Please help me alleviate this very specific fear
May 31, 2023 7:39 PM   Subscribe

Since as far back as I can remember, I have been plagued by an intense, pervasive fear of experiencing brutal retaliation following any form of confrontation, regardless of its severity. Specifically, this is the fear of violent home invasion or arson while I sleep. My therapist has told me to meditate, which has not been helpful, but does anyone have any tips and tricks for feeling safer at night, or any anecdotes and/or statistics to help alleviate this fear?

A little more context: Today, my husband engaged in a screaming argument with our neighbor's lawn worker after they blocked our driveway. He often times gets in loud fights, and he doesn't really consider who it is he's fighting with. Now, I'm sitting locked in my home office, fully awake, fearing that an intruder will forcibly enter our home.

I am planning on getting an alarm system, although my husband is against it for privacy reasons - so if anyone has a privacy-friendly alarm system they can recommend, please let me know!
posted by oxfordcomma to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If you've been disproportionally retaliated before, it's a reasonable fear to have.

When I got divorced I had a reasonable fear of my ex coming into my new house and refusing to leave etc. I had my door fitted with a digital lock, a better keyhole, and I also had additional bedroom locks. If he'd been more violent, I would have gone further with a camera at the door as well. Having multiple locks and a dog that looks fierce, even though she is pathetically sweet, is a big psychological help. When I travelled to less-safe places and couldn't be confident in my room lock, I used to keep a chair in front of the door and a heavy torch under my pillow.

Being reasonably anxious and dealing with it sensibly is fine.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 8:17 PM on May 31

Evolutionarily, scary things get more attention because a bad thing might happen and being alert is useful. We're wired for anxiety.

fear of violent home invasion or arson while I sleep. You can research the statistics on violent home invasion or arson; your librarian will help you. Knowledge is one component of fear reduction. Read The Gift of Fear. You can prepare for bad events. Know where the fire extinguisher is, know routes out of your home. Fix frayed cords. Make sure your mobile phone is connected to 911 correctly. Walk around your house and look at ways a person might break in. Trim the shrubs, the tree with branches that could be used to get in a window, whatever. Good locks. You can develop a safety checklist to review, see if it helps you feel safer.

Maybe you're anxious because that's how you're wired. Desensitization can help. But do pay attention to your husband's anger; is it possible you're responding to his anger? Did you have an anxious or scary parent? I have had a person hate me with some energy, and I had a bunch of other fears; took me a while to realize the fear was justified and recognize the source. It's okay to use Xanax or other anxiety meds, in moderation. You can train your brain. Good luck.
posted by theora55 at 8:33 PM on May 31 [1 favorite]

Recently have the confrontations that triggered this been frequently your husband's "often times gets in loud fights", or that just happened to be the one example today? If it were the former, it would change the shape of the question a bit.
posted by away for regrooving at 10:02 PM on May 31 [28 favorites]

So the comments you already got are excellent. I wanted to share my experience with something similar. I have been in situations where I was similarly plagued by fear of retaliation -- specifically arson and being hit with a car. I don't want to go into the specifics about what I worried would trigger this imagined retaliation, but I worked on it with my therapist. She helped me connect the emotional dynamics of the situation with some emotional dynamics in my family of origin when I was a small child, and when my fear doing something wrong to catastrophe was catastrophic -- I imagined the consequences would be that our family would fall apart, the world as I knew it would end.

My therapist helped me see that the extremity of the scenarios my adult self was concocting were essentially the scripts from childhood, and my brain was conditioned to respond to certain kinds of emotional difficulties by catastrophizing them into outsized existential threats, with the specific scenario of what "the world is ending!" can look like to an adult taking the form of anxiety about arson and vehicular violence.

Once I recognized that and saw it clearly, it greatly mitigated these bursts of anxiety when they came on. It's like once I could see them for what they were and how they were, in a sense, metaphorical, they did not have the same power over me.

I have no idea if an exploration like this would be helpful for you, but perhaps this will resonate.
posted by virve at 10:33 PM on May 31 [12 favorites]

Standard calming sleep aid stuff may help? Stuff like white noise machine, weighted blanket, blackout curtains, chamomile tea, melatonin, etc. Not that any of the those specifically will help you, but since you primarily mention night time fears, more general sleep comfort remedies may be worth researching.
posted by SaltySalticid at 4:15 AM on June 1

Something that may help you with some in-the-moment catastrophizing...

I remember once from when I was a small child and woke up in the middle of the night, and was having trouble getting to sleep because I was afraid of a similar home invasion (although, in my case it was Dracula instead of an arsonist or other human home invader), I was lying awake and frightened, but then suddenly I remembered that hang on, I bet if Dracula did break into the house, Mom and Dad would wake up and hear first, and they would stop Dracula from getting to me. And I imagined then doing that.

And then I thought that hey, they'd probably call the neighbors for help. And I imagined the neighbors coming to join them in front of my bedroom door. Oh, and the police too, they'd probably call the police....and maybe soldiers....and maybe firemen, too, who knows....

And I went on like that for a while, each time imagining those people all coming to join them, imagining an ever-growing circle of protectors coming to fill up our house and then spill out onto the front porch, all of them glaring angrily at the end of the driveway where Dracula stood and was reconsidering whether he wanted to take everyone on. That mental image of all those protectors between Dracula and me helped me get back to sleep.

I admit it's very childlike - but maybe there's a part of you that's childlike when you have these fears and would be comforted by this. I still do something like that sometimes.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:22 AM on June 1 [6 favorites]

Other people are probably right about things to discuss in therapy. That's nice. I'm not going to give that advice, though.

