The Trauma of Growing Up with Worst-Case Scenario Mom

What happens in childhood, never stays in childhood

Photo by Kate Williams on Unsplash

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Zoe who, even though her name meant life — had trouble enjoying life. No matter what she did, or where she went, or who she was with, dark shadows of fear snuck up all around her and stole her joy.

Zoe couldn’t go on a journey because every form of transportation brought anxiety. It didn’t matter where she went or who she was with — she was always worried about getting in an accident.

Zoe couldn’t find comfort in food because she couldn’t trust anyone to make her food without poisoning her. The only place she felt safe to eat was in her own home.

Zoe couldn’t enjoy plays or parties of any kind inside a large building because she was afraid of the walls crumbling down around her. Or even worse, she feared an evil org might enter with a deadly weapon.

Let’s face it not only did Zoe miss out on all the adventures that her friends enjoyed, but she wasn’t much fun to be around because she couldn’t go anywhere, or do anything.

One day Willa Wisdom knocked on Zoe’s door.

At first, there was no answer. When the old sage saw a movement behind the curtain, she called out, “I see you. If you let me in, I’ll not harm you, but help you.”

Zoe slowly peeked around the door. “Who are you?”

“I’m Willa. I’m here on behalf of your friends. They’ve asked me to figure out what it would take for you to let go of your fears and enjoy life.”

Zoe slowly shook her head. “I don’t know.”

“Well perhaps you could imagine a beautiful place in your mind — somewhere you can go when you find yourself away from home and afraid.”

Zoe smiled. “The beach!”

“Ah, that’s good! Use your imagination. Shut your eyes and tell me about it.”

Zoe closed her eyes and held her breath for a minute. “I see the ocean. It's stretching out to the sky. The sky is pink like a sunrise, or maybe a sunset. I can hear the roaring of the surf.”

Willa smiled. “Ah, beautiful! Anything else?”

Zoe rocked a little from side to side. “A boat. No, a horse! A girl is riding her horse across the sand. And I can smell the salty air!” Her lips turned up and she inhaled as if she was breathing it in.

Willa was getting excited. Well, Go on! What else do you see, hear, or smell?”

Zoe’s expression changed as wrinkles formed across her forehead. “An earthquake! The ground is shaking! I have to get to higher ground before the tsunami hits!” Her breath became ragged and she started to gasp for air.

“What about the boat? Can you get into the boat?” Willa was as alarmed as Zoe, but for a different reason.

Zoe tossed her head. “No! A boat would capsize!”

“Well, what about the horse? Can you ride it to safety?”

Zoe’s face crumpled. “No, it’s too far and it’s too late. I can’t outrun it.”

“Open your eyes and look at me!” Willa waved her hand in front of Zoe’s face as if she was saying hello.

Zoe laughed nervously. “I guess there’s no hope for me.”

“Oh, twaddle! Shut your eyes again and start over, but pick a new place.”

Zoe obeyed. It took a moment to conjure another beautiful scene. “Oh, I got it! It’s a beautiful lake. It’s emerald green and there’s a waterfall spilling into it. It’s near the mountains.”

Willow sat back with a grin, “Go on. Can you find a log to sit on and rest?”

“Yeah, I’m sitting beside a campfire the smoke is nice it smells of cedar.”

“Good! What else do you see? Any wildflowers?”

“Oh yes! Millions of wildflowers of every hue!”

“And what else? Do you feel relaxed?” Willa sighed, hoping Zoe could find a sense of calm.

“Oh dear, there’s a bear! I’m not sure if it’s a grizzly or black bear.”

“Can you climb a tree?”

“Yikes, a spark just lit some pine needles on fire. Oh, feel a rumbling…”

“Another earthquake?” Willow was concerned.

“No, it’s a volcano. I see lava. The mountain’s erupting!”

Willa placed her hand in front of Zoe’s closed eyes and snapped her fingers. “Open your eyes!”

Zoe looked at Willa with a dejected look. “It’s no use. There are no safe places.”

They sat in silence while Willa thought for a moment.

“Okay, shut your eyes again and go back to the mountains. Someone told you there was a bear. Whose voice did you hear?”

Zoe hesitated because she was afraid to say who.

“Well go on!” Willa was getting impatient.

“It‘s my mom.”

Willa clapped her hands. “Okay, now we’re getting somewhere! The secret to your anxiety is that you grew up with “Worst Case Anxiety Mom.”

“What?” Zoe hadn’t heard of any such person.

“Your mom. She wanted to protect you so she taught you to imagine the worst-case scenarios of every situation.”

Zoe felt the light. “It’s true! It was a game we played whenever we went somewhere new.”

Willa nodded. “She did it out of love to protect her baby girl, but you're the grown-up now. Listening to her voice is an outdated coping mechanism. You know how to protect yourself in thousands of ways, now you can determine each risk, one situation at a time.”

Zoe wasn’t sure where to start. “But what if I can’t let go? Then what?”

“Then you’ll grow old and bored hiding inside your home until an earthquake, or fire, or flood, comes to wash the house away forcing you to go outside.”

Zoe trembled. “Is there nowhere safe?”

Willa raised her eyebrows. “Most places are safer than not, it just depends on what you focus on. Why not use your mind to conjure positive scenarios instead of scary ones?”

“I suppose I could try.” Zoe’s flat voice revealed that she still wasn’t convinced she could do it. “But my mom’s voice is always in the back of my head.”

“Whenever you hear your mother’s worried voice, you need to mute it. That’s the stuff of nightmares!”

“But what about the messenger boy who cried “wolf” so many times that the village ignored him when there really was a wolf?”

Willa rolled her eyes. “Then fire the messenger — you don’t have time to take advice from liars!”

When you hear fearful voices, how do you silence them?

Cherilyn Christen Clough broke the rules when she started writing about her family’s secrets. Some claim she sold her soul to the devil, but she prefers to think of it as gaining freedom. You can read about her strange childhood in Chasing Eden A Memoir.

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Cherilyn Christen Clough

Exposing narcissism, smashing the patriarchy, and refuting religious abuse--one story at a time