(Always Try To Understand)
I’m very aware that I’m not offering a unique insight when I say that the hard part of a lot of things lies in the anticipation.
Despite that lack of originality, nevertheless I found myself thinking about the trip to the dentist I had coming up. That used to be something I’d come to dread but these days that’s no longer the case. And that in itself is something to analyse – how come I feel differently about it now? And what’s to be learnt from this new state of affairs.
Constrain Your Animal You (Fear, Part Two)
Let’s talk about getting your teeth fixed.
As a kid I didn’t have a problem with going to the dentist. As an adult the same was true right up to a visit that went wrong. My dentist thought she’d numbed my back tooth. She’d numbed my tongue and neck. The drilling hurt. I couldn’t talk. It felt like I was going to choke. My throat was constricted. The only way I could communicate was biting her finger (albeit gently) as she was drilling. More numbing, more drilling, a hurried job, a flustered dentist, little by way of apology.
I have no idea about fault. I think I’m right in saying the nerves around the jaw are close together; that it might have been an easy enough mistake to make. But that said, I’ve never had anything similar, before or since.
The upshot, predictably enough, was that from then on I became very nervous about trips to the dentist. That’s understandable. But it’s illogical. After all, all my other trips had been fine.
Fast forward. Once the initial recovery weeks were behind me, after I’d crashed there was no obvious damage to my teeth or jaw apart from a chipped front tooth. But after coming out of hospital I was advised to get a check up. My nervousness about dentistry persisted. So I told my (new) dentist about the problem. And he was reassuring. And his skills were – and are – such that his reassurance has been backed up by my subsequent experience.
Time goes by. Then came two, so I learnt, complicated wisdom teeth root canal jobs. Too complicated – by his own judgement – for my now regular dentist. He recommended a colleague. His colleague was as good as him. Two visits to her, both going on for well over two hours. Local pain killers of course, but nothing more. How good was she? Both times, I nodded off.
Why am I relating this tale? Because I think it shows you can learn to manage your fears. You can train yourself to think and respond differently. You can train the animal that’s you.
How? First, know that you’re an animal. You are simply reacting both to your past experience and to what you imagine is ahead of you.
If I’ve an appointment with my dentist coming up then, yes, despite everything, I’m still nervous. But I know why. And because I’ve faced it in the past I can be sure both that my dentist won’t hurt me, and also that once I’m sitting in the dentist’s chair I will relax.
If you like, my knowledge of my real recent experience will over-ride the emotional, irrational expectation rooted in a past that’s now years and years ago. I am still nervous – that’s the animal in me and that’s just the way things are. But I know my nerves are emotional and irrational and thus I don’t let them dominate.
And I think my experience can translate into valid general advice that I’d give to anyone. Be up front about your fears – be open about them to yourself and to others. Why not? You’ve nothing to prove by bottling them up. If anyone thinks less of you for your fears then that only reflects on them, not you. Judge your friends, loved ones, acquaintances accordingly. And should anyone claim they have no fears, they’re either fools or liars.
So, be open to yourself and to anyone else you’re close to. Be open about having some thing or things you struggle with. And from that honest base point, look at how you can best manage it all.
No, you can’t just throw your old response away. You can’t erase feelings, emotions. But you can train your responses to them. It takes time and it’s true that ‘practice makes perfect’. But nevertheless, you can train yourself to frame and articulate your responses using rational words. Simple, rational language that we all have access to. In that way, the conscious, rational ‘you’ can contain and constrain the ‘you’ that’s the emotional animal. By telling yourself – forcefully, deliberately – the new truth you’re living by, you can quell the power of the old truth, of your irrational, emotional legacy.
Everyone has fears looming over them to some extent. Messy, simple, clear-cut, confused, dramatic, insidious. Fears aren’t unique. And that’s fine. It comes with the package of being a human.
My regular dentist says he uses me as an example when he’s talking to other patients who are tense. I like that. It’s good to be useful.
Arguably … if you can understand a fear you have a chance at managing it. Annoyance that you still have the fear even after you’ve understood and managed it is understandable. But on the other hand, you could argue that the annoyance is a useful reminder of your irrational, emotion-led animal self.