We can’t always be protected as we’re growing up, so it’s inevitable that we’ve had experiences ranging from rather scary to completely terrifying. When something happens to us as small children, we often have no way to verbalize our feelings thereby letting others know that we need help and healing. Children who can communicate their feelings, whether through bad behavior or a good, healthy scream, are the lucky ones. Less fortunate are those children who repress frightening incidents, shutting them away from conscious awareness.
Up to approximately age seven, children often feel responsible for the events that happen in their lives. If a parent dies, or if their parents argue, the young child feels it must be his or her fault. The child’s developing ego structure is not yet able to perceive cause and effect as pertaining to others. Because children see themselves as the center of the universe, the pivotal point around which all events revolve, they tend to assume responsibility for whatever takes place. As a result, children who repress their fears usually end up feeling not only fearful but bad and unworthy as well.
The story of Victoria is a good case in point. As an adult, Victoria appeared to be well adjusted and successful. She had a good education, a fulfilling job, children, and a supportive husband. She came from an apparently loving though straight-laced and repressive family. When she entered therapy, she was suffering from continuous nightmares, a crushing fear of going to bed alone, chronically low self-esteem, and acute suicidal tendencies. She felt crazy, and the question “Why?” haunted her.
Victoria blamed herself for not snapping out of her depression. After losing an alarming amount of weight and thinking constantly of suicide, she sought therapy. With support from her husband and from me as her therapist, and with tremendous courage on her part, she allowed a series of long-buried memories to rise to conscious awareness.
Beginning in infancy, Victoria had been repeatedly sexually molested and physically threatened. Because her fear was so great and her sense of shame and guilt so powerful, she had repressed all conscious awareness of these atrocities. Not until she was thirty-six years old and faced with overwhelming personal crises did her defenses begin to crumble.
Painful as Victoria’s memories were, it was extremely important that they emerge from hiding, from the dungeons where she’d kept them locked away. Now there was a known
reason for her seemingly groundless fears. She was not crazy, as she had thought. The fears she’d experienced were entirely appropriate, considering what she had endured as a child. At last healing could begin.
Our fears are clues that there are hidden reservoirs of pain inside us in need of healing. As you can see from the extreme example of Victoria, unresolved fears can be debilitating, even life threatening. Having the courage to search for the source of our fears is a necessary first step toward being who we really are, free from limitations and able to express our fullest potential.