When I was a child I went through a period where I was obsessed with the Salem Witch Trials. My mom even took me to Salem to see the museum. At the time I think I was just really intrigued by witches. In the Salem Witch Trials, we all know the story (I think), that in the late 1600’s young girls in Salem, Massachusetts accused women in their village of witchcraft leading to hysteria in the town. 19 women were hung, and 150 accused. 19 deaths based on lies and fear. Here we are, over 350 years later, and we still have blood on our hands from lies and fear.
In addition to having a small obsession with the Salem Witch Trials, I’ve had a larger obsession my whole life; understanding how and why we tick as humans. My mom tells everyone I was a quiet baby, I just watched. Fast forward two decades and I was getting a master’s in behavior analysis to formally understand why. Or so I thought.
Looking at Behavior Analysis
Behavior analysis is a wonderful science. It helps us see why observable behavior happens and what can be done to either increase it or decrease it. Applied behavior analysis is widely successful with autism because autism is a neurological disorder. When exterior behaviors are strengthened (like language) neuro-pathways connect and the map of the brain changes. It’s amazing. But what ABA doesn’t do is help us understand the mind because the mind is not observable. Perhaps someday it will be but until then we’re left to psychology, neuroscience, and spirituality to understand our inner world.
I say this to tell you more about ABA and more about me and my work. You see, I’m a woman who when there is a problem I have to fix it. I have both an analytical mind and an artist’s heart. I’ll throw music on to make the best damn spreadsheet you’ve ever seen, but I also paint (badly, but it’s still fun…). Same difference to me, I’m in my own space, I’m creating by putting my mind onto a canvas.
In learning about applied behavior analysis I was able to open my mind and eventually my business to this beautiful science. It helps me as a mommy, a boss, and a friend to understand the behaviors I can observe. Observation, however, does nothing for the inner world behind those behaviors. To my mind, always in search of knowledge, in knowing, I have to go further. I often cite Brene Brown in my work because she is a shame researcher. A researcher of our mind! I also read, almost daily, “A Course in Miracles,” to stay connected to the spirit surrounding me. To fill my heart as my mind wanders.
Fear & Behavioral Witch Hunts
This is my journey, right now that is. To understand the insides of my own mind and how they connect with my behavior. Then to understand how my behavior paints the reality I do or do not want. My understanding is still wobbly like I’m riding a bike without training wheels for the first time. But it feels so incredibly powerful to do. In doing this work I have found so much, and uncovered a simple untruth; we are all on a goddamn witch hunt.
Back in Salem the witch hunts began based on fear and eventually took lives. I could write to you today about every wonderful person I know then write about fears of rape and murder that have taken either part or all of their lives. Why? Why do we let this tiny untruth dominate the way in which we live? I’ll tell you.
Fear tells us not to look at it, to do absolutely anything to ourselves to avoid it, sometimes at the cost of our lives. From the interior of our minds telling us we are not enough, we are bad, we are sick, to the exterior world either validating these fears or us screaming back at the world they aren’t true, we are lost. We are lost in the witch hunt.
This I know to be true. Fear does not need to be feared, it needs to be understood. Fear is a messenger that tells you what you need as a human being. When a lion is running toward you, it tells you to run, when you put that Big Mac in your mouth and feel guilty, fear is beneath that telling you perhaps you aren’t taking care of yourself. Fear is so incredibly smart. Fear is your friend and fear needs a lot of goddamn support.
Our Fear of Fear
You see fear breeds the feeling of fear. It’s an endless loop without your loving presence. It comes with a message and then needs your love, following your receipt of the message, not affirmation. Let’s take the lion as an example. A lion is charging at you. You run, you are free. You need to sit down and thank fear for giving you speed you didn’t know you had. If you don’t do this, fear just operates without closure in the open. Now, anytime you see anything remotely lion-like fear wants to run. Fear needs you to thank her and to let her know she can rest.
When we do not tell fear “thank you” and let her rest, we get lost. Fear, without guidance, runs our body and lives. Our body kicks into high gear to protect us (see depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, and the like) and our mind gets exhausted giving into the message. From there we have a few choices. The first is to take that fear out on ourselves and question our worth. The next is to tell fear it’s a liar and then take our shit out on everyone else. The last is to look at fear kindly, listen to the message, and provide validation and safety for ourselves. To give fear our support and guidance.
Fear needs to be heard. That’s why she is there. What fear doesn’t need is an open invitation to run every aspect of your life. Fear needs to say her piece, have you take the wise council, and let her rest. If you don’t do this fear becomes overloaded and confused. Without closure, she becomes the modern-day, “boy who cried wolf.” She is trying so hard to keep you safe but until you understand the root danger fear is trying to tell you about and thank her for it your mind is overloaded because fear is now calling everything a lion and not just real dangers.
Listening to Your Fears
To begin to understand this I want you to try a little formula for me. Ask yourself anytime you do not feel like yourself, “am I afraid?” Then begin to sort through the message to find the original lion and stop chasing wolves.
So, what will it be? How will you live your life? Will you continue the witch hunt for fear inside of you? Take that witch hunt to hang yourself and your brothers and sisters? Or perhaps, all these centuries later are you ready to put the rope down?
Lean in with a soft hand and brush the cheek of fear. Tell her “baby it’s OK, thank you so much for your wise counsel. I hear you. The message is just what I needed, now I’ll keep us safe.”