“Don’t be afraid.” “Don’t live in fear.” “Don’t feel terror.”
This isn’t just the American way. It isn’t just the way of the West.
It’s likely the way of the world.
And contrary to the perhaps well-meaning intent of those who say it,
teach it, encourage it … rather than helping us,
that philosophy and way of life cripples us, individually and communally.
After the attack …
After the recent terrorist attack in New York City, many people responded by saying things like Mayor Bill DeBlasio said on the “Morning Joe” television program:1
“And I talked to a lot of them Joe, I talked to a lot of them. I’ve got to tell you their attitude was one of resilience, strength, persistence. They’re not going to let terrorists change our way of life. It made me very proud of New York City.”
What if their attitude wasn’t one of resilience, strength, and persistence? What if it was one of defending against the fear they felt? What if it was a coping mechanism to cope with their fear without feeling it, working with it, utilizing it to move toward real resilience and strength?
And what if our way of life does need to change? What if the very occurrence of a terrorist attack is a mirror to us of something we need to examine within ourselves, something within that we need to heal or resolve, something in our lives – inside or out – that does need to change? Perhaps even our attitudes about feeling our fear?
Mayor DeBlasio continued with:2
“But to the point you made – we made a decision last night to keep those schools open, to keep people on their everyday lives because, look, it’s so important to not give in, to not blink when we are affronted. And I got to tell you – I’m sorry those kids have to go by that site but I also think it says to them, we can overcome this, we are stronger than this, we’re better than this.”
What is so important about not giving in to feeling our feelings? What’s so important about not blinking when we are affronted? Why are we so afraid of feeling our feelings? That’s the important question to ask ourselves: How and why have we created a world in which we are more afraid of our feelings than anything else?
How and why does this fear of our feelings get passed on generation after generation after generation …
in families … and from there, into societies? 3
How has it become a part of the fabric of our culture? Here’s a nutshell description of something that has a deep, destructive effect on all of us:
As babies and small children, pain and even more, trauma, are unbearable. When we’re that young, we will feel and express our feelings for a time, but our reflex is to shut them down, cut them off, bury them … even moreso if our parents don’t respond to our feelings and our expression of pain in a healthy, soothing, way. Even moreso if our parents don’t take our feelings seriously. Even moreso if our parents caused our painful feelings. Even moreso if our parents are triggered by our feelings. Even moreso if our parents can’t tolerate our feelings because they can’t tolerate their own. Even moreso if our parents’ parents were the same way with them when they were babies and young children.
This can take place without a word spoken. Just putting a crying baby in the crib and walking out, closing or perhaps slamming the door behind you. Standing over the child in a threatening way. Refusing to respond at all, and just going on about your business.
Of course it can take place with words, too. Telling the baby to ‘shut up.’ Telling the child, “Don’t cry or I’ll give you something to cry about.” Calling a little one a “scaredy cat” or a “big baby” when the child is crying to express feelings. Telling a crying child “you’re too sensitive.” Insisting, “boys don’t cry,” or “big girls don’t cry.” Or even imposing, “People in our family don’t cry.” All of these interfere with a child’s natural way of feeling and expressing feelings. All of these rupture the connection to self and to knowing self, within a little person – and then the big person that child becomes.
This happens to too many children in our world. More than we know. More than we can even imagine … but need to imagine.
And once a child’s natural flow of feelings and expression is cut off, that child will then impose the same on others. Peers, partners, and children in his/her life.
This gets passed onto others and also taken out into society. And then all the children, now adults, in society make this the societal norm. Just as our leaders have done in the face of terrorist attacks. And then the leaders are re-enacting what they experienced in their own childhoods … but this time with their citizens. And then the leaders are also re-enacting what the children-now-adults experienced in their young lives – not responding to the real feelings their citizens are having. And the citizenry responds in the re-enactment like automatons, not feeling, just functioning to please the authority figures in their lives.
So what’s so good about not giving in? What’s so good about not blinking? What’s so good about not feeling? It makes it possible for the authority figures to control us. It makes it possible for the authority figures to not be confronted with their own feelings, fears, and re-enactments from their childhoods. And it makes it possible for us not to be confronted with our own feelings, fears, and re-enactments from our childhoods.
Leaders saying “Don’t Be Afraid!”
Again after the recent New York City attack, Stephen Colbert said on his show: “New Yorkers will never live in fear.” How many millions of people watch Stephen’s show? How many millions of people are affected by him every day? How many millions of people take what he says to heart? And for how many of those millions is his statement a repeat of what they grew up with?
Our leaders can be people in every arena of life who impact us. Comedians, media people, spiritual leaders, doctors, business leaders, and more. And this isn’t only occurring in America … UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on “Morning Joe” after the terrorist attack in London:4
“The city is now getting on with its business.
All our transportation systems are running.
Parliament is continuing its work.
It is business as normal.
That is the way to defy these people.
The worst way to lose the war on terror is to be terrified for a second.
We are not terrified and we will go on.”
When I heard him speak, I could hear his parents teaching him this. I could hear him being told “don’t be terrified for a second.” I could hear him being told “You are not terrified and you will go on.” I could hear him making decisions to not be terrified so he would win, not lose. I could hear him making childhood decisions to defy those who terrify him … and imposing those things from his childhood on his followers.
