Living in Constant Fear: The Reality of Being Scared All the Time

Belonging to a category of chronic worriers is not prestigious, but there are a lot of us. We worry about work, money, being abandoned, illness, disappointment, over-committing, mental health, and shame, just to name a few. We worry in the early hours of the morning, during holidays, at parties, and pretty much all the time while trying to maintain a facade of normalcy for the people who rely on us. At times, it can feel almost unbearable.

When trying to ease our worries, a common approach is to address each concern individually and counter them with rational arguments. However, it can also be beneficial to consider the overall role that worry plays in our lives, rather than focusing on the specifics of each worry.

A thought-provoking statement on this subject can be found in an essay by the renowned English psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott: “The catastrophe you fear will happen has in fact already happened.” When we worry, we are typically fixated on what might happen in the future. However, Winnicott suggests that the disaster we fear has already occurred in the past.

There is a paradox here. We continue to anticipate something that has already transpired. Winnicott explains that this is due to traumatic events from childhood not being properly processed, which causes them to haunt us in adulthood, manifesting as intense anxieties about the future. These anxieties blind us to the fact that the disasters we fear have already taken place long ago.

Understanding the influence of childhood on our worries may lead us to replace fear and apprehension with a more redemptive emotion: mourning. Rather than panicking for our future selves, we can feel compassion for our younger selves.

Realizing the childhood origins of our worries also empowers us to adapt and improve how we respond to our fears. If we have been well nurtured, we have been equipped with the tools to handle crises effectively. However, without this guidance, we may find ourselves responding to troubles in ways reminiscent of our childhood selves, feeling limited and powerless.

It is important to remind ourselves that as adults, we don’t have to be as afraid or as powerless as we once were. We can assert ourselves, defend our positions, and build new lives in different ways.

Understanding the childhood origins of our fears and responses can free us to imagine that history doesn’t have to repeat itself exactly. We don’t have to be as terrified in adulthood as we were in childhood, and our responses to fears can be more empowered and confident.