2020 has been a scary year. After months of pandemic-induced anxiety, now the country is visibly torn by protests against racially-motivated injustices.
Fear and anxiety are increasing for many of us. From clients and friends, I have heard of increases in “obsessional cleaning,” fear of being around others in public (including Mass), frustrations with self, spouse and children during schooling from home/working from home, intense anxiety about the financial impact of the COVID-19 lockdown, and now fear produced by the tangible racial tension in our country.
I have been asked many times “How can I make this fear go away?” Fear is unpleasant, so many of us would rather avoid it, especially Christians. In my experience, it is as if many Christians cannot say “I am afraid” without saying “But I trust God. I know he will provide/take care of me.”
It is as if they think admission of fear is admission of a “lack of trust” in God. This is understandable because many of us have received messages, both implicitly and explicitly, from other Christians that if we really trusted God, we would not be afraid.
But this is like a baby crying and then stopping himself, thinking “If I cry, I am showing my parents and my siblings that I do not trust Mom and Dad. This would be wrong because they are such good parents. So instead I will say that I trust them.”
This would hurt the child in two ways: 1) he will never know the reassurance of his parents rushing over to pick him up and 2) he will never know that his fear, irritation or sadness does not upset Mom and Dad, but rather moves them to take care of the baby’s needs. Psychologically, this is how human beings learn to trust other people. A crying baby that experiences a warm parent looking at him with a sad expression which then turns into rocking, changing a diaper, feeding or playing learns two things over time: “I can be seen and known” and “Others can help me.”
When we cannot as children of God cry to him and to other people in our lives, we cut ourselves off from building psychological trust in God and others.
I am not a theological expert. I am trained in psychological sciences and its integration with a Catholic understanding of the human person.
Building psychological trust in others is not the same thing as receiving faith, hope and love from God as a grace.
At times, we cry out and God can choose to provide “peace that transcends understanding” (Philippians 4:7). However, at other times, our fear of fear or of other negative emotions keeps us from “crying” to others for help.
This is a psychological obstacle that can be addressed through practice or working with a psychological professional.
As 2020 continues, it is important that we learn to tolerate our reactions so that we can better respond with love and trust.
Elina S. Holland is a therapist with the Good Shepherd Institute of the Bluegrass, the psychological services center of the Family Renewal Project.