03/07/2013 12:25 pm ET Updated May 07, 2013

How I'm Working Around My Fear of Our Clothes Dryer

Once upon a time I heard a news story that went something like, "A family went to sleep while the dryer was still running. The automatic shutoff malfunctioned, the dryer overheated and caught fire, the house blew up, and everyone died."

To that I say, "Good luck making yourself believe the dryer's off!"

For real.

I've always sort of dreaded laundry day because when I was finished, it was time to walk away from the washer and dryer -- and I could never quite convince myself the dryer was off. Isn't that silly?

What's more amazing, to me, is how long it took (don't ask) to find the workaround. The dryer won't work if the door's open, so now when I finish the laundry I don't close the dryer door all the way.

Problem solved.

Well, unless we had pets. Then I think I'd worry one of them would crawl into the dryer, I'd forget to check it before I started another load, and that would be the end of our cat or whatever it was. The Far Side comes to mind. Do you remember the one where the dog's hiding next to the dryer? He's saying to himself, "Oh please..." The cat's peering into the open dryer after reading signs -- complete with arrows -- that say, "Cat Fud."

But you know what I'm saying. Sometimes all you have to do is remember why you're afraid of something and the problem goes away. Sometimes you can find a way to work around it.

More likely you won't remember the source of your problem -- like the toddler who hears the phone ringing at the same time she hears a crack of thunder, thinks the two are connected, and as she grows up is always anxious when the phone rings but has long forgotten why.

Career consultants are fond of saying we know as children what would bring us the most joy as adults, but we forget that as we grow up -- and we start internalizing the expectations and the fears of people we love.

I think part of the task of growing up is remembering what frightened us, healing that, and sharing what we learn.

It starts with paying attention.

For the longest time I could hardly pass by an electronics store without wincing. I knew why. Someone had asked me for help shopping for a stereo for his family for Christmas, and I'd overslept. I don't remember why that meant we couldn't go shopping together after all. I do remember his disappointment, and how profusely I tried to apologize.

Years later -- 10? Twenty? -- I brought it up again.

"I am so sorry," I told him.

He hadn't remembered it happened!

It made me want to check some other baggage.

What about you? How do you work around irrational fears? And are you still beating yourself up for failing someone who doesn't remember you did?

For more by Maureen Anderson, click here.

For more on emotional wellness, click here.

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