TIPS FROM THE QUEEN OF REJECTION®
Elayne Savage, PhD
IN THIS ISSUE
1. A Night of Calming the Columbine Fears
2. The Culture of Fear
3. Fear Is in the Air and It's Contagious.
4. "What's going to happen to me?"
5. Reaching Out
6. Respecting Different Coping Styles
7. Tips for Coping with Fear
8. Unblocking Your Energy and Moving It Around
9. "Don't Fear Change. Change Fear"
10. Contacting Elayne
11. Privacy Notice and Subscription Information
"Don't Fear Change. Change Fear"
By Elayne Savage, PhD
This week marks the 10th anniversary of the killings at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO. Twelve students and a teacher were killed.
Students Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris did the killing. They felt taunted, teased and ostracized by peers for 'being different.' They reportedly joked about seeking revenge for these injustices.
A friend says, "They were tired of those who were insulting them, harassing them. They weren’t going to take this anymore, and they wanted to stop it."
And so they did. On April 20, 1999, they armed themselves with shotguns, handguns and a semi-automatic. They tormented and killed twelve classmates and a teacher. Twenty-five more were wounded.
A Night of Calming the Columbine Fears
On that April day, long into the night and into the morning, I was on the air with the host of a Denver radio program. Together we tried to try to help residents make sense of the tragedy. To help them deal with the overwhelming anguish. To listen to their fears.
Callers jammed the phone lines, desperate to understand what happened in their community that morning. Why did it happen? How did it happen? And they wondered: "What will become of us?"
The radio host wanted me to stay on with him for another hour or two. I just couldn't. After almost five hours I was emotionally spent. Listening to the fear in everyone's voices hour after hour was too much for me. I was numb.
This experience shook me to my core. And ten years later, I'm still deeply affected.
The Culture of Fear
Since the time of that tragedy, fear has been galloping through this country at breakneck speed.
The horrific attacks of 9-11 occurred two years later, and The Politics of Fear erupted, playing to our fears and anxieties. Terrorism. Anthrax scares. Gay Marriage. Immigrants. Disease epidemics. And now, the Economy. A culture of fear has been permeating and fraying the fabric of our country. And we feel vulnerable. Helpless.
Fear is a hot item on the airwaves, bandwidth and print. With each tragedy, natural disaster, series of killings and acts of terror, the fear quotient gets ramped up.
The art of instilling fear is reaching new highs. Sometimes I imagine a scenario where media folk and politicians attend fear-mongering school to learn how to talk it up to its best advantage. The evening news provides us with a regular dose of catastrophe. If there is a crime or drug or disaster story, it leads the newscast. As the saying goes, "If it bleeds, it leads!"
Whether or not you agree with Michael Moore's motivation in 'Bowling for Columbine,' the 2002 film makes some important points about how fear dominates society in the US. He theorizes that fear leads to using guns to settle disputes in this country.
When this film was made there were 7 million guns to 10 million households in Canada yet there were 151 people shot and killed in Canada compared to 11,798 in the US. Rates for Japan, England, Australia and Switzerland were all under 100. Germany was 373.
Here is a section of film dialogue describing why many Canadians feel safe enough to leave their doors unlocked:
When we lock the door, we're
imprisoning ourselves inside . . .
I have family that lives
in the States.
They used to live in Canada
And it's so different.
They get afraid more easily.
Canada's more just, like,
let's work something out."
Where the States is,
"We'll kill you and that'll be the end of that."
Fear Is in the Air and It's Contagious
In the seven years since the release of 'Bowling for Columbine,' fear seems to be even more built into the culture. It used to be we would go from one traumatic event to another. In between our fears and anxieties would subside - until the next tragedy occurred.
It is different now. Fear is in the air and it's contagious. It's been a bumpy ride and most of us are scared. Dazed. Numbed. Stunned. Immobilized. We go to bed scared and we wake up scared.
Apprehension touches people around us – family, friends and colleagues. One person catches it from another, like a bad cold or mean flu. The anxiety that results can lead to a kind of paralysis. It's hard to think or act.
There's something else in the air. Let's call it helplessness and uncertainty. When these fears are rooted in childhood experiences, a child-like fright takes over.
Childhood fear was usually connected to some kind of loss. Perhaps your childhood friend moved away. Or you transferred to another school across town or to another state. Or an older brother or sister went away to school, leaving a void in your heart.
Maybe it felt like you lost a parent for a while if there was a separation or divorce. Or if there was a serious illness in your family. Or if someone important to you died.
These cumulative experiences affect how you cope with present losses.
What's Going to Happen to Me?
A small voice asks, "What's going to happen to me?"
When we are all grown up, but again feeling scared and insecure, we may find ourselves asking the same question. And needing reassurance.
This point is worth remembering. As a child or young adults you may have experienced setbacks that seemed overwhelming at the time. You had not yet accumulated the life experience to know that it's not the end of the world. Things do get better. In the midst of present day misfortunes, it's worth reminding yourself that things will get better again.
As a workplace coach and psychotherapist I'm hearing lots of stories about the impact of the economy. Tensions are great. Stress is rampant. Relationships are suffering. And fear is dominating people's lives.
