A quite smart, talented and successful 35-year-old woman had a fear of elevators, so she avoided them although she recognized that her fear was irrational. After learning to lower her anxiety arousal level by focusing on her belly breathing, she felt prepared to step into an elevator. (I call this “an elevator moment”). A day came when she was asked to attend an important business meeting on the 38th floor of a New York skyscraper. She knew this was “the day” because there was no way she was walking up those 38 flights of stairs, and there was no way she was going to miss that meeting. She either had to face her fear and step into that elevator or experience the regret of missing that very important meeting. She was sufficiently motivated to risk acting in the face of her irrational fear. This required Courage.
I define courage as the fortitude to act based on trust in one’s own ability to deal with physical, mental or emotional threat. Courage is always required to face fear of changing habit patterns we developed in childhood as protectors from emotional vulnerability.
“Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself” Franklin D. Roosevelt
The parents of a 17-year-old boy felt very strongly about restricting their son from drinking alcohol until he was of legal age. The boy wanted the freedom to be able to have a beer at times in social situations and admitted to me to doing so behind his parents’ back. The parents also became concerned about their son lying to them about his drinking behavior. The boy felt quite controlled and resentful not only because he was being restricted from doing something he wanted to do, but also because he felt that his needs, his feelings, and his points of view were not being taken into consideration. So, he decided to drink and lie about it even though he did not like the punishing consequences when he got caught, and he did not like how it made him feel about himself when he lied to his parents.
I said to the three of them, “You are at a crossroad. You each need to make a choice. Either you will choose to continue your part in the pattern as it is, or one or more of you will change in some way.” Those are your two choices.
The parents could continue to enforce the rule, knowing that it contributes to causing distance and resentment within their family. Or, they could sacrifice the rule in some way to which they all agreed in order to acknowledge the emotional needs and feelings of parents, teen, and family.
Choosing to continue to enforce the rule for a higher value is therefore also choosing to knowingly continue to contribute to increasing emotional tensions within the family.
Choosing to change the rule challenges the parents and the son to address feelings they may have about sacrificing beliefs, attitudes, or values that contribute to their family pattern in the first place.
It would require courage for the parents to relax their control because It takes courage to trust in one’s ability to deal with whatever feelings and circumstances which may occur in the future.
Maybe for them it’s not really about drinking alcohol. Maybe it’s about obeying the law. They would require courage to shirk the responsibility they felt to teach their son to obey the law, knowing they might have feelings of guilt if they choose not to do so.
Maybe for the boy it’s also not really about alcohol but is really about his need and desire to have a voice and to be respected.
Maybe alcohol addiction runs in the family, and they must all have the courage to trust in the boy’s ability to learn about alcohol and to deal with their doubts about their ability to deal with their feelings if he did have a problem situation.
Maybe they’re concerned about what others may think about their family if they were to support the drinking behavior, so they would need to deal with feelings of competitiveness, inferiority, shame, or envy?
It takes courage to let go of “Protectors” we developed to shield us from emotional pain.
But we don’t need those protectors anymore. As adults, we are now able to deal with feelings which we were unable to deal with as children. Even once we recognize that is true, we will probably continue to attempt to protect ourselves as we have always done. Once we recognize a protector as a protector, it loses its power to distract us from our Higher nature.
Dr. Steve Wolf
Wolf Training Institute