My son refused to go to school. He had spent a good 45 minutes in the bathroom scrubbing his hands to try to remove a tiny mark of green pen, left behind from last night’s colouring frenzy.
When logic meets anxiety
The logical part of me could hardly even see it. She wanted to tell my son not to be so silly. She wanted to march him off to school, realising that a bit of green pen that we can hardly see on his hand didn’t matter. She wanted him to see reason. She just wanted him to get it.
The logical part of me was becoming more frustrated by the moment. All she wanted was to get my son to school. Mornings are crazy enough already, without irrational fears about small, almost invisible green marks on a hand. She wanted to pick him up and put him on the bus.
Lucky for me (and my son) I am only a small part logical … and the rest of me took over after one teeny logical comment I made that made things at least one hundred times worse. Any display of emotion will instantly pull me out of my logical efforts, and this morning I tumbled out of logic and into understanding straight away.
Here’s what anxiety needs
“You don’t like that green mark on your hand, do you?”
He shook his head, looking down.
“It’s not coming off, is it?”
“Do you not want to go to school like that?”
No. Already he had calmed down a little. His feelings had been acknowledged. He wasn’t being told how he should think … he was being heard. We all want to be heard, even (and especially) our irrational anxiety.
Anxiety will not be taken down by logic … I should know, I’ve tried to do that to myself for years.
Over the next few minutes I returned to my own childhood and I told my son about times I had been scared to go to school as well. I talked about myself and the way I feel when I have to do things I don’t want to do. I talked about how I used to think that my feelings were wrong, and the way I had pushed them back down inside of me so that I didn’t have to feel them – so that I could stop being so silly. I told him how that hadn’t really worked. I kept talking about me and I noticed his eyes moving away from the spot on his hand.
“Can I give you something to take to school today?”
I kissed his hand and folded his fingers around it. “Keep hold of my kisses. Don’t let them go.”
He was still a little worried about his hand. I told him I understood – but sometimes we all had to go and do things that scared us. I’d done it many times, and I still had to do it sometimes today. Although it’s never easy, doing it has shown me that these scary things sometimes aren’t as bad as our heads tell us they will be.
When anxiety meets logic
I feel blessed that I have lived the life I have, and a major reason is that I can now watch my son in his most irrational moments and understand him completely. In a funny way, getting to know my own anxiety has given me a new kind of logic – a clarity of understanding that doesn’t really make sense, but through which I can assess a highly charged emotional situation and understand exactly what is really going on.
Anxiety is not fun – but it is even less fun when you stomp it down and tell it to stop being silly.
Anxiety does not make sense, but it makes even less sense when you tell it how it should be feeling.
Anxiety can turn any situation into a life-threatening fear, and its sufferer into a quivering wreck.
In my opinion, anxiety wants only to be heard; to be acknowledged; to be allowed to be. If you push against it, it will only push back harder. If you manage to hide it away it will find a new way to manifest.
If you hold its hand, it will magically transform into something else. Truly. I challenge you to try it.
Next time you, your child or someone else you know is behaving irrationally, be there for them. Hold their hand, and tell them that you want to help. Hold back from giving them answers or alternatives – just listen and acknowledge what is being said. Be patient – and see what happens.