When Fear Cuts Like a Knife

After three years of intermittent pain, I couldn’t wait any longer. The hernia had to be repaired. So, several weeks ago I faced the knife.

Like any responsible adult, I took care of the tangibles – meeting with a well-regarded surgeon, arranging assistance from family members and talking with my young adult children. I was upbeat and ready for a speedy recovery. In other words, I handled every situation that could be controlled. 

surgeryYet I couldn’t control one thing.


It erupted within all my children. And that anticipated fear was the reason I delayed the procedure for so long.

No doubt, fear brings out insecurities in most people – especially children with a history of early trauma. In their case fear is re-traumatizing – which, in turn, triggers unpleasant memories from the past.

Fear on top of fear.

Our family routine changed dramatically. I needed help getting in and out of bed. I was cranky – meaning less patient – from not sleeping through the night. And I certainly wasn’t making “fresh” food – as my youngest calls it.

No doubt, fear brings out insecurities in most people – especially those with a history of early trauma.

Although the chaos seemed relatively calm from my perspective, it was full of uncertainty for my children – even those who live away from home. After several days that uncertainty thrust them into the overwhelmed zone.

     What if you don’t get better? Will you be sick again?

     What if you die? Who will take care of us?

In the words of my second oldest son, “I would be lost without you.” Words that he had never been able to admit – until the surgery.

With that high level of anxiety, some of my children over-reacted. Not rationale in thought. Argumentative. Consumed with worry that bordered on paranoia.

Their response is consistent with the damage in their brains from early trauma. The amygdala – a small yet important part of the brain – over-perceives the fear at hand. (Open blue link for more info on amygdala.)

And because they can’t hear reason from anyone, the amygdala goes into overdrive.

The result is fight or flight.

Resuming parts of my daily routine sooner than medically advised, I navigated rough waters. One trigger after another. Issues that normally don’t generate intense negativity reinforced their fear.

     Why are resting in bed? You’re not sick.

     Why are we still waiting on you? You’re faking.

     Why is all the mail addressed to you? Why do you have so many friends?

     Why are you texting? Are you talking about us?

     Why do we eat nasty food?

     Why can’t we do things like other kids?  You obviously didn’t do your job.

     Why haven’t you found all of us jobs?


But I refused to react. I refused to let their fear cut too deep.

Instead, I tried my best to be mindful in everything I said and did. As two of my sons pushed, I couldn’t – and wouldn’t – push back.

I knew better from years of experience. Their ugly words are a symptom of his fear. And if I add to their fear, the verbal aggression might turn into a physical altercation – which it almost did. Which it had in the past. Nevertheless, my phone almost went for a swim in the toilet. One of my sons even broke a glass frame over his head.

All attention seeking. All behaviors I thought we had overcome.

And if I add to their fear, the verbal aggression might turn into a physical altercation – which it almost did.

Two weeks since my surgery, we are almost back to normal – and the predictability that my children need. The fear has subsided.

But I would be naïve to think that fear will never surface again. It will.

And I will be ready to understand their fear – yet not make it my own. DCP


Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE

To follow Craig’s journey in raising his six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love

To follow my son Andrew’s inspiring story, “Like” his special Facebook page Andrew Peterson Goes for the Gold

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