What is so good about defying?
In my experience as a depth psychotherapist, I have witnessed the damage caused by defiance. I have seen people who have used defiance as a defense in childhood when they needed it, but when they carried it into adulthood, it has undermined them, sabotaged their possibilities, and caused harm to them and others. Maybe it saved their lives as children. Maybe it helped them feel powerful to be able to be defiant – although in truth, it was pseudo-power. But as adults, there is a more truthful, integritous way to take care of ourselves than to defy.
A related example: Many years ago I worked with someone. I’ll call her Sharon. She was in a group of therapists I was leading. Over time, she shared that she had a successful practice, was close to her family of origin, had a family of her own, and numerous friends. She didn’t reveal many wounds from childhood. She seemed to the group members to be, as people would say, ‘together,’ and was respected by all of them. I saw all of this, but I was uncomfortable. Something wasn’t revealed yet that reflected itself in the angry set of Sharon’s jaw, the way she was in her body, and the invisible wall she put between herself and others, including me.
One day in group, a very long time after the group was formed, following another member’s deep feeling anger work, Sharon said to him, meaning to support him: “The best revenge is living a good life.” There it was. The clue I needed to what wasn’t in alignment for Sharon. The clue for what was distorted and unhealed. The “good life” she was living was her way of carrying out revenge. On whom?
Now I could offer her help I wasn’t able to offer before … so she could heal to the root the revenge she was taking and the wound(s) from which it originated. As we worked deeply, her jaw softened over time. She held herself differently in her body – not like she was fighting all the time. The invisible wall thinned and thinned allowing people to be truly close with her, not just the guise of closeness. And the good life she was living was real, an act of truth and love, not a guise for revenge.
The impact of revenge and the impact of defiance are very similar… both often hidden under a guise of goodness and both harmful and destructive, each in its own way.
More Leaders And Citizens Saying, “Don’t Be Afraid!”
After the attacks in London, Theresa May said:5 “We are not afraid and our resolve will never waiver in the face of terrorism.”
After the terror attacks in Brussels, the Archbishop of Wales counseled, “Don’t be afraid.”6
Following the Charlie Hebdo and Hypercacher shootings in France, citizens of Paris were heard repeating, “Meme pas peur,” the meaning of which is roughly, “Who, me, scared?”7
Michelle Obama, in her final speech as first lady insisted: “So don’t be afraid —- you hear me, young people? Don’t be afraid.” 8
To top it all off … we have accepted Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s famous quote, from his first inaugural address, as almost an American motto:9
“This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
And my response, from decades of helping people do inner healing, from a lifetime of seeing the impact of an individual’s wounds on society …What if the only thing we have to fear is not fear itself, but our fear of our fear? What if our fear of our fear keeps us disconnected from ourselves, from our feelings, from the life that flows within us, from the truth of who we are? And from the possibility of the healing that can help us move on in truth and integrity?
It is not fear that cripples us …
And what if Roosevelt’s fear of fear was his own personal fear, from his own young wounds? And what if he thought it was his fear that paralyzed him? What if he transferred his own experience onto our country and added his own personal injunction not to feel to the cultural injunction against feeling that already existed?
It is not fear that cripples us. It is the fear of our fear, our burying it beneath our awareness, and from that buried fear, our creating frightening things in our lives and our world – without even realizing it. It is not fear that cripples us. It is the fear of our fear and the resulting inability to safely feel it, process it, utilize it for healing, and to let that help us move on openly, naturally and organically, rather than hardened, defensively and forcibly.
We can utilize these times we are in to weave a new underlying fabric of our societies:
From one that cuts us off from our feelings and therefore from ourselves
to one that supports us to feel our feelings safely –
name them, know which are for just feeling and expressing safely,
which are to use as healing,
and which are to act on in safe and healthy ways.
From one that cuts us off from our feelings and therefore from ourselves
to one that helps us, through our feelings,
reconnect to ourselves, each other,
and the Earth we live on.
I can imagine our world with that new fabric of feeling.
Will you create it with me?
© Judith Barr, 2017
NOTE: If you are from the Middle East or the Far East and know examples of leaders who have told their people not to be afraid, please send the examples to me. It will help me to help people see that this occurs all over our world, and the effect it has on us.
NOTE 2: Feel the difference between what the leaders above have said to us and what German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after a terrorist attack in Berlin: “”We do not want to allow ourselves to be paralysed by terror. It might be difficult in these hours, but we will find a strength to continue living life as we want to live it in Germany, in freedom and openness and together.” She didn’t say, “Don’t be afraid.” Instead she said, “Don’t be paralysed by terror.” What a difference to have a leader who doesn’t banish our feeling our fear, who encourages us not to be paralyzed by our fear, who acknowledges it might be difficult, and who offers to us a way to accomplish this – find our strength.
3 You can read more about this dynamic in other blog posts on Polipsych. And you can hear more about it on the mp3 or audio cassette, Feeling: A Form of Prayer, part of the series: The Spoken Word on Behalf of the Feminine, for men and women alike. http://judithbarr.com/audio-tapes/feeling-a-form-of-prayer/