I was talking with friends the other night about fear and the way it affects our lives. I grew up in what might charitably be called “a funky family,” and I was left with some behaviors and beliefs that aren’t helpful. Over time, I’ve discovered that most of these unwanted character traits are fear-based.

This makes sense, because when you are a little kid and there’s yelling and door-slamming and incomprehensible behavior that is later denied, you do not feel safe. And there’s no sense of degree when you’re little. When you don’t get breakfast, you fear you might starve, and when your father forgets to leave the bar and come home to dinner, you fear he may never come home again and your whole family will be on the streets.

You learn the fine art of “catastrophizing” and spend hours lost in the dreaded land of “what if?” which, if you’re like me, will turn you into a control freak. No matter your age, at some level your inner child believes that if you are not in absolute control of absolutely everyone and everything, terrible things could happen.

You could die.

Managing, Manipulating, and Mothering

Your body is grown-up, but your emotions are stuck in childhood, over-reacting and trying desperately to control things you can’t control and have no business trying to control.

We are all familiar with the manager type, the one who knows just how everything should be and who insists on having everyone meet her demands. If she doesn’t get her way, she usually responds with rage. Anger is a great way to manipulate people. Also useful are shaming, guilt-tripping, and enabling — doing for others what they can do for themselves so that all are dependent on the “mothering” manipulator.

Such people can be unpleasant to be around. They haven’t healed  their childhood wounds and they are bleeding pain and fear all over everybody. Look at the man-child in the White House. A perfect example (if a highly pathological one).

Fear of Self-Care

At any rate, ever since my friends and I had this discussion about the ways that fear can mess us up, God keeps putting more examples in front of me. Today I realized that I’m afraid to take care of myself. Wow.

I was reading Frederick Buechner as follows:

“Love your neighbor as yourself is part of the great commandment. The other way to say it is, ‘Love yourself as your neighbor.’ Love yourself not in some egocentric, self-serving sense but love yourself the way you would love your friend in the sense of taking care of yourself, nourishing yourself, trying to understand, comfort, strengthen yourself . . . “Mind your own business” means butt out of other people’s lives because in the long run they must live their lives for themselves, but it also means pay mind to your own life, your own health and wholeness, both for your own sake and ultimately for the sake of those you love too. Take care of yourself so you can take care of them. A bleeding heart is of no help to anybody if it bleeds to death.”

I knew I struggled with self-care because of low self-worth — I mean if you don’t consider yourself of much value, why care for yourself, right? But I hadn’t thought about it in the context of fear and control. I mean seriously, if I am concentrating on myself and my own well-being, who is going to run the rest of the world? Who is going to make sure that something dreadful doesn’t happen?

Recovering from Fear in These Fearful Days

It may seem counter-intuitive, but the election of the man-child has helped me cope with my fears. I know I can’t control his madness, and so I have to “let go and let God,” as the twelve-steppers say. For my own sanity, I am allowing God to pry my clutching fingers from around the globe. I cannot save the world. I cannot control this.

“One day at a time” is another bit of twelve-step wisdom that helps me. Here again, the rise of the man-child has been a lesson for me. Catastrophizing about tomorrow or next week is entirely unnecessary when the president of the United States may daily taunt an unstable nuclear-armed dictator, purposefully escalate religious violence in the Middle East, intentionally increase global warming emissions, and attempt to undermine the free press or the justice system.

The words of Jesus are a lifeline for living in the age of trump: “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

The upshot of releasing fear and control to a higher power is that I don’t have to spend my days fretting about tomorrow and trying to control the uncontrollable. Instead I have time to focus on my own self-care.

I think I’ll put on some Christmas music and cook up a pot of healthy veggie soup on this snowy afternoon.

Practicing self-care

“Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.”    — Jesus