#35 Don’t Let Childhood Fears Govern Your Adulthood Happiness

What childhood fears govern your adulthood happiness?  It’s doubtful that adults can blame monsters, thunder, or the dark for their unhappiness.  In fact, many adults routinely subject themselves to hair-raising terror by watching horror movies.  You would think this self-inflicted fright would impede happiness, but many people enjoy this recreational fear.  In fact, researchers indicate that a healthy dose of harmless terror can help people regulate their emotions so they are better at handling real fear.  But unlike recreational fear, we have three inborn fears that no one ever enjoys and never outgrows.  These legitimate fears motivate our existence, but if they aren’t handled appropriately during childhood, they gain power and govern adulthood happiness.

Boo!

What were you afraid of when you were a little kid?  You’ve probably forgotten your early childhood fears.  But, if you do recall any tiny tot terrors, it’s doubtful they cause you any angst now.  At best, they may have become things you don’t like.  For example, say you were horrified of clowns.  And when you saw one, you cried hysterically and clung to your mother.  As an adult, you probably don’t break down crying and grab onto someone when you see a clown.  You might shy away or show contempt towards it.  Furthermore, you probably don’t worry about running into clowns during your daily activities.  However, if you have the same intense reaction as you did in childhood, it would be worth investigating and seeking help.

Certain Fears Occur During Development

Children experience specific fears during stages of development.  Typical childhood fears include unfamiliar people and places, thunder, monsters, the dark, and separation from parents.  However, as children have more life experience, gain knowledge, and learn how to reason, they can discern fact from fiction and assess the severity of threats.  They overcome their real and imagined fears as long as they have the proper support from their parents.  During children’s development, parents must create a safe and secure learning environment and encourage children to learn how to regulate their emotions, tolerate discomfort, and behave rationally in stressful situations.  A chaotic and unsafe environment keeps children’s minds open to fear.

Our Primal Fears

Not everyone has the exact same childhood fears, but everyone is born with the same three instinctual fears.  Unlike the imagined and developmental horrors in childhood that pass away with time and conscious awareness, these three are not developmental and never go away.  These primal fears are natural knowledge—subconscious knowledge we are born with that motivates our existence.  Ultimately, they are the foundation of all our other fears.

Besides advancing and safeguarding our existence, these lifelong alarms remind us how God intends us to live.  They prompt us to form bonds with others and not be alone, accept others knowing that rejection leads to desolation, and remember that only God knows everything.  They are lessons in humility.  The alerts initiated into our creation are fear of rejection, fear of abandonment, and fear of the unknown or not knowing.

What Abandonment, Rejection, and Unknown Mean

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines rejection as “to refuse to accept, consider, or submit to; to refuse to hear, receive; to cast off.”  Abandon means “to withdraw protection, support, or help from.”  Unknown means “something that requires discovery, identification, or clarification.”  To not know is to lack “awareness of the truth or factuality,” to not “be convinced or certain of,” to not “have a practical understanding of.”

Primal Fears Exist Before We Can Think

As part of our genetic makeup, these innate alarms exist before our thinking brains develop.  Because of their early origin and subconscious nature, we act on them more than talk about them.  When we are born, we are much like animals.  Our newborn brains function to keep our bodies alive.  However, God created people to have “dominion over the animals.”  In other words, he gave us sophisticated cognitive functioning – a thinking brain.  But, before our brain cells make enough connections to enable us to talk, we are driven by our instincts, just like the animals.  We depend on our mothers for food, and like puppies, kittens, calves, and other animals, we communicate our needs by crying.  Moreover, we intuitively need our mothers and others to be close by.  And when they’re not, we are troubled.

Baby’s Reaction to Basic Fears

While anyone with a conscience and compassion would shudder at the thoughts of a baby left all alone, let’s look at this scenario from the baby’s point of view.  For example, take a hungry baby.  (Note: “He” is understood to mean boy or girl babies.)  The baby initially cries because he needs to eat.  If Mom doesn’t answer the call, her baby gets angry and cries louder (shouts).  Even adults get irritable when they’re hungry.  The baby’s face will get red, his chin quiver, and he’ll flail about.

