Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong and can go wrong in your life. So what do you have to lose? When it comes to practicing the change we need to practice in our life, there are people who become frozen with hesitation because their minds are filled with all kinds of possibilities of things that could go wrong and greatly inconvenience them.
Are you one of these people? Do you have reasonable ideas about changes you can make in your life, but are stuck with fear in regards to the prospects of proceeding? If you are stuck with fear in regards to the changes you need to make in your life here are two things to consider. The first thing to consider is what do you want to happen? The second thing to consider is what would happen if you did nothing to change your situation?
So lets say you have a job, and the recent hiring of a new supervisor has turned your work environment into an abusive atmosphere. You could file a complaint with human resources, but you fear this would make matters worse between you and your supervisor. You could talk to your supervisor, but you fear this would lead to you being targeted after the conversation. You could look for a new job, but you fear that your employer could find out and you could be terminated. To make matters worse, you are now working overtime for no overtime pay, because some of your co workers where fired by the new supervisor for making mistakes on the job. Yet, the excess time you are putting in, added to the stress you are currently experiencing, is leading you to make some mistakes on the job which you are already frightened about. So what do you do?
So the first question would be, “What do you want to happen?” Most people in this predicament would answer that they want to work in a peaceful and supportive environment, regardless of where that work environment maybe. This leads to the second question, “What would happen if you made no changes, and continued with things as is?” Looking at the scenario just prescribed the answer would be that it is a matter of time before you make a major mistake on the job and the new supervisor fires you. This most likely would be the case given that you have already agreed to the poor treatment you have received on the job to date and in the eyes of your supervisor you have agreed that the value of your contribution is very low, which leads to a lack of respect by others for your work.
Now some people would interpret this scenario as a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t.” However this is not true, because the consequences for doing nothing are detrimental and more likely to happen than the consequences for doing something. This is because with doing something there does lie a possibility that things would change for the better as opposed to doing nothing where things are almost guaranteed to get worse. Further more, the moment you start engaging in exercising the change you need to make, you inevitably through research, encounter information which increases the probability that change is going to happen. So it truth, when you find yourself in a bad situation, engaging in change means “blessed if you do and damned if you don’t.”
Our responses to fear in our lives are learned, and most commonly learned responses to fear that dictate that we should always play it safe, even when we are not safe come from the irrational core belief that nothing bad “should” happen to us.
In my practice, there are evidence based cognitive behavioral beliefs that I introduce clients to, which are effective in helping people become less fear based in their thinking and subsequently their action.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and professional life coach.
Consider this story, a female client I worked with who experienced trauma, impoverishment and chaos in her childhood, came in to see me because she was experiencing panic attacks. This turned out to be one of many stories I have heard where people inform me about how difficult their upbringing was and how things in their lives were now much better – except themselves.
The desire to improve our circumstances is inherent in all of us, especially circumstances that are terrible at best. However we risk running into a case of double jeopardy if what inspires us to improve our circumstances is anything other than love. Like this case of the female client mentioned, it turned out that her inspiration for her economic improvement was a combination of fear and resentment. Fear of a chaotic lifestyle that placed the safety of her and her siblings in jeopardy and resentment towards her mother for being incompetent and irresponsible and her father for being absent. Fast forward almost a decade later as a married mother of two children, living in a safe neighborhood with a stable source of income, a good relationship with her husband, my former client could not understand why she was experiencing reoccurring panic attacks.
As it turns out, she was waiting for the other shoe to drop, when she wasn’t recreating the conflicts in her life she had experienced as a child and teen, through conflicts with others, she was a experiencing internal strife which played out as panic attacks. The trigger for her tendency to instigate conflicts with others or her panic attacks? Fear and resentment had always been her sources of motivation. The therapy was successful, as she was able to learn and practice drawing from peace and love in her life as sources of motivation.
This is one of many stories of people who found themselves trapped in a vicious cycle of becoming emotionally stuck in the very situation they made their life’s commitment to escape. Now why is this? Common sense would dictate that after an ordeal has been experienced, the person who experienced that ordeal becomes relived about the conclusion of the ordeal and never looks back right? Actually in most cases this is the case. People who have experienced bad things happen to them, become motivated to overcome the ordeal and after the conclusion of the ordeal they go on to live healthy lives. The reason that these people go on to live healthier lives is that their motivation for success comes from love. Self love, love for others, recognition of worthiness, whatever label you ascribe to the phenomenon of humanity, people who successfully leave their ordeals in the past learned to rely on their goodwill and the goodwill of others to succeed.
What happens to those who remain stuck in the past? By coincidence of role models or culture, they learned mistrust, to be overly suspicious and developed a mental world view that portrays the world as a dangerous and untrusting place. This creates the irony that even when they have succeeded in physically removing themselves from a chaotic situation, they find it difficult to recognize and trust peace for what it is.
Our beliefs influence our perceptions, our perceptions influence our thoughts, our thoughts influence our feelings and our feelings provide us with the motivation we need to initiate actions or behaviors.
If your source of motivation is negative, you will find yourself engaging in reoccurring behaviors that recreate your trauma in small or significant ways, which keeps you stuck in a cycle of negative feelings and being reactivate to your negative feelings.
The most effective strategy for getting out of such a cycle is adopting an important rule of thumb, which is to never see yourself as a victim, regardless of your trauma, but as a survivor.
Seeing yourself as a victim automatically triggers the fight or flight response, inherent in all living animals. This means that you are either going to be motivated by passive or overt desires for retaliation which amounts to a pessimistic attitude or hostile world view, or passive or overt desires to flee, which amounts to lethargy or chronic social anxiety.
By seeing yourself as a survivor, you trigger the inherent trait in you to seek the support and companionship of others, through a combination of being of service to others and being a recipient of help and assistance. This is easier said than done, but seeing yourself as a survivor helps rewire your brain’s source for motivation.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.