Childhood Fears All Grown Up!

Do you still dread the dark or that feeling that something lies under your bed? Do you feel a particular anxiety when someone you’ve arranged to meet has not shown up at the appointed time? Does the idea of a confrontation make you feel overly anxious?

If you have such feelings of dread whenever these situations (or ones like these) arise despite the logical assurances that all will be well, then it is likely that you may be re-experiencing a fear from your past.

It is not uncommon for adults to experience feelings of anxiety and apprehension over things and/or situations that are attached to traumatic and fearful experiences from childhood. In fact, it is during childhood where lasting attitudes and perceptions about things and situations are largely formed. And these perceptions and attitudes can be carried well into adulthood.

However, these attitudes may not necessarily be positive to your ability to function fully and productively as an adult. In fact, it may actually impede you. It is therefore important to recognize the possible sources of things you fear even if it means going back to re-assess one’s childhood.

Many experts agree that as long as these issues remain unresolved, the fear one experiences now will never truly be addressed, and keeps a person from realizing his full potential.

However, it is often easier said than done. It is actually easier to attribute a source of fear to something that exists and makes sense now, rather than admitting a childish fear. This initial embarrassment has to be overcome in order to get to the root of one’s fears. The process of recognition, confrontation, reconciliation and separation needs to be experienced for the fears to be truly resolved.

For example, feelings of excessive anxiety (if not anger) over people who do not show up at an appointed time may have taken root from a childhood experience. It might be possible that at one time, as a child, someone had promised to arrive at a given time. The child may have put so much weight in that person’s arrival that when the appointed time came, it delivered a crushing blow of disappointment and abandonment – feelings that could be carried over well into adulthood.

Another situation of a childhood fear manifesting itself in an adult may be the fear of confrontations. It is likely that an individual who avoids conflict to a fault does so because of traumatic associations with confrontations. For example, this person as a child could have been witness to several arguments between adults (possibly his parents), which could have escalated into physical injury or one of the parties, if not himself as well. Much as this person, now an adult, would want to forget this experience, he / she may recall it unconsciously every time the possibility of a conflict comes up.

These two situations are hypothetical but nevertheless still strike a familiar chord with many adults. For most people, however, the process stops at recognition. They acknowledge that something similar happened to them in their past, but they deny this ever having to do with how they behave now.

While it is true that one cannot fully attribute one’s behavior now with something that happened over 10 years ago, it cannot be denied that past experiences heavily dictate our actions in the present and future. And if these experiences have, at least, the potential in hampering the full productivity of an adult, it needs to be addressed and confronted.

Behavioral therapy follows the principle of gradual exposure to the issue. As one cannot completely learn something within a brief period of time, the same can be said about unlearning or uncovering. By gradually addressing the childhood source of one’s fears, the person can come to terms in manageable amounts. As his / her tolerance for facing the fear increases, a person can eventually confront the fear and address it fully.

Addressing a fear is simply the acknowledgement that the fear exists, instead of denying it. By affirming it, the person gains a tangible (something he can hold on to) foothold on his fears. This in itself is a big step. Once that first step is made, a specific response can be solicited. In the case of the abandoned child, the adult can acknowledge the fear by specifically mentioning what happened and how he felt at that time.

The next step comes in reconciliation and separation. This is where the adult establishes that how he felt in the past regarding the things he feared remain in the past. While he / she reconciles the fact that the child and him are the same person, he / she, as an adult can choose to react differently to those fears — i.e. to no longer be afraid.

The duration for such a process varies with each person. For some, the aid of a therapist is not necessary. Take the positive steps of recognizing your fear, confronting the source of the fear, reconciling your historical situation and choosing to separate today’s circumstances from your past history and you will be less afraid and ready to realize your full potential.


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