Loss is the theme in just about every conversation: Loss of jobs, Loss of income. Loss of homes. Loss of savings. Loss of routine. Loss of independence. Loss of security. And with all of this comes Loss of identity and well-being and self-esteem.
And again, the small voice asks, "What's going to happen to me?"
What a lonely feeling fear can be. Your tendency may be to retreat and suffer in silence. At times like these it can be difficult to make yourself
connect with others. It helps to reach out.
Can you connect with others to talk about these losses and fears? A partner or friend is ideal. A counselor, coach or psychotherapist is another good option. Social networking and forums work, too.
Can you put words to your worries and fears? Then hear yourself say the words out loud. Even if you write in a journal, read your words out loud to yourself. Yes, out loud. It makes all the difference.
When pressure is building it needs to go somewhere. If we don't talk out our feelings, we act them out.
Acting out is one way of releasing tension. It takes many forms. Some of us pick fights, antagonize, fly into rages, or slam doors. Or we might engage in excessive behaviors.
But acting out is not always active. It can be passive as well, such as foot-dragging, “yes, butting,” sulking, and giving someone the silent treatment.
All of these behaviors are ways we deal with the anxiety that builds when we’re not able to put words to our feelings, worries and fears.
Respecting Different Coping Styles
Talking to your partner or friend is a good idea, however sometimes it doesn't work too well. What if you don’t feel supported by the other person? What if you both have different ways of handling upsetting situations? What if you have different coping styles? What if you feel the other person doesn’t understand you?
We all have different ways of dealing with stress, anxiety, and fear. We learn our coping skills (or lack of them) from our family and cultural experiences.
- One person may withdraw, experiencing a kind of paralysis, while the other person mobilizes and becomes over-active.
- Another may cocoon, preferring alone time, while the other needs to increase their contact with others.
- Sometimes one is less inclined to talk about feelings and the other talks so much that it's hard to listen anymore.
If either of you feels discounted, you're most likely feeling rejected. Before you know it, someone is taking something personally. Feelings get hurt.
Unless both of you can respect each others individual styles, misunderstandings and hurt can lead to anger and resentment. Resentment takes up so much space in relationships that there's barely room for connection. And connection is what's so important now.
Tips for Coping with Fear
Truth be told, we often put much more energy into avoiding fear than we do in dealing with it. Would you like some practical ideas for managing fear?
- Give yourself permission to be afraid. Say out loud what your worst fear is. Put a name to it. Talk it out with someone if possible.
- 'Walk alongside yourself.' Gain some distance from the situation to see it more clearly. Try separating the “now” of the present moment from the “then” of unpleasant childhood experiences. This frees you up from becoming overwhelmed by your feelings.
- This objectivity allows you to choose to make a different response.
- Make a plan. This provides structure and reassurance. And being pro-active helps balance the feeling of helplessness that can creep in.
- Know that your partner, friends or colleagues may deal with fear differently than you. Don’t compare. Honor the differences rather than feel threatened by them.
And in case you missed it, the March 2009 'Tips from The Queen of Rejection' e-letter has more tips on dealing with fear (loss and anger, too.)
Unblocking Your Energy and Moving It Around
These ideas from my first book, 'Don't Take It Personally! The Art of Dealing with Rejection' may be helpful:
Visualize a honeycomb. The energy takes the form of warm, thick, sweet, amber-colored liquid, constantly moving through the interconnected tunnels. As the energy flows, a wondrous transformation takes place. Notice how the negative messages of childhood take on new qualities as they flow from space to space.
As the energy changes from life-depleting to life-sustaining, it provides sustenance, allowing room for your needs and wants, and encouraging clear boundaries. Then the energy develops new vitality, permitting choices and enhancing good communication. And it keeps on moving, flowing. Moving and flowing.
Do you find yourself feeling like a scared little child, sitting paralyzed on the sofa, for hours or days? Maybe it seems like you've been living in a cartoon. Things don't seem real to you, you're not a part of time. Sometimes I feel like that myself.
When you're feeling helpless, afraid, immobilized, dazed, numbed, or stunned. When it becomes hard to think or act. Try to move.
Move your fingers or your toes, or your body. Try to get that energy flowing. Once you do even a small amount of movement you are no longer stuck.
If you can remember to move your finger back and forth, then your arm, you have just made a choice to reconnect with your body. Self-soothing works here too. By gently stroking your hand or your arm or your shoulder, you activate energy.
Try pressing the thumb of one hand into the palm of the other. Apply enough pressure to bring yourself back to consciousness, and to your feelings. You have just brought time back into the picture.
Once you create options for yourself, you don't feel so paralyzed. Once you open up a little, and let the energy flow, you'll be tapping in to a sense of your power.
Watch the energy spread, growing into self-acceptance and creativity. Marvel at how it fills you with a new experience of yourself and new ways of relating to others.
"Don't Fear Change. Change Fear"
Morphizm.com reviews film, music and culture. It's a cool site that gets it right when it proclaims: "Don't Fear Change. Change Fear."
© Elayne Savage, PhD
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