How therapy helps with fear

Naomi Shalev Detail.

1. Many of my friends are scared. I am scared. We have a terrible, cruel president who portends more and more pain, insecurity, and death for all of us.

2. And then we have COVID-19, and a government that will make it all but impossible for an epidemic to be managed anywhere near decently in our country.

3. Already people are charged ridiculous sums of money for COVID-19-related hospitalizations. Already, we know, people won’t come forward for fear of enormous bills, lost wages, lost jobs, deportation.

4. And then there are all the captive populations, mostly poor, mostly minorities, mostly abandoned (we still have concentration camps; we have bigger concentration camps; they are places of genocide and torment).

5. In the early 2000s I felt great despair over Guantánamo. Guantánamo is still there. Its population will die out, unfreed. Guantánamo is now all over the US. Children are in it. We are too exhausted and too frightened to do anything.

6. Analyst A gave me a mug once for my birthday. I have loved this mug. Last night the mug broke. I have put the broken mug, its two broken pieces, one inside the other on the shelf in front of me.

7. Life breaks irreparably but then we all — all of us find ways to be happy, at least sometimes, after the wreck. We find ways to be happy. We may not always be happy, but sometimes we are happy.

8. Maybe if we count all the moments we are actively miserable and all the moments we are actively happy, they even out.

9. How can therapy help when the world is so horrible?

10. First, you ask yourself how much of your pain is pain you are actually feeling your own self in this moment and how much is pain you feel because of uncertainty about the future, empathy toward others, or fear of what might happen.

11. Fear has deep roots. The capacity to feel the pain of others also has deep roots.

12. I go back to a time when I was afraid and no one helped me. My parents had no capacity to reassure me in any way. My parents could not even see me. My fear was annoying, negligible, or funny.

13. You learn to keep your fear to yourself. You learn to be tough. You never learn to modulate it. One day, tough is no longer enough and fear spills over the confines of your body and inks the entire universe. You float in terror.

14. No one ever helped me develop a containment system. I don’t have a decent one. My therapist and I have to start from scratch.

15. When your emotionally remote parents experience pain or distress, these feelings become yours.

16. Except you are little and your parents’ troubles are too big and scary and everyone is going to die. Pain evades the confines of your body and inks the sky.

17. You try to help your mom and dad.

18. You cannot help them.

19. You become a child of sorrow.

20. Therapy takes me back to when these injuries happened. My therapist looks with me into the wounds and the chasm. Then we have a do-over, the two of us.

21. Scary things are realistically scary when the confines of your body hold.

22. The pain of others, just like yours, is marbled with good days, resilience, even joy. It is not yours to carry. They are not carrying your pain.

23. You talk and talk and the past loosens its grip on you. Your body grows stronger confines. You hold the pain and worry in small places you can leave and distract yourself from.

24. You allow yourself joy. You allow yourself life.