To talk about fear you can quite simply make a cup of tea and pull up a chair to chat about fear, but being human and a therapist I know how difficult this is for most of us…
Fear: it’s a big four letter word and just as taboo as four letter swear words. Most of us spend a healthy amount of time trying to avoid fear. Some of us get fear avoidance down to a fine art, whilst others (me included) find we always have one eye on the dark crevices waiting for it to creep back in. The truth is we all feel fear, whether it’s of elevators, spiders, heights or the more serious existential aspects of life like dying, illness or being alone. Fear overlaps with anxiety and worry and is one of those hard-to-define, ambiguous emotions when it comes to dictionary definitions. Fear is often coupled with anticipatory risk, sense of danger and threat of the unknown. More often than not it is a visceral sensation felt in the body. Fear is felt and triggered through the primal parts of our brain and triggers the immobilisation of the body and brain for reaction.
Without any further description, I am sure that at least 99% per cent of you know what I am talking about when I say the word fear. So, why write an article about creative ways to talk about fear, if it is so normal. One of the main reasons I believe that it is important to talk about fear with children but also amongst adults is that over time, our determined enthusiasm to avoid life’s discomforts has led to a reduced capacity to deal with fear and its amigos; anxiety and stress. The inability to recognise, respond to and process fear puts us in danger physically and emotionally. We need to understand how fear feels so that we can navigate unsafe situations and relationships. Sure there are plenty of times that fear get’s a tad carried away and the reality of threat is minimal, if you’re an anxious annie like me, you know what it is like to have an overactive fear alarm for a brain, but there are plenty of times in each of our lives that fear will save us- sometimes literally.
There are several things that happen when we talk about an emotion, the first is that it externalises the feeling so it is outside ourselves, this helps us to begin to make sense of our internal experiences. The second is that it puts it front line, meaning that even for a minute you are forced to confront something that you might regularly avoid (yep, it is normal to fear, fear). Strangely many people find this sort of confrontation cathartic and it can help to disempower excessive feelings and thoughts attached to an emotion. Thirdly talking about emotion offers an opportunity to explore, normalise, strategise and connect with other people. As socially wired creatures, connection over difficult emotions is important.
It goes without saying that when you talk about fear it needs to be done in a safe environment with safe people at a pace that is supportive for all those involved. You can quite simply make a cup of tea and pull up a chair to chat about fear, but being human and a therapist I know how difficult this is for most of us, so these are my 5 ways to creatively to talk about fear, whether it’s with children or between adults.
- Pen a letter
Writing has a way with words. For many people writing offers an indirect and less confronting way to externalise feelings. There are various ways to use writing to explore fear. Write a letter to fear itself, write a letter to the other person and share your experiences of fear or write a poem. You may also just want to write a list or follow a prompt such as ‘fear feels like…”
- Charades Adaption
This one is for the actors at the front! This is a particularly good family game for exploring any emotion and to talk about fear. It produces lots of giggles amongst the seriousness. Remember charades is traditionally done in mime (so silence) – get your thinking caps on! There are two ways I have seen it played:
- The ‘actor’ acts a range of emotions until the viewer guesses the correct one for fear. This can be a good talking point for the different ways fear is felt and expressed
- The ‘actor’ acts a fear based scenario and the viewer must find a helpful way to support them. For multiple players, take turns offering support until the actor is satisfied. Remember no talking.
- Go Stargazing
There is something about the inky darkness that allows our words to flow more freely. If you, your child or your other finds talking about emotions tricky find a clear patch of night sky and see where the conversation flows. It may start with a simple “what are you scared of”?
- Be a Bookworm
If the other four ideas aren’t tickling your fancy then dive into some reading. Books can be great conversation starters and are also good company if you happen to be doing the whole fear exploration thing solo. You can search online book stores by theme. My favourite children’s book is part of the feelings series by Trace Maroney called When I am feeling scared. An adult book that touches on fear but more closely explores anxiety is Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff by Richard Carlson, I read in my late teens and it is still a favourite.
- Draw it.
Okay, I left my favourite till last (surprise!) If you are a Perth local you will know that I run a workshop for children called Monster Factory. (Click here to find the next one). The workshop centralises fear and children unpack fear and identify some of their own fears through designing monsters. You can do your own version of this at home. Simply grab some pens, pencils or crayons and paper and choose one of the following directives:
- Draw fear as it feels; use colour and pattern to create fear as a shape on paper. Is it spiky, smooth, tangled, chunky, thin, curvy, jagged… Now close your eyes and imagine this shape in your body, where would you feel it? Is it where you feel fear or does fear have multiple shapes. You may want to do multiple drawings
- Draw fear as a creature. I love a good monster but really fear can take shape as any hybrid creature. The sky is the limit. Afterwards study your creature’s features; do they say anything about fear?
Now you have your mission to talk about fear, some of you will wonder what steps should be taken to deal with fear. Remember that feelings are best felt and moved through than banished or buried. When fear is felt, consider its use and purpose. If it belongs to an overactive mind rather than a warning sign; employ relaxation techniques to help find ease. In children it is important to remember that their warning signals may be different to ours (The dark for example poses a much bigger threat to an alone child). Always validate other peoples fear and empower them with strategies to respond safely.