Each year, we participate in an annual ritual called Halloween. It is a time for youngsters to dress up and go "trick or treating". I can remember years ago when I would roam my neighborhood for hours gathering mountains of candy, apples, and cookies. In recent times, we have become leery of allowing our children to wander where they will. However, Halloween will always remain a time to dress up in scary costumes while maintaining that we aren't afraid of things like ghosts and goblins.
At first glance, Halloween is just a time to pretend to be frightened at things that seem spooky. Or is there more to it? The noted psychologist, Carl Jung, believed that we have the collective memory of the human race stored in our unconscious memories. He believed that we carry with us all the hopes and fears of all times just below our level of awareness.
I believe that these fears bubble up occasionally into our consciousness. At Halloween, we flirt with these primordial fears by participating in this annual ritual. This fun time for young children is a very serious attempt on our part to deal with our fears and frights about life. By saying, "Boo," we try to deal with the worrisome aspects of life. When we dress up and scare each other, we are attempting to reassure ourselves that all is right with our world as we stand up to that which haunts us. Therefore, Halloween serves as an important function. If Halloween didn't exist, we would invent a holiday like it.
By working through our primordial fears during Halloween, we face fears that are deep-seeded and connect with our primitive past. What is true for the anxiety over of the past ghosts and goblins is equally true of the fears of our present day world; sometimes our lives are filled with sheer terror.
I had a client whose real world was in chaos. No matter where he looked, fear surrounded him. I tried to show him that he was drowning in his sea of fear. Suddenly, it struck him, and he blurted out, "My past is haunting my future!" My client's dilemma is a universal problem. How do we avoid having the past plague our tomorrows?
We can take some clues from our Halloween experience. I shared with my client that we need to face fear straight on. We give in to fear when we don't face it, and to make matters worse, we add to it by compounding our fear with more fear. If we face our apprehension directly, we say, "Boo!" to them as it were. By standing up to them, we reduce their dominion over us.
We can face our fears directly by using a worst case scenario approach. I had my client jot down the fears that immobilized him. Then I had him write down what would happen if the worst case scenario really did happen. This is an interesting discipline when dealing with fears. More often than not, the worst case doesn't seem as bad when it is committed to paper. In addition, seldom does the worst case occur. Even when a profoundly serious situation happens, we discover that facing it is liberating. Besides, even if the worst case occurs, what can we do about it anyway?
Presently, my client is rebuilding his life without having fear haunting his future. When his fears start to get out of hand, he simply jots them down and faces the potential problems without dread and anxiety. This exercise parallels getting dressed up for Halloween. As the ritual-like act of facing scary situations liberates us as little children, so also will our standing up to those scary issues of our adult world liberate us from the present day ghosts that go bump in the nightmare of our lives. As an adult, we need to "dress up" and go out into the night and face the future without apprehension. If we do, we will discover as did my client that FDR was correct when encouraging America during the depression that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself-nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."
This article first appeared in the Dixon Telegraph on October 21, 1999.