Why its so important to face your fears

By Ashlee Secord, LMFT

When I begin working with a new client I try to get an understanding of where they’ve been, what they’ve experienced and how they think and feel about themselves. Sometimes I will come right out and ask, but usually I am just listening to their stories, what makes them anxious, happy or depressed. All of this information clues me in on their Negative Personal Message.

Negative Personal Messages are those decisions we made about ourselves at a very early age. Read my first blog, Transforming Your Inner Voice, for more  information about Negative Personal Messages.

A few weeks ago I was working Laura who is 9 years-old. Her recently divorced parents initially contacted me to address her, what they referred to as “temper tantrums”. She was flopping on the floor, kicking, screaming and had an over-arching defiance to simple requests or perceived unfairness in either of her homes. This behavior had cropped up since their divorce and not age-appropriate.

After implementing a simple behavior plan that could easily be applied in both homes, Laura’s behaviors decreased within a month. In addition to the behavior plan Laura continued therapy on a weekly basis and we worked on what was “underneath” this extravagant behavior for a 9 year-old, albeit reduced. She was attempting to communicate something. Even at 9, Laura has messages she is trying to keep away from, but what was it?

Here is a sample of Laura’s fears:

I’m not good enough

No one wants to be my friend

I’m not smart

No one likes me

No one cares about me

I’m annoying

I’m alone

Who of us can’t identify with this child’s messages? At such a young age we begin to accumulate “evidence” that our messages are true. Laura’s temper tantrums were directly connected to times when these messages felt most true as based on the circumstances she found herself in. If she felt forgotten, excluded, left out or singled out in a way where she felt alone, her behaviors skyrocketed.

Are we that different? What do you do when your anxiety overwhelms you? When it feels as though all of your messages are true? Are we that far off from having our own version of a temper tantrum, whether it is a cold silence, binge eating and/or drinking, screaming at the top of our lungs or punching a wall?

We didn’t get there overnight. Like Laura, it began so much earlier. Her messages have already become a mainstream that to agree with them is like floating along with the current of the Mississippi River. If we don’t resist we continue to pulled in the direction that confirms these lies are true, considering we are already under that impression. All we need is a little evidence.

Your husband works all of the time. See, you’re alone.

You lost your job. I told you you were a failure.

Your partner didn’t get you anything for your birthday. Why would she? No one cares about you.

You forgot your child’s doctor’s appointment, you missed an exit, and you ran out of gas. You’re so stupid.

To think otherwise in light of such glaring evidence would be … against the current. To begin changing our minds about how we think and feel about ourselves, we have to begin generating momentum in a new direction until THAT direction becomes the current.

Rapid Waters

With Laura, we worked specifically on her message of “I am alone”. She was able to generate a new message, a truth: I am supported. Without hesitation she created a list of 5 ways that she felt supported by her immediate family, the same family that seemed to make her feel alone. This shift in thinking started a new momentum.

Laura, even at 9, was able to acknowledge why believing this new truth was easy to do in my office. She trusts me, feels encouraged and has no apparent evidence for her lies during the hour we spend together. We brainstormed about times when it might be more difficult to “swim against the current” but when it is most important to hold onto her truth.  Not so surprisingly, this list looked a lot like the one that made her feel like her Negative Personal Messages were true. When she is sent to her room, blamed for something that isn’t (or is) her fault, when someone abruptly walks away from her or when she feels excluded. It is in these moments she must maintain the MOST momentum in the new direction.

But the current will vary.

It will be gentle, where you can lazily and easily backstroke against the tide.

It will be fast, and you will have to paddle a little harder to stop it from pulling you down.

It will be rocky, where you have to use everything you simply not be bowled over by it.

Regardless of the current, the most important part is to maintain the momentum of your truth. Laura must remember that she is supported in light of being grounded, losing a friendship at school or being reprimanded for inappropriate behavior. She must remember that nothing changes the fact that she actually is truly supported.

If we are the result of floating along the current of our lies for 10, 20, 30+ years, who could we be if we were able to shift that direction at age 9?


Thrive Therapy provides counseling and therapy services to children, adolescents and adults from their office in Burnsville, MN. Contact them today to schedule an appointment.