His mom rejected him.  Should the baby’s cries continue to go unanswered, he’s rejected and abandoned.  At this point, he’ll go into a full-blown panic.  His blood pressure will rise, and his heart rate will increase.  He’ll scream, cry real tears, shake, get red-faced, sweat, and hold his breath.  (Similar to symptoms of a panic attack.)  When Mom finally comes to feed him, she must work harder to calm him.  The more this happens, the more difficult it will be for the baby to feel secure and develop trust in Mom.  If the mom fails to show up, the baby does not know what will happen to him, so he will cry himself unconscious.

Rejection and Abandonment Lead to Death

As illustrated in the example of the hungry infant, rejection can lead to abandonment and ultimate death.  Moreover, it can result in the death or end of relationships.  We associate rejection with words like discarded, cast-off, exiled, eliminated, scrapped, and unwanted.  There is no better way to devalue someone than to reject him or her.

It is not Good for Man to be Alone

Relational rejection is the antithesis of God’s plan for us.  In Genesis, God admits that everything is good until we get to man being alone.  God clearly states that it is not good, so He created a “help meet” (suitable helper or sustainer) to complete the human genome.

God created us to be social and have interpersonal relationships, especially with Him.  Since relationships are the basis of all life, to be rejected means to be pushed out of a relationship and ultimately out of life – a death of sorts.  In junior high school, when my first boyfriend broke up with (rejected) me, I remember tearfully telling my mom I felt like I was going to die.  Of course, most people don’t physically die from this kind of rejection.  But, when we are unacceptable to others, we experience that latent pull from infancy when we needed our mothers to stay close and value, accept, and sustain us.

Terrifying Thoughts About Rejection

Rejection is also associated with isolation and desolation.  Both of these result in misery and separation.  When Satan rebuffed God, he separated himself from his Creator.  As a result, God cast him out of heaven into eternal condemnation.  I would argue the strong possibility that we spiritually link rejection to condemnation, which means “having a curse to be doomed to suffer eternally,” otherwise known as Hell.  And that is a terrifying thought.

Spiritual Death from Abandonment

Abandonment results in death.  For infants and anyone dependent on others for existence, it is physical death.  Even abandoned buildings deteriorate and decay.  It can also result in spiritual death.  God is spirit.  When He created man, He breathed life into him.  Therefore, we have God’s spirit in us—the spirit that gives us a truly good life.  We cannot expect to live as God promised if we abandon that spirit.  We will not experience love, peace, joy, satisfaction, freedom, and contentment — we will not be happy.

Both physical and spiritual abandonments occur in relationships.  Whether we stop supporting or acknowledging others or other people leave us, we lose personal connection.  And, since our natural inclination is to acquire and want more, we aren’t good at losing.  The relationship deficit we experience through abandonment goes against our nature and affects our mind, body, and spirit.

Fear of the Unknown

Abandonment and rejection lead to many unknowns.  Youngsters don’t know what will happen if ignored or left alone.  Moreover, they don’t understand existence and non-existence.  They need to amass more intellect to discuss their confusion and reason it out.  This confusion leads to fear, which children act out.  In addition to those caused by their survival instincts, these behaviors can be disruptive and unruly.  They often result in outcomes such as breakups, detention, and expulsion—instigators of the original fears.

Fear of the unknown becomes more pronounced as our thinking brains develop enough to assess threats.  Without knowing the actual outcome of imminent danger, we imagine potential outcomes.  And, since danger activates our brain’s negative pathways, we tend to imagine negative outcomes.  Therefore, we feel safer with predictability and when we know what will happen.  But God doesn’t want us to know everything because that would make us equal to Him.  Then, we wouldn’t need Him.  We would reject Him and His commands and live by the laws of the jungle where people determined right and wrong and acted out their fears.  Moral standards would vary based on who was the most dominant at the time.  It would be a Hellish existence.

Fear of the Unknown is Basis of Other Fears

Because we don’t know what will happen to us if we are abandoned or rejected, we fear them.  However, fear of the unknown is the basis of these and other fears.  A childhood fear of monsters is rife with unknowns, and adult fears involve the same unknown level.  When I’ve asked people why they were so afraid of things like spiders, most answered, “I don’t know….”  After they thought for a moment, they followed up with something like, “They’re creepy, crawly, and gross.”  Creepy, crawly, and gross are descriptive terms – not threatening objects.  When the arachnophobes think it through, their “fear” is actually a dislike laced with unknowns.  They don’t know what these multi-legged critters will do to them.

