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Becoming A Mother Turned Me Into A Worrier Of The Highest Order

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Anxiety

Becoming A Mother Turned Me Into A Worrier Of The Highest Order

When did I go from being a fearless person to a champion worrier?

When I was growing up, I thought that being courageous meant not being afraid. Similarly, I thought cowardice meant fear. By these false definitions I was both brave and cowardly depending on when and where you peeked in on my life.

As a young adult, for example, I was good at fearlessness. I spent my junior year of college in India, inspired by my best friend Marla who was majoring in Indian Studies. Once there, I threw caution to the wind. When Marla and I were in Nepal and she proposed that we trek to a remote village, I was game. No matter that this village, a day trip from our point of departure in Katmandu, could only be reached by horseback. No matter that I had only a brief stint of riding experience from one month of summer camp and Marla had none.  No matter that our guide spoke only Nepalese while we spoke only a little Hindi, and poorly at that. We lost him after a couple of hours anyway, or maybe he just went home. That we lived to tell of this adventure is a small miracle.

Because I was young, I didn’t think tragedy or death could touch me. I didn’t even take illness all that seriously. While abroad I was diagnosed with a long list of diseases, including malaria and amoebic dysentery, which I thought made me a more interesting person. I thought my own mother was ridiculous for worrying about me when I wrote home about my funny adventures, like stepping out of a cab in Goa in the middle of the night into a six-foot ditch where I was bitten by a poisonous snake. Why was she such a worrywart?

I had no clue that a decade later, motherhood would turn me into a champion worrier. Having children taught me all about fear, and suddenly, life was a wolf prowling outside the door ready to pounce on my children when I wasn’t paying attention. In fact, if you looked in on my more anxious moments of parenting, you might wonder whatever happened to that intrepid young woman in India.  You could only conclude that she had been abducted by aliens and replaced by some other person whose brain went to worse-case scenarios like a moth to a flame.

Was I a courageous person when I was a student, and a coward after my kids came along? Not at all. I simply experienced anxiety differently at different points in the life cycle. When I was younger, I denied danger. After my first child was born, I developed an over-reactive fear response, at least as far as survival anxiety was concerned. I wish my neural circuitry had been more easygoing while I was rearing my children. But that’s how it was.

[Harriet Lerner]

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Dr. Lerner is one of the world’s most respected voices in the psychology of women and family relationships. She is the author of 11 books published in 35 languages. These include The Dance of Intimacy, Marriage Rules, and The Dance of Anger, a New York Times bestseller that has helped rescue men and women from the swamps and quicksands of difficult relationships. Dr. Lerner hosts a blog for Psychology Today.

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