Thunderstorms, Tornadoes and Fear

Fear certainly has a purpose. It helps you survive. When you perceive a threat to your survival, whether it’s real or not, your instinct goes into overdrive. Depending on the perceived threat, you may fight, flee, or freeze. These are natural, instinctual responses shared by other species. Even after the danger has passed, it can become conditioned such that anything resembling the original traumatic experience can trigger a similar kind of reaction, just like thunderstorms did for me several years into my adulthood following a childhood experience.

When I was a little boy living in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, there was always a possibility that an intense thunderstorm would lead to a tornado. Not uncommon in this part of the states. One of these times, when I was four years old it got very dark outside and we saw thunderclouds approaching rapidly. The wind started whipping, hail came down in a torrent, and my parents had gotten word from the radio that there was a good chance a tornado would strike somewhere in our area.

My mother hurried my two older brothers and sister and me into the basement where we were to huddle in the southwest corner, supposedly where we would be relatively safe should the tornado hit the house directly. My father was the last to head down the stairs. As the wind howled and became increasingly stronger, he stood at the top of the stairs desperately trying to close the back door that kept slamming open. My mother was yelling at him frantically, “Dick! Dick! Forget about it! Let it go and come down here!”

He finally relented, letting the door slam back and forth, synchronizing with the intense rhythms of the wind. I watched the scene briefly, stunned and terrified, thinking that if my father couldn’t close and hold the door shut then something terrible was happening. Maybe we were all going to die! After surrendering to this force of nature that he could not defeat, my father clambered down the stairs. He grabbed my mother and me and sprinted to the southwest corner of the basement, to await the approach of this hungry, roaring, and merciless monstrosity.

Fortunately, the storm passed and no tornado hit the immediate area, though one did touch down across town, thankfully causing only minor damage. To this day I still have a very clear image of my father trying to close that door. For the next few years after that whenever there was a thunderstorm, my older brother Walter would look at me with a grin and say, “Steve . . . tornado.” to which I would run screaming to my mother for reassurance. In all the times he teased me this way, there never actually was a tornado, but that didn’t matter.

For many years after that experience at age four, I could feel my skin prickle whenever there was a thunderstorm, the remnants of a body memory from that terrified four-year-old that still lived inside of me. Now I actually have learned to enjoy the occasional thunderstorm, delighting in these awesome demonstrations of nature’s power.

The challenge is to separate actual threats to our lives from those events that have no objective threat, yet have become conditioned by earlier traumatic events. Though this can happen at any time in our lives we’re most vulnerable in childhood. For me, thunderstorm equaled a possible tornado. The prospect of tornado (of which my brother constantly reminded me) equaled terror, triggering the body memory of my father’s helplessness, the howling wind, our mother’s screams of panic, and the chaos that ensued.

The good news is that you don’t have to continue suffering from the residuals of an earlier traumatic experience. With the greater understanding of the effects of trauma and how it can be treated, psychologically, spiritually, and shamanically, you really can free yourself from the debilitating consequences of negative childhood experiences. These days there are many psycho-spiritual and shamanic approaches that can help heal these post-traumatic symptoms, from Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT, also known as Tapping), Hypnotherapy, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Somatic Experiencing®, Breathwork, and various movement therapies, to name a few.

An effective shamanic treatment is Soul Retrieval, based on the premise that part of your soul dissociates and stays away in the midst of a traumatic event, hanging out in an etheric realm called non-ordinary reality until discovered and brought back. I’ve found any and all of these methodologies can be helpful in letting go of the grip of an earlier trauma.

So now I can’t wait until there’s another thunderstorm.

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