Behaviors Resulting from Primary Fears

Like children who can’t reason out their confusion and fears, adults do the same when they don’t understand their fears or think them through.  Here are some behaviors fear of rejection, abandonment, and the unknown can produce.

Fear of rejection causes one to lie, please, do what you know is wrong, go along with the crowd, lose freedom, bully, cheat, do disingenuous actions, and be disobedient.

People who fear abandonment project it onto others through attitudes and behaviors.  Some behaviors include overprotecting, smothering, demanding, overindulging, extreme mood swings, constant worry, clinginess, and extreme excitability.

Fear of the unknown causes behaviors similar to rejection and abandonment.  In addition, it limits social and career opportunities, prevents exploration and discovery of new people, places, and things, isolates and prevents individuality and personal commitment, causes a constant yearning for fulfillment, produces anxiety and depression, prevents the development of confidence and formation of faith, and discounts God.

Behaviors From Fears Turn Those Fears Into Reality

Behaviors caused by primary fears bring those fears to reality.  A secure individual will likely want to spend less time with a clingy or demanding person.  We reject people who lie and cheat.  And, many people who fear the unknown are wishy-washy which keeps them in limbo and without direction.  They are reluctant to answer “yes” or “no” to closed-ended questions and often imply an affirmative by saying, “Sure.” In addition, a frequent response is, “I don’t know.” This lack of conviction shows a lack of trust and confidence that no one finds attractive.

Why Primal Fears Become Primary Fears

Childhood primal fears become primary when parents give them too much time and attention.  Parents who overuse them teach children to do the same.  Furthermore, while genetics plays a role in our sensitivity to vulnerability, unsafe home environments and not sufficiently meeting children’s physical and emotional needs also contribute to maintaining foundational fears.

Chronic foundational fears can manifest into personality disorders such as co-dependency, dependent personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder.  These issues are not diseases, but they create a dis-ease in everyday life.  They are correctable with the right kind of support, therapy, and, most importantly, the willingness to change.  We can’t predict the results of change, but we can set achievable goals.  One must have a strong desire and commitment to overcome that fear of the unknown and set a positive goal.  You cannot achieve a negative goal, such as, “I don’t want to be afraid of being alone.”  You can reach the ability to find joy and peace in spending time alone.

Don’t Eliminate Primal Fears, Mitigate Them

There are thousands of quotes about fear, but the most profound directives come from the Bible, which repeatedly tells us not to fear.

We cannot and should not fully extinguish our primary fears, but we can mitigate them.  We overpower them with our spiritual power.  “…the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

Fear of God Conquers Worldly Fears

The only fear that should be chronic is our fear of God, which conquers our worldly trepidations.  In other words, our reverence, obedience, commitment, and gratitude to God fortify His love for us.  In that love, we are cherished, protected, and blessed with mercy and grace.  We are safe.

Ways to Mitigate Your Primary Fears

Therapy and support can help you overcome your childhood fears so they don’t govern your adulthood happiness.  However, help yourself first by using your God-given thinking brain.  Stop and think through your fear.  Ask yourself, “Is this something harmful or something I just don’t like?”  “Do I need to fear this?”  “How does being afraid of this help me?”  “What’s the worst that can happen if I…?”  Then, assess if you can handle the worst.

Be Happy and Confront Your Fears

God wants us to be happy.  Pray that He helps you accept love, joy, peace, satisfaction, freedom, and contentment.  Surround yourself with supportive people.  Don’t be afraid of your fears.  Seek God’s help and put on His armor. (Ephesians 6:10-18)  You will be free.

Contemplate this parable by Don McCullough.

An Arab chief tells the story of a spy captured and sentenced to death by a general in the Persian army. This general had the strange custom of giving condemned criminals a choice between the firing squad and “the big, black door.”

The moment for execution drew near, and guards brought the spy to the Persian general, “What will it be,” asked the general, “the firing squad or ‘the big, black door?’”

The spy hesitated for a long time. Finally he chose the firing squad.

A few minutes later, hearing the shots ring out confirming the spy’s execution, the general turned to his aide and said, ‘They always prefer the known to the unknown. People fear what they don’t know. Yet, we gave him a choice.”

“What lies beyond the big door?” asked the aide.

“Freedom,” replied the general. “I’ve known only a few brave enough to take that door.”

The best opportunities in our lives stand behind the forbidding door of the great unknown.