In this year’s season of American Horror Story, a political event suddenly triggers the fears a woman has worked hard to combat. While the premise focuses on coulrophobia, or the fear of clowns, it is not unusual for us to fear for our physical safety when our emotional security has been threatened.
Awhile back, I was working with a client, Travis, who was a young man who had just recently broken up with his girlfriend. He was seeking assistance to cope with the resulting sadness and the blow to his self-esteem the break-up had dealt him. Overall, he appeared physically healthy and was trying to get back into his cycling routines after sinking into despair after the break-up for a few too many weeks.
Travis was committed to getting himself back on track and letting go of the residual feelings of anger, hurt, and bewilderment that he’d been experiencing since his girlfriend had moved out. Travis was still shocked by the turn-of-events in the relationship as they had been living together for close to a year and he was beginning to imagine a permanent commitment to his girlfriend. He said he’d never been so serious about a woman before and never felt so secure in the relationship.
There was something else bothering my client—not only was he feeling caught off-guard by what had happened, he also was now dealing with a growing sense of dread or fear that something “bad” was going to happen to him. He had woken up with a start from deep sleep a couple of times and felt his heart pounding and felt that he woke up “on go.” He said that it was like he was suddenly wide awake and ready to spring into action at whatever threatening situation had just roused him from his sleep. He was sure he’d heard noises each time and picked up the baseball bat he kept behind his door and crept around his apartment looking for the “intruder.” Although this had happened multiple times over the past couple of months, Travis said he’d never had this type of experience before.
Another client, a female, shared a similar story about her nighttime fears. She had been contemplating ending her relationship with her husband for a few months and was finally coming to a point where she was prepared to speak to him about the future of their marriage. Oddly, she thought, when she would lay awake in the bed at night, turning over her options, each small noise outside seemed magnified and she was on guard for the sounds of potential intruders into her home. She listened to the trees scratch the window and feared it was someone dragging future off her deck. She head a car backfire off in the distance and was sure it was someone breaking the lock on her door. Her heart would pound, she said, as she laid fearful about “home security.”
What these two cases have in common is that they reflect our tendency to turn a fear for our emotional security into something more tangible that we theoretically could address more straightforwardly. What is interesting, perhaps, is that the dissolution of a relationship can feel like someone is breaking into your life—and that you may have a sense of foreboding, but no real power to wrestle with an unseen enemy.
It’s pretty common to want to find a way to physically cope with the things are bugging us emotionally. However, when you are losing sleep, armed with your bat or something more potentially lethal, and listening to your heart pound as your fear grows deep enough to ruin your night, it may be time to take a deeper look into what is going on in your inner world that is causing you to fear for security in the external world. I’m not saying that every sound you hear is coming from your mind, but if you’re experiencing some emotional insecurity, it might be good to check your fears for validity.
It’s not uncommon not to notice the burnt out porch light bulb until you’re emotionally vulnerable or relationally anxious. When we are off kilter in our emotional worlds, it seems like we are either looking to blame the external world or looking for confirmation that it’s “not” just us over-reacting.
Although we don’t yet know what will happen in American Horror Story, we need to recognize that it’s not unusual for irrational fears to arise when we’ve suffered emotional distress. Art imitates life and life imitates art. Just recognizing that your fears are springing from your emotional unrest can help you begin to master them. Using positive self-talk about your past successes in dealing with similar concerns and listing personal strengths and past accomplishments can help you get back on an even emotional footing. As you are able to regain your emotional equilibrium, your insecurity begins to fade away. As your emotional security is minimized, your sense of safety and your feelings of physical security will expand to their normal levels of healthy functioning. Sometimes we have to name our fears in order to tame them.
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