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Conquering Fear: How a Pawn Became a Queen

When fear takes over

Adele’s mother was very clear on the phone about why she wanted help for her daughter. “I don’t care about her grades- they don’t matter. I don’t need her to be the social queen. I just want her to stop being so frightened of everything!” 

Adele had always been timid, but since making aliyah from France four years ago, things had gotten worse. Adele didn’t like leaving the house and particularly hated to travel on buses. Even though bus attacks have become mercifully rare in Israel, she couldn’t get the pictures of bus bombings out of her head. Adele didn’t like anyone to walk behind her because just the sound of footsteps sent her into a panic. It wasn’t only a fear of being attacked. Adele loved to play the violin and was very good at it but she refused all requests to play in front of other people because she was too nervous. She didn’t even like eating with other people for fear of getting food stuck in her teeth or spilling something and looking foolish.

Breaking the cycle of fear

Kav L’Noar’s experienced therapist assessed Adele. It was clear that all her fears related to a need for control. The move to Israel had turned everything that Adele had ever known on its head.  She had been trying to reclaim that lost sense of control ever since. The more she tried to hold onto it, the more it threatened to slip away, and the more the fears grew. The therapist recommended that a mentor work with Adele to try and help her break the cycle.

Adele’s mentor Orianne, who was also originally from France, needed to create a safe space for Adele. A space where she could feel relaxed and free to talk about whatever was on her mind. She also needed to create opportunities to push Adele beyond her very small comfort zone, so that she could see that nothing bad would happen as a result. The balance was very delicate. Once, they went to a trampoline park, so that she would have to literally let go. Adele hated it and refused to do more than a few stiff and half-hearted bounces even while Orianne somersaulted around her. Orianne felt crushed and guilty about trying to force a change too quickly.

A game of chess

Orianne and Adele played a lot of chess in their meetings, which they both enjoyed, although Adele was a much better player. After a few months, Adele cautiously showed Orianne a flyer about an upcoming regional chess tournament, saying “I’ll enter if you enter as well.” Orianne protested that it was completely out of her league;  she would lose every game and it would be highly embarrassing. Adele tried to reassure her, saying that she was better than she realized. Orianne realized that this was the opportunity that they had been waiting for. Adele was willing to make herself vulnerable by entering this public contest, but only if Orianne was there to support her. This was also a rare chance for Orianne to model how she managed when put in an uncomfortable position. 

Sure enough, Orianne lost every game within just a few moves. But Adele made it through to the third round and was delighted with her achievement. Of course, Adele still had a long way to go to conquer her long list of fears. But it was a breakthrough, and all the more powerful for having been her own idea. 

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