“Never let a good crisis go to waste.”
~ Winston Churchill
The Fear Factor
Have you ever watched a suspenseful movie and found yourself wanting to advise the protagonist to hold fast?
Or have you watched a game show and yelled out the answer when the contestant appeared to freeze?
Or how about watching a professional athlete miss the easy free throw, and wonder why they missed when they are a superstar?
The only explanation is fear, that inexplicable feeling that interferes with a perfectly good strategy. Even just a split second of fear can slow us down, give the opponent the edge, or build into a torrent of panic, leaving us in a puddle of distress.
When we are watching the movie, or the game show contestant, or the athlete, we don’t feel the same fear as they do. We aren’t in the spotlight, are we? We can watch from our comfortable arena seats or living room sofa. Without a speck of fear, we can advise the movie hero to take the right action or shout out the correct answer to the game show question, or masterfully shoot the perfect free-throw.
It’s not so easy to master fear when we are in the middle of frightening situations, though. When there is a lot on the line, in terms of money, or prestige, or love, or safety, we become more intense. With increasing intensity comes risk. And with risk, we just might make a mistake. It is our fear of mistakes that hold us hostage. So, let’s take a look at how to break through this phenomenon.
I have noticed that members of our Meetup group express lots of fear. They fear that their NeuroDiverse spouse will become angry and rage. They fear those sensory overload meltdowns will wreak havoc in their homes. They fear that others will discover that they are seeking professional support and psychotherapy. They fear that their children will suffer in a NeuroDivergent household. They fear that they aren’t doing enough to help their NeuroDiverse loved ones. They fear that friends and family won’t believe them about their NeuroDivergent life. They fear retribution for speaking up about their suffering. They fear that they don’t have enough time in the day — or week — or month to accomplish all they need to keep life going. They fear going crazy or losing their health. They fear losing their sense of self.
Where does all of this fear come from? First of all, it is normal to be afraid about all of these things. Fear is a natural reaction to those things we have no control over. I have felt all of these fears and I know darned good and well that these fears are based on reality. I also feel fear because I have been judged harshly — just because I Iived with NeuroDiverse folk.
Can you relate to these examples?
1. I was scolded by a total stranger when my ASD teenager had a meltdown in public. He told me that I should have more control over my daughter.
2. My therapist told me that I should be more sensitive to my ASD spouse because he was upset with me.
3. I watched my ASD spouse tear the door off a kitchen cabinet, in a fit of rage.
4. I comforted my crying NT child when her ASD father chased her and kicked her to the ground.
5. I had a business associate tell me I should keep quiet about problems with my NeuroDivergent child because the associate has problems with her own mother.
6. I used to fall asleep in the car as I waited for my children to finish with soccer practice, piano lessons, or art class. Fearful to turn this duty over to my forgetful NeuroDiverse spouse.
7. I created color-coded calendars to help my NeuroDiverse spouse keep track of our family schedule because he would show up late or not at all.
8. I stayed up late on Sunday night cooking food for the family for the week, for fear that my NeuroDiverse spouse would forget to feed the children.
9. I was targeted frequently by police and city officials when my NeuroDivergent family members accused me of wrong doing, even though they assaulted me.
10. I have been verbally maligned too many times to recall. Why? Because chaos reigns in my household.
Make a list of your own. This will be the first step toward setting you free from your fears. Once you make that list, you will see how outrageous it is that you should be afraid at all. In this case, yes there are real fears because real consequences abound in ASD/NT relationships and NeuroDivergent families. However, if you are doing your best to hold together your NeuroDivergent family, you can reframe that fear — you are a hero.
Go away from fearful people.
While we can’t stop the normal human predilection to feel afraid of lots of things, lots of chaos, and lots of people, we can learn how to squarely face our fears and do as Churchill suggests. Don’t waste the opportunity that is presenting itself.
The Kanji for “Crisis” is two symbols meaning “Danger” and “Opportunity.” You can either crumble in fear, give up, be a helpless victim, scuttle and hide — or you can take on the opportunity in the danger of these NeuroDivergent relationships — to take you to the opportunity of developing Radiant Empathy.
I have introduced the concept of Radiant Empathy because it goes far beyond being kind or empathic. Those with Radiant Empathy are brave. They have the courage to face their fears and those fearful people — and take the right action. How can anything change if you allow your fears to swamp the right action?
A few years ago, I went to Court for my arraignment on charges of assault, resisting arrest, lying to the police, destroying property, etc. The charges were all false and I was eventually fully acquitted, but in the meantime, I had to fight for my freedom (emotional, financial, physical, and even for my children) from my unscrupulous estranged NeuroDiverse husband.
Standing before the judge I requested to be set free on “my own recognizance,” which he agreed to. Given that the judge was my neighbor, and that his daughters had been my babysitters, we were in an awkward situation. But the facts were clearly on my side, even though I had spent two nights in the county jail.
I asked the judge if I could leave town to attend a church conference since a stipulation of my release from jail was that I not leave town. The conference was several states away. But the judge agreed since he knew that he could trust me.
I felt the fear dissipate in the courtroom and even more as I flew to Minnesota for the conference. It all felt surreal actually. How could I have been arrested when I was the victim of assault? How could I be up against powerful people who wanted to harm me just because I dared to speak out? I was learning that fear is a warning and not to be ignored. But this fearful situation was also an opportunity.
Once in Minnesota, I checked into my room and soon I headed over to the conference. While I didn’t want to miss the keynote speaker, I also wanted to take advantage of the assistance of a Spiritual Director. If anyone needed to talk with a lay minister it was me! After all I had been through, I wanted to know the spiritual meaning behind this false arrest, and all of the people who wanted to bring harm to me.
The spiritual director lead me through an exercise in which I imagined myself walking up to the highest peaks of the Himalayas. Once there I was surprised to meet an enlightened spiritual master.
He asked me, “What do you want?”
I told him about all of the troubles I was having and how frightened I was of the harm these people wanted to cause me. I asked, “How do I handle all of this?”
The master told me, “Look down the mountain and see all of the people below who are threatening you.”
I looked and was surprised to see them from such a lofty position. “Yes, I can see them,” I said. “What am I to do?”
He said, “Go away.”
Ironically at that moment, I felt a sense of peace wash over me. Such a simple solution to conquer fear. Let it go. Go away from frightening people. Do not engage with them.
Go away and let me add more.
Let me add that going away from upsetting and frightening people will set you free from the grip of fear, if not the feeling. To go away does not mean to go away from your loved ones, or your commitments. It means to go away or separate from your fear of those people who want to harm you. Then step up to Radiant Empathy and speak your truth.
Take care of yourself. Know that you know what you know about this NeuroDivergent life. Don’t let anyone be unkind or cruel. You are worth much more. When you come from this strong, self-loving position — you have so much more to offer to your NeuroDiverse loved ones. You have a whole, amazing, empathic, intellectually brilliant, Radiant Empathy Hero to offer.