Last night’s episode of ABC’s Once Upon A Time featured a theme very close to our hearts: conquering your fears.
In this episode, in the fairytale world parallel to ours, a magical root rumored to help you face your fears actually magnifies them to the point where they take you prisoner; hence, Rapunzel in the tower. There is no easy way out: No handsome prince or true love’s kiss can rescue her. In fact, when Prince Charming shows up, he cannot take her with him; instead, he is attacked by the “witch” who imprisoned her, a seeming hag in rags with a hood completely obscuring her face.
Yet when the witch throws back her hood, whose face does Charming see? Rapunzel’s, of course: the young princess has imprisoned herself through her own fear of not being good enough to follow in her parents’ footsteps to rule the kingdom. When Charming bolsters Rapunzel to face her fear, to acknowledge it and know inside she can overcome it, the witch explodes in a fiery ball, freeing Rapunzel to return to her family and face her future.
A year later, in Storybrook (for the uninitiated, the town in our world where the cursed fairytale characters are exiled), Prince Charming David has had his memories of these events erased. He does not remember what happened with Rapunzel and the need to face your fear to defeat the witch. As his role as new father draws near, he finds himself overcome with doubt: Will he fail his child?
Taking full advantage of this fear, the Wicked Witch (no longer green in Storybrook, of course) slips him her version of a mickey: the same magical root taken by Rapunzel, which summons his fear in a witch form that tries to kill him.
Of course, being Prince Charming, David takes less than a minute to recognize this “witch” is actually his own fear and then to conquer it. No decades in a tower for him! If only it were that easy for all of us…
Yet it often isn’t as hard as we fear it will be. Sometimes, the hardest part of conquering a fear is acknowledging you have it. Some fears are easy to see and own. Personally, I’m afraid of skydiving, or of any type of jumping from a height.
This is an obvious fear, and one that does not affect my day-to-day life – I am not a skydiving teacher or have any need to jump from high places. But what about those fears that are not so obvious, the insidious fears that keep us from accomplishing things in our lives that do mean a lot, that will take us to that next level we want to achieve?
Those can be very hard to identify and address. For instance, did you know procrastination is actually a fear? When talking with one of our psychologist advisors, I mentioned I was surprised when a 14-year-old girl had used the system to address procrastination. Yes, I was told; procrastination is actually based in perfectionism, the fear of not being able to do something well enough.
WOW! I thought when I heard this. That’s me! I often find myself questioning whether I can truly accomplish what I want. I self-talk myself into a quandary, often putting off whatever it is until I “have a better vision.” Usually, I end up getting motivated, do whatever it is, and it turns out fine; but I also know there are plenty of times when I could have done a better job (or any job at all!) if I had been able to buckle down and do the work at the appropriate time.
He elaborates further in his article “The Ostrich Trap,” discussing how people “put their heads in the sand” when they feel scared or threatened. Unfortunately, just as the ostrich doesn’t truly live that way, it’s not healthy for humans, either.
So what does all this mean, for us and our children? Just as in Once Upon A Time, unacknowledged fears can be deadly, trapping us, destroying dreams and leaving your life unfulfilled. As adults, we can seek out our dreams and figure out what is keeping us from reaching them. Easy, no; but possible.
For our children, the answer is actually much easier. Kids don’t have the imprints we have as adults; they are open and trusting, able to mold their lives much more quickly and easily. That’s why it’s so important for us as parents and caregivers to help our children learn to face our fears early on. If we can teach our children how to approach and overcome their fears at a young age, they will grow to be adults who are much more capable of identifying and pursuing – and achieving – their lives’ dreams.