It’s an iconic scene.
A sad and emotionally distressed Charlie Brown seeks psychiatric advice from Lucy, and Lucy, as any reasonable professional would, sets about trying to find a label to adequately categorize his symptoms.
After running through a number of possible labels, an inquisitive Lucy questions, “Maybe you have Pantophobia. Do you think you have Pantophobia?”
Charlie Brown responds, What’s Pantophobia?”
“The fear of everything,” she explains.
“THAT’S IT,” he shouts.
Now I’m not sure if Charles Schulz intended to offer a foreshadowed vision of psychiatric care, but the interaction between Lucy and Charlie Brown seems to eerily mirror modern psychiatry’s template for addressing the human tendency for emotional and mental distress. As Lucy demonstrated, the first step of contemporary assessment tends to focus on assigning a diagnostic label, “If we can find out what you’re afraid of, we can label it.”
Unfortunately, for many people, the treatment of their now-labeled malady becomes little more than a revolving door of mental illness narratives, diagnostic codes, psychotropic drugs, and a lifetime of a broken brain mindset. As if emotional and mental distresses are incurable conditions to be managed but never healed.
It genuinely breaks my heart when a client comes into my office, fully embedded in their labels, still seeking relief from the fears, emotional wounds, trauma, and life losses they have experienced in spite of years of “treatment.”
Steeped in the treatment narratives they have been taught, they describe the anguish of their souls as my anxiety, my depression, my bipolar disorder, or my eating disorder. It is as if they have actually taken ownership of the label and assimilated the psychotic categorization as a facet of their identity. They have, to some extent, become defined by the label.
This ownership dynamic makes it especially difficult to open up the possibility of wholeness and a fear-free way of living with themselves and others. The label mentality short-circuits the ability to imagine a life free of emotional distress, mental anguish, relational conflict, and grief. In short, happiness, fulfillment, contentment, connection, and joy become unreachable or unrealistic goals as opposed to obtainable realities.
Lost in the worry about what others might think and what tomorrow might bring, people become perpetually fearful and anxious. Their imaginations become dark and cloudy; their consciousness becomes an ever-present source of internal condemnation; their emotions run wild and their thoughts race. To some extent, they have become afraid of being afraid. They have, as Charlie Brown recognized, become afraid of everything.
Fear of failure,
Fear of not being enough
Fear of being unloved and undervalued
Fear of being alone
Fear of being rejected
Fear of being poor
Fear of poor health
Fear of what others think
Fear of missing out
Fear of condemnation
Fear of ___________
The list can seem endless.
In the midst of these fears, the idea of hope can seem obscure. The notion of healing can seem like a dream, and the thought of living a life free of fear can seem unobtainable.
Take heart; fear is not all-powerful. It is a sickness of the spirit and soul, not the body. It does not have to be a way of life, a mindset, or defining label. It can be naturalized. A fear-free life is possible.
As a society, we seldom think of mental illness, addiction, emotional distress, or mental anguish in terms of healing. More often, we frame such issues as conditions to be managed or treated. Social norms tend to dictate an outside-in paradigm in which the symptom becomes the focus of treatment.
If you are anxious, we try to make you less anxious. If you are depressed, we try to make you less depressed. If you struggle with anger, we help you learn how to manage the anger. Outside in…focus on the behavior or symptom and manage the problem through treatment.
But what would happen if we flipped that narrative? What if the anxiety, the depression, the anger, and the fear are internal problems? What if the behavior or the symptom is only an outward manifestation of internal distress? What might happen if we traced the symptom back to its origination point and addressed the problem there…internally?
If we heal the internal distress, might the external symptoms resolve?
What if the fear of everything is actually a spiritual malady that requires a spiritual solution? Heal the spirit, heal the soul, heal the body. What if the cure for the fear of everything is an internal peace that radiates from deep inside our spirit out into our souls and manifests in our bodies?
Peace, the Real Kind
When most of us think about peace, we tend to think in terms of an absence of conflict. If we are not in some type of conflict, we believe ourselves to be in a state of peace. True peace, however, is a much fuller and more robust concept. While peace does include the absence of conflict, simply being free of conflict does not equate to feelings of safety, well-being, connection, and contentment.
True peace, real peace, involves completeness, wholeness, and well-being in every aspect of our lives. It is wholeness in our relationships, our emotions, our finances, our mental health, our physical bodies, our thoughts, our conscience, and our imagination. It’s the full monty. It is the full amount expected, desired, or possible.
To Live in Peace Is to Live Fear-Free.
It might be surprising to learn that living a peaceful life was God’s original plan for humankind. We were not created to live lives of quiet despair and mental anguish. We were not designed to be fearful, discontent, mentally disturbed, and relationally barren people—quite the opposite.
As God’s most wonderful creation, human beings were designed to commune with God in an intimate, safe, and life-affirming manner. Of all of God’s creation, humankind was His crown jewel. Humans were (and are) the apple of God’s eye (no pun intended).
So what happened? What separated us from God’s original design of peaceful communion and connection?
Help! I’m Fallen, and I Can’t Get Up!
