What were you afraid of when you were a kid? Monsters in the closet? Aliens? Ghosts? The dark? How real were those fears? How real did they feel to you? If you were like me, they felt VERY real.
Even though they couldn’t possibly happen.
For me it was alligators under the bed. I shared a room with my sister, and my bed was behind the door. I’d open the door and leap onto my bed so I didn’t have to walk right near it. I was positive the alligators would eat me if I got too close to the edge.
I could walk in the rest of the room. I wasn’t afraid of the dark. In fact, my sister and I used to hide in the closet and play with our glow-in-the-dark super balls. But I was deathly afraid of alligators.
And here’s the funny thing about it. We didn’t even have alligators in our part of the country. I think the nearest one, other than perhaps in a zoo, was probably 800 or more miles away. And I clearly didn’t have a water source in my bedroom for an alligator to live in. There was no logical reason for me to fear alligators.
Yet fear them I did. No amount of logic could talk me out of it. I don’t know how long this lasted, but I vividly remember the terror. Besides keeping my distance from the edge of the bed, I kept a menagerie of ferocious stuffed animals to protect me. Some were so large that it was difficult for me to fit under the sheets. I also kept the covers tucked tightly around me as a form of protection. Don’t leave space for anything else under there! (Plus, it was a lot easier to make the bed in the morning.)
When I got married and we bought a house, my husband always made sure that the sliding closet door was completely closed. He was afraid of what might be in the closet. He knew logically that there was nothing hiding in that closet. But he couldn’t stand the door being open a crack – just in case.
Completely illogical. Just like my fear of alligators in Connecticut.
How often do we do things to protect ourselves from imaginary fears? We don’t speak up for fear of being thought stupid. We don’t do anything unique for fear of being abnormal. We dress like others for fear of being picked on. We buy what we can’t afford for fear of feeling inferior. We live a life that is not true to who we are.
Most of the time those fears are merely Connecticut alligators – a figment of our imagination. But just because something is imagined doesn’t mean it isn’t real – to us. Our instinctive brain can’t tell the difference. A threat perceived is a threat indeed. And so we protect ourselves, or leap onto the bed to avoid the edge. And most of the time we don’t even realize we are doing it. We just do it.
How can we combat our fear? You heard in podcast Episode 028 that one way to defy fear is to put on a character. Another strategy is to dance with it.
How can we dance with fear? By taking 3 steps.
Address it by name
This is the first and most important step. Seeing it for what it is helps to weaken its grip. Call it out from under the bed and dance with it.
Dazzle fear with your fancy footwork and smooth moves. If you move fast enough and change directions often enough, it can’t keep up.
If you’re still afraid, try to the see alligators in a different light. Maurice Sendak wrote a book called Alligators All Around. His book diffuses the alligator’s “bite” by describing all sorts of comic alligator antics as it teaches the alphabet.
I outgrew my alligator-under-the-bed fear. Now I walk in my bedroom, go right up to the edge of the bed, and climb in. I’m trying to dance with my fear of other things too. Sometimes I succeed, and sometimes it gets the best of me. And though I wasn’t the one originally afraid of what was in the closet, I still close the closet door all the way when I go to bed.
What’s the alligator under your bed? How are you going to keep it from biting you? Share in the comments. And please share this post from someone experiencing alligators of their own.