A mother’s fear becomes her son’s irrational fear
I’d like to start with a story to illustrate how we take on other people’s fears, which actually makes them an irrational fear for us.
One Easter, my partner and I were visiting his family. Next door to them lived a family with two young boys, and one day the youngest boy decided to climb as high as he could up a very tall liquid amber tree in their backyard.
Now the little guy climbed right to the top of the tree where the branches start to thin out, which is something I loved to do when I was a kid.
I don’t remember exactly who noticed him up there or maybe whether he called out to his brother below. But at some point, his father came out of his workshop and noticed the little guy up the tree and his brother at the bottom looking up at him.
His father asked him how he’d got up there and could he come down. He resisted at first, and then started to make his way back down. But before he’d got very far, his mother, who was an anxious and nervous woman, came out of the kitchen and looked up to see her young son up the tree.
She was overcome with fear and panic and started yelling at him to come down and burst into tears. Of course, the state of their mother’s distress made both little boys upset and the little boy up the tree became paralysed with fear and became stuck.
He literally couldn’t move, which only exacerbated the mother’s fear and she became more panicked.
My partner’s brother ended up having to climb up the tree to help the little boy down but he had a death grip on the tree when he first got to him and he took a lot of coaxing to come down.
It ended up being a traumatic experience for the whole family, but especially the little boy who’d climbed the tree and his mother. And the little boy’s nervous system will remember all of it.
It’s life events like this that can lead to fear of heights, fear of falling, etc. In this example, it’s obvious that it wasn’t really the little boys fear because he wouldn’t have climbed up the tree if he were scared. It was his mother’s fear, but due to her strong reaction, he was imprinted with her fear too.
Think about your own parents for a moment… Were they anxious or did they ever seem panicked? Did you pick up any irrational fears from them that make you feel anxious today?
I’ll give you a personal example of irrational fears
- My Mum has an irrational fear of public speaking and I think I’ve seen her stand up once, maybe twice, to say ‘thank you’ to family and friends for coming to a significant birthday party.
- My Dad, on the other hand, quite likes giving speeches and is generally quite good at them.
- And I have a very strange mixture of both where I feel anxious to the point of feeling nauseous before doing a speech – sometimes for days, feel uncomfortable for the first few minutes, and at some point finally relax and enjoy it.
A tip to reduce anxiety and irrational fears
I do get nervous before I do a video blog, but I know that that is really my mother’s fear and not mine. And as soon as I remind myself of that, the anxiety lessens. I actually love teaching and sharing and that’s all I’m doing in these video blogs, so why wouldn’t I like it?
So, I invite you to play with that too. If you know that you get anxious or fearful probably due to family conditioning, tell yourself that it’s not yours and ‘hand it back.’
And I mean literally hand it back, saying something like: “This is not my fear and I’m giving it back to you.” And then see how that feels.