In therapy, client’s often have a moment when they realize much of their distress and emotional pain are directly connected to the intergenerational patterns to which they were exposed. An absent father or mother, abuse, poverty, alcoholism or drug use, trauma, the troublesome patterns are endless.
As a child, none of the situations, abuses, or losses are our fault. Without cause or provocation, the realities of our lives, experiences, and situations were imposed upon us. We had no choice in the matter.
In a similar manner, the fallen nature of humankind is not our fault. We were born into it. Like some kind of colossal negative intergenerational pattern, our birthright included being born into a fallen state of spiritual separation from our Creator. Bum deal, right?
But just like the unique intergenerational patterns to which we are exposed as children, we are not obligated to carry them or be burdened by them for a lifetime. We can choose a new way of being with ourselves and with others. We can choose to be reconciled to God and enjoy all of the benefits and intimacy God intended for His creation. We can choose to live a life of peace and not fear.
God’s Shalom Peace: Life the Way It Was Meant to Be
Love, peace, safety, joy, communion, and connection are all attributes of God’s original plan for His creation. Separation, loneliness, pain, distress, and fear were not God’s intent. This is why He provided a way to break free of these oppressive intergenerational patterns and live life the way He intended.
In short, God has the fix for our fallen nature, and if we will let him, we can live the life he originally planned for us. A life of wholeness and completeness in every aspect of our life. Fear free, the way it was meant to be.
Shalom: God’s Original Design for Wholeness, Reconciliation, and Redemption.
Just before Christ’s crucifixion, as he spent his last hours with the disciples, Christ comforted them by telling them about the great gifts that would come from his death and resurrection. The greatest being a pathway to reconnecting with God and the restoration of God’s original plan for completeness and wholeness in every aspect of life (peace). God’s intent has always been to enjoy an intimately close relationship with his creation, and through Christ, his plan was restored in all of its fullness.
“I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” John 14:27
When Christ told his disciples, he was giving them the gift of peace. He wasn’t just talking about the absence of conflict. He was bequeathing to them, by his death, God’s Shalom peace! Peace not as the world defines peace (the absence of conflict) but God’s peace (abundance, wholeness, and completeness) in every aspect of life. This is our inheritance. This is the original design for life. Connected, whole, complete, healthy, hopeful, and FEAR FREE!
Living Fear Free
Every day I watch clients choose a new way of being with themselves and with others and choose to let go of the destructive and painful intergenerational patterns of their past in order to heal. For many, this process results in an improvement in their day-to-day interactions and a less conflicted lifestyle. As they learn to further define their own sense of self and develop healthier ways of connecting with others and God, they grow, they restructure, they reconnect, and they begin to heal.
But… there is a deeper work for those who desire a more robust and lasting result. If we choose to lean into our spiritual self and embrace God’s gift of reconciliation and peace through Christ, the transformation becomes complete – spirit, soul, and body.
When we choose the new and living way and let go of the old ways, we allow ourselves to become joint heirs to the inheritance bequeathed to us by Christ’s sacrifice; we get the full monty. The full amount expected, desired, or possible. A life of wholeness and completeness. God’s Shalom peace, Fear-Free, the way it was meant to be.
The Choice is Ours
In the book of Deuteronomy, God outlines his willingness to allow each person to choose, for themselves, the path they prefer. We can choose life, or we can choose death. We can choose blessings or curses. We can choose a life of separation and fear or a life of connection, wholeness, and completeness. The choice is ours.
“Today, I am giving you a choice of two ways. And I ask heaven and earth to be witnesses of your choice. You can choose life or death. The first choice will bring a blessing. The other choice will bring a curse. So choose life! Deuteronomy 30:19-20
Just like the loving Heavenly Father he is, God points us in the right direction. Can we choose death, sadness, disconnection, and emotional distress (separation from God)? Of course, we can. People do it all the time. But if we truly desire a different kind of life, one of connection, completeness, wholeness, and fear-free living – the way it was meant to be, the choice is obvious. We choose life.
Charlie Brown eventually had his moment of clarity when he realized he was suffering from the fear of everything. In his fearful state, life seemed empty, unhappy, and incomplete. He now knew what the problem was but still didn’t know what to do about it. Knowing what ails us and what to do about it are entirely different propositions. As Charlie Brown lifts his voice in frustration and pain, lamenting his lack of understanding, Linus comes to the rescue.
Linus: “Sure, Charlie Brown. I can tell you what Christmas is all about…”
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field…keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
The Problem, The Plan, The Answer.
As creations of our loving Heavenly Father, we were created to know Him in all his fullness. To walk with Him in an intimate relationship and commune with Him on a daily basis. We were not created to live lives of fear, disconnection, sadness, or shame. This Christmas season is the perfect time to choose a new way of being with yourself, others, and God. When we choose Him, we choose a fear-free life of wholeness and completeness…the way it was meant to be.
In grace and love,
To learn more about Dr. Walters and Chrysalis Connections Relationship Counseling and Family Leadership Center, you can call the main office at 812-274-5333 or visit the website at ChrysalisConnetions.com
Chrysalis Connections Relationship Counseling and Family Leadership Center
Dr. Teresa M. Walters, Ed.D., MAMFT, LMFT, LAC, DTM
618 E. Second Street, Madison, IN 47250