Anxiety: The Wizard of Worry
Remember the Wizard in the Wizard of Oz? I bet you do...it’s hard to forget such a memorable character?!
Now, why am I bringing up the Wizard of Oz? Well...because if you understand how the Wizard operated, then you can understand how anxiety, the Wizard of Worry, operates.
The Wizard of Oz, with his imposing, over-blown, domineering voice sounded so frightening and intimidating to Dorothy and her friends.
But, as we all came to know, underneath all the Wizard’s tricky, dramatic pyrotechnics was just a little scared man who had no actual power or control over Dorothy and her friends.
When the Wizard’s cover was finally blown, the characters discovered the truth about both the Wizard and themselves.
They came to understand that they had always had exactly what it took to handle things...that they just hadn’t realized it while in the grips of the Wizard’s powerful facade.
And finally, with their new-found understanding, they were free to go Home.
Anxiety blowing it up
Like the Wizard of Oz, anxiety can cause a simple worry to blow up, frightening and intimidating children and parents alike with its dramatic facade...triggering those flight, fight or freeze reactions...making children feel incompetent, convincing them that they can’t handle things.
But, when anxiety’s cover is blown, children can see that it, like the Wizard, is just a powerful illusion.
Because beneath anxiety’s tricky, dramatic pyrotechnics is just a little, scared part of them that has no actual power or control.
Feel the Anxiety and Step in Anyway
Together Dorothy and her friends faced their challenges head on, with their big, scary feelings right along for the ride...and their deepest desires motivating them to continue.
The support and encouragement they gave each other along the way made facing the Wizard, and the many other obstacles thrown in their path, much more doable.
The relationship between the characters magnified each friend’s sense of personal power.
As parents, we can do the same by fortifying our connection with our child, so they know that they are not alone with their struggles.
Our empathic guidance can anchor our child, illuminating their path...like a lighthouse in a storm, our encouragement helps them to stay the course.
But, we cannot walk our child's path for them.
Supporting our Child Vs. Supporting Anxiety
It can be easy to confuse support with accommodation.
When we accommodate our child’s worry, it means that we are changing or eliminating whatever it is that is triggering their anxiety, letting our child avoid what scares them.
This is done with the best of intentions. We don't want our children to suffer and we don't want to suffer.
But, when we accommodate, we unintentionally are sending our child the message that we think they are incompetent...that they can’t handle life’s difficult feelings and situations.
And we, of course, want to offer the opposite message.
By attempting to shield our child from their anxious feelings, paradoxically, their anxiety grows.
Our job is to see beyond anxiety's dramatic pyrotechnics to our child's deeper needs of connection, acceptance, and a feeling of competency.
Dorothy and her friends could see in each other what they could not yet see in themselves. With this knowledge, they held each other accountable to be their most capable selves.
And like Dorothy and her friends, we too need to see in our children what they cannot yet see in themselves.
Anxiety negatively distorts our child's self-perception, sometimes viciously.
When we respectfully hold our child accountable to be their most capable self, we are telling them, "I believe in you, so you can believe in you too."
Will that be easy? No.
Anxiety treatment is hard work that requires courage and perseverance.
Difficult feelings will most assuredly arise when your child starts to step into the situations that they have been avoiding.
Stepping In to anxiety Begets Confidence
When we hold our child accountable, while providing them with the tools and support that they need, we give them the immeasurable gift...
To develop the ability to tolerate life’s inevitable uncertainties and move forward despite them
Of the opportunity to develop a sense of mastery and competence...the only way to gain a true sense of esteem.
Some parents think their child needs to first develop confidence in order to step into challenging situations. But, the opposite holds true.
It is only by the act of stepping in that genuine confidence can be built.
Confidence is the byproduct of, not the prerequisite for, stepping into situations that bring out our anxiety.
The Treasure on the Other Side of Anxiety
As it turns out, the Wizard of Oz was a blessing in disguise.
By initially refusing to grant Dorothy and her friends their wishes, the characters were forced to step in and face their fears and challenges head on.
And this, not the Wizard, was what ultimately led them to recognize the strength and wisdom they had inside...to be the kind of person...or tin man...or scarecrow...or lion...that they truly wanted to be.
They had come back Home.
By stepping in...
The Cowardly lion was able to prove to himself that he did have courage.
The Tin Man was able to recognize that he had heart.
The scarecrow was able to put his brain into action.
And Dorothy learned that she was the driver of her own destiny.
And like Dorothy and her friends, our children too can finally come home.
for our anxious children, coming home means...
Being able to step into things, despite feeling unsure and scared.
Proving to themselves, by stepping in, that they can handle whatever comes their way.
Accepting that stepping in will mean being willing to appear human...vulnerable, awkward, less than perfect.
Recognizing that we don’t instantly step into mastery...we build it brick by brick...step by step.
Understanding that confidence is not something we have, but something we develop from stepping in and making mistakes along the way.
Seeing through experience that those mistakes are not something to be avoided but are valuable tools that pave the way for expansion and opportunity.
And knowing deep inside that they have exactly what it takes to do all of the above...with their doubts, discomfort, uncertainty being part of the price of admission to a life filled with meaningful.
So, here is for dusting off those ruby slippers and guiding our children to follow their Yellow Brick Road back Home.
Helping Anxious Kids is here to support your family. If you are seeking anxiety treatment for your child and my approach resonates with you, schedule an appointment today.