I keep up a good “front.” Most people I know wouldn’t believe that I feel scared most of the time. Vague uneasiness, nervousness, and terror are common when you don’t know what is going to happen next and you expect something negative to occur.

If you grew up in a family battle zone, you never could predict when the next verbal or physical barrage would occur. You learned a protective alertness (which may now show up as continuous tension) so you could take appropriate action when the attack came. You may have learned to be a peacemaker, to run and hide, or to fade into the woodwork.

For some people, lack of approval can be as potentially frightening as attack. If you grew up under the constant threat of emotional of physical abandonment, you probably learned to carefully intuit what others expected and meet their expectations quickly and automatically.

Although you no longer live in your family of origin, the alertness patterns you created for self﷓protection become an integral part of your personality.

The child you once were, sometimes called your “Inner Child“ or your “child self,“ doesn’t know that you are now a grownup, living in a different world, with far more resources than you ever had when you were actually a child. (Another way to describe this is that your brain reactions are permanently altered by traumatic experiences.)

Fear is a healthy and natural response to the perception of danger. It is our recognition of physical sensations caused by the release of chemicals (adrenalin, etc.) in our bodies. These chemicals increase our alertness and prepare us to either run from or defend against a threat.

When we were small, vulnerable children, many things seemed threatening. If we lived in a healthy family, we could call on our parents to protect us from these frightening experiences. They would hold us or tell us what to expect and what to do.

In distressed families our parents often created the threats in the first place, and gave us no information about protection. We learned to always stay alert — afraid. We had no place to go for protection, and did our best to protect ourselves.

Now our fears are often triggered by experiences that activate the old brain patterns. Usually these experiences instantly remind us of the things we feared when we were children. Fear is a signal to pay attention and prepare to deal with any threat. As a grownup you can learn to do this consciously, and to do whatever is necessary to reassure and protect your own child self.

When you feel scared (nervous, fearful, terrified, etc.), answer these questions:

  • Is there something happening or going to happen that is dangerous? If so, what is the danger. Is it real or imagined? If not, is there something I am excited about? (The physical sensations of fear and excitement are very similar.)
  • How likely is it that the danger will cause me harm? (You may need information to make this assessment — ask questions.)
  • Is there anything I can do to protect myself?
  • If the very worst thing I can imagine happens, what will I do?

These question help the mature parts of you take charge of the situation. If you are still scared, your child self probably needs reassurance. Try telling him/her that you are a grownup now and will protect him/her. If this doesn’t work, ask someone who cares about you for reassurance, information, protection, and/or a hug.

Some things are frightening to almost everyone, and we need each other for support. At other times, we are trying to cope with fears from the past. Feeling afraid is a signal that you need something, not something to be ashamed of. Learn to figure out what you need and take action to get it.

Excerpted from I Don’t Need Therapy, but Where Do I Turn for Answers?

[tags]Emotional Problems, Personal Growth, Self-Improvement,Inner Child, CoDependency, Self Help[/tags]