Do you remember the scene in the movie, The Help, in which Abilene, the "help" asks little Mae if she remembers what she told her as she is about to leave the family's home after being terminated? You may recall that in response to Abilene's question, Mae dutifully nods and recites the mantra Abilene taught her, "You is good, you is kind, you is important." It is arguably one of the most important scenes in the movie on many levels.
Abilene speaks into the life of a child who has seemingly gone unknown and unnoticed by her mother. Abilene, observed the emotional neglect that was occurring. As a result, she lovingly, purposefully, and intentionally validated the existence and importance of this little one. She acknowledged Mae's existence as a human being with a destiny, dreams, goals, ambitions, independent thoughts, feelings, gifts, talents, and emotions. Abilene saw Mae as one who needed love, protection, and security. Abilene understood, with great empathy as one who endured a lifetime of being overlooked and invalidated, as well as one living in perpetual fear and terror, that Mae needed a sense of self, safety, purpose, and identity. One of the most painful scenes in the movie is to watch little Mae bang on the window pleading for Abilene to come back as her mother looks on, ignoring the tearful pleas of her daughter. Thank God for the seeds of worth, value, and importance that Abilene planted in Mae's young heart.
For so many of us, there was no proverbial Abilene to fill in the gap where a parent or parents were emotionally unavailable. No one who moved toward us with empathy, kindness, and compassion. This is devastating for a child and more often than not, the negative long term effects of such are numerous. However, for the purpose of this blog, we're focusing on existential fear.
Having our basic needs met as children produces a vibrant and thriving childhood that is a launching pad into our future. Conversely, when our basic needs are not met the opposite is true. We often limp into our adulthood journey meandering through a web of uncertainty, confusion, and doubt. There is no sense of self, because the self was not developed or recognized. This reality produces fear, terror, and endless questions about what is true, what is real, what is authentic--especially as it relates to the self; our human experience.
The detrimental effects of existential fear, often the byproduct of emotional neglect in our childhood, cannot be underscored enough. Those who have experienced emotional neglect, emotional abuse, or were emotionally orphaned may not feel a sense of self as it was not cultivated in the childhood experience. Walking through childhood feeling "unknown" is daunting, abysmal, and tumultuously terrifying. It can render one feeling lost and invisible, desiring to be known--while being unseen. It may translate to, "See me, know me...so that I may know and understand myself."
This is what Abilene modeled for young Mae. Her kindness, gentle rearing, compassion--while offering a sense of safety and protection, could be translated to May as, "I see you. I know you. I like what I see--you are good, your are kind, you are important." Those are words of life that fuel, invigorate, and inspire. It is in that context that curiosity is sparked, pensive "Why?" questions about our world are asked, and critical thinking is evoked. Those simple, yet poignant affirmations build trust, cultivate hope, and inspire dreams and goals moving one toward self realization.
So, what is the good news in all of this? The good news is that it is possible to move beyond fear and terror, even if we have been emotionally orphaned. Someone once shared an overwhelming fear of death. This fear was ruminated upon and caused great anxiety. The fear was so overwhelming that there was a tremendous fear about even talking about the fear, however this was the genesis of victory: overcoming the fear of talking about the fear. It takes tremendous courage and strength for an adult, emotionally orphaned, as a child to verbalize fear and terror.
If any of this resonates with you, be encouraged by the word of God:
- God promises to undo all that has afflicted us (Zephaniah 3:19)
- Nothing is too hard for God (Jeremiah 32:27)
- God has not given us the spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7)
- God has given us life to enjoy (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13)
- We are promised a peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:6)
Father, in the name of Jesus, we thank you that all of your promises are yes and amen. Thank you that no matter what emotional neglect or abandonment we experienced as children, it does not change your promises toward us. No matter how long we have walked in abject fear in terror, by the power and might of your word, all that has afflicted us can be undone because nothing is too hard for you. We exchange fear and terror and receive your peace that passes all understanding. Thank you for giving us a life to enjoy. Thank you for igniting a new sense of hope. Thank you that you have given us an opportunity to draw joyfully from the wells of salvation (Isaiah 12:3). Amen
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