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Imagining The Worst

Tami, a young mother of two, had always been a worrier and liked to be prepared for worst-case scenarios. She was the sort of person who when entering a new place would mentally check all available entrances and exits to make sure she had an escape route planned. She had a mental Rolodex of countless disasters that she’d read about, including terror attacks, car crashes, freak accidents, and unusual illnesses, and she would often find herself imagining what she would do if any of these terrible things happened to her or her family, right down to details like which hospital she’d want to go to.


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Tami had always regarded these habits as just part of her personality, but now in her late 20s, it was starting to mutate into all-consuming anxiety. She found herself struggling to relax and unwind, and losing her sense of concentration. Even when watching television with her husband after her kids were in bed, Tamar felt keyed up and on edge, and she had trouble sleeping at night. It was exhausting. She felt suffocated at work, forcing herself to stay in the office instead of running out, and she constantly felt like her boss was getting ready to let her go. Eventually, things got so bad that she decided she needed help, and she called Kav L’Noar.

The Kav L’Noar therapist asked Tami if she knew where all this anxiety was coming from. Tami just answered that it was just part of her makeup, part of who she was. She said that there was no obvious trauma that she could point to. “I’ve heard of people developing issues after unexpected losses, or incidents involving being embarrassed in public and things like that. But I’ve never had an experience like that.” The therapist said, “so let’s just keep exploring and see what comes up.”

Over the next set of sessions, Tami talked about her upbringing and student years, which she described as happy by and large, albeit with the normal mix of challenges that everybody faces. One time the therapist asked Tami to think about a time in her life when she remembered feeling particularly anxious. She described how when she was 11 or 12, her parents started leaving her at home with just her older brothers instead of with a babysitter when they went out. She could still remember the scent of the perfume and the distinctive pink lipstick that her mother always wore on these occasions. She related to the therapist how she would stare out the window, waiting for them to come home, and wondering what would happen if they didn’t. And then Tami recalled her sense of panic at the time, how she thought that because she was imagining so vividly the scenario of her parents failing to return, she would somehow cause it to happen as if she was making a direct request to God without meaning to. “I would go to bed before they got home, and it would take me forever to fall asleep. Then I would have the most horrible nightmares. But I didn’t want to say anything about it to my parents. I didn’t want them to think I was a baby.”

The therapist pointed out that even though, in reality, young Tami was totally powerless in these situations, she nevertheless had terrified herself into fearing- at least on some level- that she was in control and could make something unthinkably awful happen. “But nothing bad ever happened.” said Tami. “Yes, but it sounds like you always wondered if it might, the next time,” said the therapist. “So that’s what this is all about?” asked Tami? “Because I freaked out over nothing when I was 12, I’m condemned to spend the rest of my life getting irrationally worked up over everything and anything?” The therapist shook her head. “No, the Tami who is reacting anxiously to all these situations today is actually the 12-year-old Tami. 29-year-old Tami is on a break. So we’re gonna validate 12-year-old Tami’s legitimate feelings, comfort her, and then call in the 29-year-old highly capable Tami who realizes she is no longer in that situation of fear and abandonment and can summon the appropriate coping skills.”

Tami and the therapist spent the next few months doing just that, but it wasn’t as difficult a process as Tami had expected. One time she said to the therapist, “I always hid the extent of my fears from everybody, even my husband. I knew they were ridiculous, and an insult to the people who were truly going through this stuff. But being able to say them out loud to you without fear of being judged, and you guiding me to trace how much of my thinking follows the same loops and patterns- somehow it takes away their power. I feel like I am getting the strength to put the fear in its place, instead of letting it dominate me like it always has.”

After six months, Tami felt that things were under control enough that she could say goodbye to the therapist.

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