Step 1: This set of Blink cameras is currently on sale at Costco for the next 10 days. (IMO it's worth the Costco membership purchase to get these cameras if you don't already have the membership.) I have Blink cameras. Let me tell you what I like about them:
- battery powered and wifi enabled, you don't have to wire anything up
- they are small and unobtrusive, I just have them set a few places outside my house
- you can even carry one around with you and set it outside the room you're in, if you want
- privacy concerns? They're only going to tell you if there's movement (and even then only if you turn that feature on). You can watch live, but they're not always recording.
- privacy concerns? Yes Blink is owned by Amazon, but you don't have to register them. I got my cameras at Costco, never registered them to Amazon, Amazon doesn't know they or I exist. I don't use the cloud, I use the USB storage option to record video.
- privacy concerns? If your husband wanted a more private life he'd shut his god damn mouth more often that's what I think

Step 2: Buy a baseball bat and keep it by the door. Or even by your bed while you sleep if it makes you feel better. Practice taking some swings with it from time to time and appreciate how powerful it makes you feel.

The likelihood you'll ever need to use the baseball bat against someone attempting to do you harm is very small. Infinitesimally small. Using it isn't the point. It's an emotional support weapon. A baseball bat serves as a totem that you will defend yourself if needed, you can defend yourself if needed, you are owning your own power, and you will not be fucked with.
posted by phunniemee at 5:27 AM on June 1 [5 favorites]

You live with a person who gets into screaming arguments. The violence is already inside your home; that's why you feel so unsafe. Can you talk to your therapist about your husband's behaviors at your next appointment?
posted by capricorn at 8:00 AM on June 1 [23 favorites]

"my husband engaged in a screaming argument with our neighbor's lawn worker after they blocked our driveway. He often times gets in loud fights, and he doesn't really consider who it is he's fighting with."

This would make me extremely anxious as well, and I don't have a lifelong fear of home invasion specifically. You never know who you're instigating with when you accost a random stranger in public - that person could be reasonable and de-escalate or walk away, or they could be looking for a fight and escalate or follow you. We've all heard plenty of stories about road rage gone awry.

If your husband is aware of your fears he should be doing everything he can avoid these kinds of confrontations. If he behaves this way frequently I don't think the cameras and locks and self defense tools or relaxation tips are going to calm your nervous system effectively.

I also wonder if your husband's "privacy concerns" are related to not wanting a record of his own behavior. If you had a doorbell camera facing your driveway, for example, his screaming at a lawn worker would be on camera, right? Do you think he would have acted the same way if he knew he was being recorded?

There are many alarm systems which are just motion sensors attached to a main electronic hub. Not all alarm systems have video or audio recording capability like the doorbell cameras do. So that would be your best bet for a privacy friendly alarm.
posted by zdravo at 8:25 AM on June 1 [3 favorites]

This is an intrusive thought. Ask your therapist for help managing it. Switch therapists if they don’t give you cognitive strategies.
posted by haptic_avenger at 8:45 AM on June 1 [1 favorite]

He often times gets in loud fights

not to focus on that detail, but I can tell you right now I'm not wired to handle this well. If my partner got in loud fights often, I'd find it quite distressing. When I'm around my siblings for extended periods I notice a lot of discussions get pretty heated quickly, just the way voices get raised and certain tonal pitches affect me, I know there will be no violence but I gradually realize I'm getting irritable and need to get away from it

not sure if that's a consideration for you, but "often gets in loud fights" is not something I'd live easily with, and it would absolutely contribute to anxiety in me

a life partner would be open to a conversation about this, if it's part of the picture you describe. And if not, all kinds of great responses and suggestions upthread
posted by elkevelvet at 9:18 AM on June 1 [2 favorites]

I am planning on getting an alarm system, although my husband is against it for privacy reasons - so if anyone has a privacy-friendly alarm system they can recommend, please let me know!

Very happy with SimpliSafe. You can choose whether to add cameras to your system, and the cameras have a privacy shutter which is down while the system is unarmed or in "home" mode. You choose to add door, window, motion, fire, and/or moisture alarms.

We have it at our two properties and their monitoring is great, the app works easily and the price is right. Installing anything new has been a cinch and customer service is top-notch. You can also choose whether you want their monitoring system or not (ie whether or not they call the police or fire if you don't respond to their texts and phone calls). They sent us a brand new system for free when the old system we inherited stopped working with 2g)
posted by oneirodynia at 2:00 PM on June 1

He often times gets in loud fights, and he doesn't really consider who it is he's fighting with

If I lived with a person like that, I too would constantly be expecting trouble from an aggrieved target. What you feel is real and you should take your fear seriously.

You do say that you’ve felt this way forever. You might put some thought into if you chose an aggressive and perhaps optimistically brave partner because they could protect you.

As a practical matter when I’m feeling fearful I keep flashlights liberally spread about the house. A bright light in the eyes dissuades all sorts of nighttime visitors.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:01 PM on June 1 [2 favorites]

get a big dog
posted by Jacqueline at 10:19 PM on June 1

We have a Lorex door camera specifically because it stores the video locally on a microSD card instead of "the cloud" somewhere. In case that fits your husband's version of privacy.
posted by molasses at 11:54 AM on June 2

He often times gets in loud fights, and he doesn't really consider who it is he's fighting with

If I lived with a person like that, I too would constantly be expecting trouble from an aggrieved target.

Nth to the nth.
posted by bendy at 12:49 AM on June 3

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