What’s in a Scary Story

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Sarah Parker

Change coach, therapist, human being, and founder of Well of Being.

Here we are in October – the month of beautiful autumnal oranges and reds as the trees shed their summer foliage, and the time of ghosts and ghouls, witches and cauldrons, black cats and broomsticks! It is the time of year when we cut up our old sheets to make ghosts and hang skeletons from the ceilings.

I suspect that for most adults, we see Halloween decorations as harmless fun. We don’t experience fear or horror. And yet, we create decorations that are designed to be as scary as possible.

Does that mean we are failing in our attempt to make scary decorations? Or are we all so brave that nothing scares us? I suggest it is neither of those things. It’s more likely because we are able to see beyond what the ghost or the witch looks like to what it really is – an old sheet with holes cut in, or a bit of black net with a pointy, wart-covered nose stuck on!

Children are more scared of the ghostly figures because they believe the scary stories told about them. They think they are somehow real and threatening.

Our minds are very much the same. When we see something as real and ‘dangerous’ or threatening, we experience anxiety and fear. We all make up horror stories in our minds. These can take many forms – fear of public speaking, thoughts that we are somehow not good enough or inferior, and fears around food and body size or shape are just a few. Imagine if we could see that these are no different from the ghosts and ghouls of Halloween. When they look and feel real, we feel afraid and need to protect ourselves. Protection might be that we use food or drugs or alcohol to numb or manage our feelings, or we may avoid and run away from certain situations. That is understandable – we are designed to survive. Habits and behaviours are all a mind’s way of trying to survive.

But what if the very things we are protecting ourselves from are not so scary after all? What if we don’t need to protect ourselves? Could it be that we have just not yet seen that the things we are fearful of are no different from the white bedsheets with eyeholes in that we once feared as children. As adults we all have ‘horror stories’ that our minds create. They seem real and true to us until we start to see through them.

When I look back at my own journey through Anorexia Nervosa and beyond, I recall a time when something as harmless and enjoyable as a piece of cake, a bar of chocolate or even a handful of nuts looked terrifying. They were my ghosts, my wicked witches with black cats and warty noses.  As I began to see through the fear that my mind created about food I began to see food in a whole new loving and fearless light.

What are your fear stories? Let’s get curious together about what really lies behind that fear.

With all the autumn love

Sarah x

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