Why Be Afraid of Something You Want?

A world that can be explained even with bad reasons is a familiar world.
— Albert Camus

Why not be afraid of something you want? What’s wrong with setting goals that will challenge you and change your life? Aim higher, do better. I don’t know if we are afraid of what we want as much as we may fear what the process entails: change. The unfamiliar comes with some fear, some doubt, and some anxiety because it should. No one knows what to expect from the unknown.

According to Greek mythology, to create and commit to realizing a goal offended the Gods who, in turn, worked to thwart human striving so man would not encroach on territory reserved for them. When you set out to accomplish something you will be confronted with various difficulties. Problems will arise on the path that you must overcome.

We are all built like thermostats that regulate the temperature in a room. When cold air drops below the thermostat’s set-point, the heat fires. When heat exceeds the thermostat’s set-point, the air conditioner activates. We all have our own self-esteem set-point. When we experience too much success, we can quickly behave in ways that return us to our emotional set-point or where we feel most comfortable. Conversely, when we find ourselves uncomfortable and our boat sinking, we quickly begin to take actions necessary to restore us to our comfort zone or bail water.

We can’t outperform our sense of self. We will find a way to make our world match our  beliefs about who we are. When we attempt to change we can become fearful. Even if we act fearless by hiding our anxiety, it’s there and it reverberates in our spirits. It takes work to re-set ourselves so that we can tolerate increased success and accomplish our goals.

Courage appears to be the antidote to this human dilemma. Courage allows one to be afraid but  continue moving in the desired direction. Courage enables one to recognize and accept fear as a part of the human condition and be with it rather than escape it an abandon their goal.  From this perspective, fear does not have to prevent you from reaching your goals. On the contrary, fear is essential to helping you reach your goal. Without it you may not have a goal worth pursuing and you will never activate the courage necessary to proceed.


How Domestic Violence Can Effect Children

Children who experience domestic violence often grow into adults who have difficulty with authority figures.

It is important to remember, when frightened, as a first course of action, primates turn to each other rather than on each other. We do not burrow holes or hide or climb trees to escape. When we cannot turn to a bigger, stronger person for protection and support, it raises anxiety and fear in us.

Domestic violence poses a complicated problem because when a caregiver is frightening and violent it undermines our hard-wired need to connect. When our earliest caregivers are unapproachable we develop strategies to avoid them because they elicit disappointment and fear in us. One way to cope is to learn to become angrier and more violent than they are. Another way to cope is to flee or become avoidant. With no safe way to protest, children learn to “flee” by hiding their feelings out of fear of reprisal from a parent they believe will retaliate violently against them.  

Families have emotional display rules. I grew up in a household with parents who graduated from the “old school” when it came to parenting. Don’t talk back. Don’t argue. Don’t question, or I’ll give you something to be angry about. What I’m referring to here is an ass whipping. All that style of parenting does is drive behavior underground. It also forces the locus of control outside the child. Remember the preacher’s kid? That dude would behave flawlessly while in church or in his parents’ presence, but once church was over, and he was no longer within the sphere of parental influence, he’d run amok.

Parents are our first authority figures. As we grow older, teachers, bosses, and intimate partners become our authority figures. Children who grow up afraid of their parents, often grow into adults who learn to hide their feelings or act out behind their perceived authority figure’s back. That is not to say they don’t also turn into perpetrators of violence themselves, but my aim here is to highlight a subtler effect of domestic violence on children.

Many adults with the type of childhood experience described here grow into adults who find it difficult, if not impossible, to articulate their feelings. When avoidance becomes the norm, any number of compulsive self-defeating behaviors can be used to hide vulnerability. Passive aggression is a huge problem in a great number of relationships.

The inability to voice disappointment leaves one in a double bind. On the one hand, one can’t explain the problem and get the other person to change their behavior, and on the other hand, one also has to endure their own wounding negative self-talk for not behaving assertively, or what Buddhist refer to as “the second arrow.”

Unhealthy relationships are marked by the partners’ inability to voice displeasure, express uncomfortable feelings, and work together to solve problems. Relationships are doomed when the atmosphere is not conducive to open communication. It’s hard to solve a problem you cannot discuss.  In a healthy relationship, both parties are free to express themselves, empathy, understanding, and forgiveness are possible, thus enabling both parties to increase communication, resolve problems, forgive, and move forward. 

National Survey Children's Exposure to Violence

Effects of Domestic Violence on Children Who Witness It

Ages and Developmental Stages: Symptoms of Exposure to Trauma