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Controlling Fear

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CONTROLLING FEAR

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

 

 

 

 

 

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Gratitude in Adversity

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GRATITUDE IN ADVERSITY:

In the room — it doesn’t much matter which room — there is pain.

There is the woman whose middle child died four months ago today. She doesn’t say boy or girl, adolescent or adult, just that her “middle child” has died.

“Thanks for sharing,” we say. Thanks for sharing your pain.

“The good thing is,” she says, “my husband and I are finally seeing a counselor, something he’s been promising to do for years.”

“My child has died . . . the good thing is” — who says that?

A younger woman flushes ruby-red with emotion as she tells us that her ‘tween daughter has been in and out of the hospital for two years since a virus invaded her heart and caused brain damage. “I just got fired from my job for missing too much work,” she says. “But I have my priorities.” She straightens her back. “I’m grateful to have so much extra time with her while I’m job hunting,” she says. “It’s a gift.”

“Thanks for sharing,” we say.

A man holds his wife’s veiny hand and says he’s proud of himself for not giving in to obsessive worrying about her newly diagnosed immunodeficiency disorder that might cause permanent blindness or stroke. “I’m just grateful she finally got properly diagnosed and is home from the hospital where I can take care of her,” he says.

His wife gently retrieves her hand and places it on her heart, her other hand on her throat. (Later she tells me that she was doing Reiki on herself. I didn’t even know that was possible.) “I’m grateful that B put up a hummingbird feeder on the porch with the little overhang so I can sit out there on rainy mornings and do my meditation and watch the birds.”

“Thanks for sharing,” we all say.

A woman who was almost killed when she was hit by a car three years ago says the accident put her on “an emotional and spiritual healing path to joy I never dreamed of.” Then she laughs and says how appropriate it was that our group leader randomly chose the discussion topic of “gratitude in the face of adversity.”

We all laugh with her.

“We are survivors,” she says.

♥♥♥

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

— Rev. John Watson (pen name Ian Maclaren)

Trump’s Disagreement with Reality

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Trump’s Disagreement with Reality

You can disagree with a policy. You can disagree with an action. You can disagree with an interpretation or an assumption or even a worldview. But when you disagree with reality, you are either lying to others or lying to yourself.

Which category Mr. Trump’s disorder falls into is a mystery to me: probably both. I am not a psychologist (if I were, this election would have exploded my head months ago), but I am fascinated by what must go on in that orange head. 

One of my favorite moments during the presidential debate Monday night was Hillary’s line, “Donald, I know you live in your own reality.”

Bingo. I think that’s quite true.

A Big, Beautiful Wall

The Republican candidate’s brain seems to function like a second or third-grader’s. It’s motivated by wanting people to notice him and praise him, wanting to appear grand while always knowing underneath that he’s never going to be good enough to please Daddy.

I think he got emotionally stunted in elementary school and simply never grew into an adult who accepts and operates within reality. He does not have a moral center because he never matured enough to develop one. Instead, he built a “big, beautiful wall” around himself so that nothing and nobody could hurt him. He built it out of money and denial and meanness. And behind his wall, he hides from reality and launches tweets at anyone who disagrees with him.

Sadly, I believe his emotional immaturity and false reality ballooned into a personality disorder. At least one. But there I go again, trying to diagnose him. I have a terrible need to understand this entity that is threatening my country and the world.

Recovery is an Option, Mr. Trump

I wonder sometimes if the reason the man creeps so deeply into my psyche is that I can relate at some level. I struggle against the very same bugaboos that haunt him, the need for praise and recognition, the belief that my way is the only way, the insecurity that drives grandiosity — all driven by fears.

But I’ve worked crazy-hard to recover from my brokenness. It’s meant humbling myself and accepting hard truths. Through spiritual pursuits and practices, honest relationships, psychotherapy, and twelve-step recovery for various emotional addictions, I have escaped the house of mirrors with no true center where I used to live and am coming into an entirely new reality. One where I am good enough: beloved, even.

I get how emotional pain can leave you stranded in your own reality, isolated and afraid. I am sad for you, Donald.

Let’s Face Reality

But what of Trump’s followers? That’s a harder question and one that I  hesitate to address because I don’t want to come across as telling anyone that my reality is correct and theirs is incorrect. There’s enough of that going around, and it’s part of what’s bringing our country down.

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But please just take a big, self-reflective breath and think about this: How could you hear a man interrupt a woman over and over with “I never said that,” and “That’s not true,” and “Wrong, wrong,” without googling to find out who is telling the truth? Do you just assume that the male is always right? Or do you actually hate Clinton so much that you don’t want to know the truth — so much that you would vote for a pathological liar over her? Yes, I grant you, she is not honesty personified. And she’s secretive. Almost all politicians become like that.

But, but . . . Donald is sick. Unwell. Unbalanced. How could you watch the debate and deny that reality?

Imagine the man who turned up at that debate talking to FOREIGN LEADERS, for heaven’s sake! Tell me, didn’t you feel even the teensiest bit of relief when Clinton spoke directly to the rest of the world, trying to reassure them that we have not lost our minds, that we will stand by our agreements and will not catapult into an alternate universe? To me, it felt like an adult had finally entered the room to restore order.

I don’t agree with all of Clinton’s policies or actions, but I want a grown-up in the White House. One who doesn’t make faces and yell and interrupt and insult people and live inside a second-grader’s fortress of lies.

In response to a WordPress word prompt: disagree.

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