Fear of the Dark

handsI had a client, a grown-up, who had a strong fear of the dark until he was twelve-years-old.  The way in which he got over it bears directly on parenting as an attitude and not just a state of having, or not having, children.

It all came to a head when, as a twelve-year-old, my client was baby-sitting his niece who was only three-years-old at the time.  It was time for her to go to bed, but she was frightened… of the dark.  While my client was himself scared, holding a three-year-old in his twelve-year-old arms, he sensed that he had to be the strong one for her.  

And so his love for his niece, along with his pride that wouldn’t allow him to be more scared than a three-year-old, motivated him to walk through all the big spooky house and its dark places with a crying child who he calmed by reassuring her that there was nothing to be afraid of.  It worked for her, and for him.  She was able to trust her beloved uncle and his assurances that the house was safe and that he could protect her, especially because there was nothing to protect her from.  But she wasn’t the only one who came to trust his message.

While the classic treatment for phobias (be it snakes, flying or the dark… or flying with snakes in the dark) is to confront one’s fear and ride out the urge to flee until the panic subsides and the brain comes to realize that the threat (that may have felt like immanent destruction) had been drastically exaggerated.  My client ended up giving himself the perfect treatment for his fear—and so by the end of that baby-sitting session his fear of the dark was over. 

And in a nutshell, this illustrates how parenting as an attitude of courage and generosity, of focus and caring about those beyond our own selves, facilitates our growth and development.  As parents we learn to take fuller responsibility; we learn to be fierce when we need to protect; we learn to be brave in the midst of teaching those in our care that it is right to trust the world and know that we can handle both the light and the dark.

So, lets dedicate today to confronting our fears (i.e. of our inadequacy, of uncertainty about the future, of whatever we sense we would be better off if we did not fear) and striving to provide what is needed, and let’s do this consciously in the service of all our collective children.  Giving what we ourselves might need, and giving what we did not get (be it compassion, patience or attention) liberates and empowers us, and it brings us toward our greater happiness, which in turn is a blessing for all the kids who cross our paths.

Namaste, Bruce

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