A few weeks ago, I took my dog to the dog park. I love sitting and watching how the animals interact with each other and their humans, and I especially love watching how puppies react to the world around them.
On this particular visit, a German Shepherd puppy captured my attention because he was trying to get to his owner, but a tree stump was barring his way. A tree stump may not seem like a great obstacle, but to this puppy, it seemed insurmountable. He saw this object looming in front of him, preventing him from reaching the thing he wanted most in the world: the comfort and safety of being with his human.
Moments passed as the puppy whined for his owner, who was intentionally ignoring the cries.
As the puppy realized his human was not coming to rescue him, he started inching towards the thing that was causing him so much fear. He approached apprehensively, cautious of whatever terrors may lurk within.
I watched as the owner walked up on the other side of the tree stump and calmly beckoned the puppy over. The puppy was reluctant, his instinctual fear battling with the trust he had in his owner. Finally, in a moment of courage, the puppy leapt over the tree stump and bounded up to his human, so proud of this obstacle he overcame. The man rewarded the puppy with affection and comfort—the very things the puppy craved, and the very things fear almost robbed him of.
People on the outside of that fear may see the tree stump as something that doesn’t pose a threat, so they may not understand why it’s so terrifying. To a dog who has vaulted tree stumps many times and come out unscathed, it seems silly to be so afraid of something that never hurt them.
The same is often true with humans and the fears of others that we don’t understand.
We see a person struggling, and we may wonder why this particular thing poses such an obstacle for them when it’s something we’ve dealt with many times and come out of just fine.
Don’t they know that all they have to do is get over the fear to get to the things that are meant for them?
What we may not understand in these circumstances is that fear often feels insurmountable when a person is in the midst of it. They can’t see a way through it, so it’s impossible to see the good that is on the other side of it.
When we see someone struggling in this way, we should respond with kindness and empathy. We should remind them that fear is natural. Whether it’s fear in a new situation or a fear that they are accustomed to and have become comfortable in, it’s okay to feel it. Instead of shaming them for something we cannot possibly understand, we should be gentle with them. We should give reassurance and encouragement, reminding them that they don’t have to face this fear alone. We can walk through it with them, or we can meet them on the other side of it. Either way, we’ll be there with them.
If you’re experiencing this kind of fear, remember that it’s okay to feel it. In the same way that you would be gentle with someone you love, be gentle with yourself. Understand that fear is not a shameful feeling. It’s okay to be reluctant, to hesitate before leaping over fear or pushing through it. It’s okay to seek support for the fears you can’t face on your own.
But it’s also important to remember that everything you want, and maybe the things you don’t even know you need, are on the other side of that fear.