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Divorced Moms, Make Fear Your Friend

As divorced moms, we have plenty to worry about. For some of us, fear abounds. We may be afraid of the effect of divorce on our kids. We may be afraid we won’t be able to pay the bills. We may be afraid of living life without a partner. We may be afraid of forming new relationships. We may be afraid of interacting with our ex-husbands. We may be afraid we’ve screwed up our lives and won’t ever be able to put things right.

I’ve certainly experienced many of those fears.

But, have you ever considered fear a gift?

A quick scan of the newspaper headlines the other day called to mind two books I read years ago:  The Gift of Fear and Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane), both by Gavin de Becker. Mr. de Becker’s company protects people who are at risk, advises on situations that might escalate to violence, and develops strategies for improving safety and privacy.

After my review of the plethora of bad news and possible problems covering the entire home page of the newspaper’s online website, I posted this Facebook status:

Dear Gazette: perhaps people would be happier and more optimistic if some of the news you reported was positive. Does every death, beating and hate crime really need to be on the front page?

Today some 500,000+ people in our area did not beat their wives, children or dogs; were not shot, stabbed, beaten or robbed. The majority of us showed up where we needed to be without a problem. Thanks, I feel better now.

This post elicited more comments than anything else I’ve posted in the past three months (except perhaps the photo of my dog hiding in the inside bathroom during our recent rash of thunderstorms).

There’s plenty in the news to make all of us a little bit anxious or afraid, whether we’re divorced moms, breadwinner moms, or traditional two-parent families. But paying attention to the anxiety-producing headlines in the daily newspaper or on the nightly news can make us think that nothing good ever happens in our world. Our moods dampen, and we lose our optimism and enthusiasm for life without knowing.

Mr. de Becker suggests that we should stop paying attention to the scare tactics of most mainstream press to lower our general levels of anxiety. This is particularly applicable to divorced moms who may be envisioning burglars at the door or intruders in the night once we are living on our own.

When I checked his website to make sure I had the titles of the books right, I noticed that Mr. de Becker has several blog posts on this subject, the most recent of which is called “Media Fear Tactics.” I strongly encourage readers to take a few minutes to educate yourselves. You’ll quickly recognize these media techniques and learn to spot them when you read the paper or watch the news.

There is a Saturday Night Live skit the parodies tv news anchors before they go to commercial. I couldn’t find the one I have in mind, but I’ll keep looking and post the link here if I can track it down.

Once we reduce or eliminate undue anxiety from our lives, we can receive the gift of fear. Yes, gift.

De Becker makes the case that real fear is a gift – the instinct that might save us from harm if we learn to pay attention to it.  The Gift of Fear includes multiple examples where attention to fear saved lives as well as cases where attempts to rationalize fear put people in harm’s way.

For example, as a divorced breadwinner mom heading home from work after dark, you may take the elevator from the office to the parking garage. When the elevator door opens and you see a man you don’t recognize, your intuition may tell you not to get on the elevator. Most of us will tell ourselves we are being silly and get on the elevator anyway. De Becker says that we should trust our instincts, not our rational brains. In this case we should consider fear our friend. We might choose to wait for another elevator or ask a security guard to escort us to our car.

Besides tuning out the media fear factor, another way to recognize the good in life is to consciously become aware of it. Keep a gratitude journal or consciously remind yourself of what’s working (e.g., for every airplane fatality you hear about, more than 1,000,000 flights safely made their trips).

Try these tips and share others that have worked for you.

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Andrea Conway July 19, 2011, 4:17 pm

    Joy – Thanks for the reminders! I read recently about new research showing that natural selection doesn’t only favor those of us with certain physical characteristics but also favors certain psychological traits as well. It seems that the more fearful our ancestors were, the more likely they were to live long enough to pass their genes along! Seems to me we might accept fear as a valuable survival strategy that serves us. And distinguish that kind of fear from the manipulative fear that keeps us powerless.

    • Joy, the Divorced Breadwinner Mom July 19, 2011, 8:48 pm

      Andrea, I hadn’t heard about this new research. Fascinating. I like your term “manipulative fear” to distinguish it from the real, instinctive fear that serves us well.

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