornered shrieking banshee.
I’m not going! I’m going to sit right HEREEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!
She was caught in the middle of a fear shit-storm and the accompanying breakdown of logic and reason. Once inside the receptionist told me that the little girl is fine once she’s in the chair; it’s just that she refuses to come in and last time they had to carry her in screaming bloody murder.
As we walked outside to go, I was astonished at the little one had nearly sprung herself free! She had two hygienists and her entire family surrounding her. Her eyes darted defiantly from hygienist to her Mom to her grandmother. To their pleas she was shaking her head ‘no.’ And then she looked at me.
walking toward fear
I gambled on a hunch and said to her,
This is my son, Jacob. You can see what s big boy he is. He’s been getting his teeth cleaned for 14 years and HE can walk you in to get your teeth cleaned.
We all looked at Jacob and then back to her, thinking; will this work? The two of them stared at each other, wordless, contemplating the position I had just put them in for a few moments. And then, I saw just the slightest softening around her little eyes – and I saw my opportunity; “Go on, Jacob
The two of them stared at each other, wordless, contemplating the position I had just put them in for a few moments. And then, I saw just the slightest softening around her little eyes – and I saw my opportunity; “Go on Jacob, take her hand.”
He reached out his hand to her, and true to her defiant spirit; the little one did not reach out to take his hand, BUT she took a brave step forward; full of dignity and wounded pride. She was conceding her battle.
We ALL hold onto fear and even though it takes us, prisoner, we feel somehow a tiny sense of loss when we overcome it, right? That’s the loss of attachment. We all stared, speechless – as they walked in together. When my son came out of the treatment room he got a standing ovation from the staff.
someone to walk beside you
I know this little girl because I WAS her. Like her, I was afraid of the hygienist; and about a million other things, too. But unlike her, I didn’t express my fear because I was even too afraid of that; which is why I particularly loved watching that little girl triumph over her fear this morning because it reminded me about the benefits of expressing your fears.
why express your fears
Expressing your fears develops a self-awareness of your fear struggle patterns. That awareness can then foster creative solutions to facing your fears over time. As adults, we aren’t screaming our heads off the dentist office anymore of course, but our adult fears can still lock into us and cause a chain reaction of actions or inactions, delay tactics, avoidance maneuvers, or clever passive aggression. It’s in these less obvious adult states of fear reactions that it’s really helpful to acknowledge that you’re feeling fear and acting out of fear. You can say it out loud. Call a friend. Write it down. Acknowledge it in whatever way feels right. Now that you’ve acknowledged it, you can look at it and see what the fear really needs from you.
The little girl’s biggest fear was walking toward the hygienist chair, not actually being IN the chair. She is unable to walk herself in. No amount of rationale can convince her otherwise. But maybe, just maybe, a kind stranger who is big and strong makes her feel like she can do it herself. By emulating this process of acknowledgment and problem-solving you are able to discover what empowers YOU and what you need to move forward. That is real and positive and worthy self-work.
how you walk toward fear best
There are LOTS of moments in life when you are asked to take that first step toward that which you dread – picking up the phone to break up, summoning the courage to tell the truth, quitting that job, getting that diagnosis, going to the doctor, saying goodbye, writing the letter, or asking for forgiveness.
Acknowledging and then expressing your fears in those moments is how you discover the tools in that panicked moment to press forward despite grip of fear. What you need will present itself like magic. Working with and through your fears in this way is a lifelong process along the path of self-discovery. What you need from yourself or others or both in fear-based moments will change over time. You may need a hand to hold, people to walk beside you, or maybe not either, but either way, acknowledge your fears if you find yourself proverbially screaming at the dentist’s office and then figure out how you can best move forward anyway.