A friend and I were chatting the other day about relationships. After a season of self-prescribed abstinence from the online dating community, this friend (a bright, vibrant forty-something) decided to jump back in the game.
My comrade had recently met an attractive individual with similar interests, goals, and values. She had assumed, were this to happen, that she would be awash with positive emotion. She assumed incorrectly.
Instead of bunnies, rainbows, and Oprah moments, my dear friend was wracking her brain for the myriad of ways something could go wrong in the relationship. Perhaps her date would see aspects of her life that are still under construction. Perhaps her affection for this prospective partner would be unreciprocated. Perhaps the whole thing would crash to the earth in a magnificent fireball. In other words, the very thing my friend thought would fulfill her was now the source of considerable discomfort.
My friend’s experience is actually quite common. On the verge of accomplishing our goals, it is common for many of us to feel restless or agitated. Why does this happen? The answer is somewhat complex.
Longing is an unconscious manifestation of scarcity, the pervasive belief that we are not enough and/or that we do not have enough. Scarcity is fueled by fear and self-doubt. These feelings come with a dialogue that usually begins with “what if” and ends in loss or catastrophe. These stories can feel so real sometimes, we start responding to them as if they are true.
They are not. They are merely representations of emotions that are meant to come and go.
When we are anxious or fearful, our bodies and brains are compelled to seek—sometimes obsessively—for the people, places, or things we think will deliver us from scarcity. We are seduced by the notion that the perfect partner, job, house, will be our one-way ticket out of painful feelings.
The greater our fear, the more urgently we seek to quell it. The wiser mind knows this is a fool’s errand, but fear is an irresistible salesman.
Seduced by the idea that deliverance is just one person, place, or thing away, we become consumed by thoughts of the future. In so doing, lose touch with what we are feeling in the present moment. I like to call this “the seeking trance.” When we find what we are looking for, the trance is broken, our love affair with “someday” abruptly ends, we are catapulted into the present moment, and the feelings we were attempting to avoid come rushing into consciousness. Suddenly, the object of our craving becomes someone or something we don’t trust.
Online dating can be a sticky wicket for precisely this reason. Each profile is carefully crafted by an individual who has his or her own unique relationship with fear and scarcity. The result is a collective mass of fear-based energy that manifests in unanswered messages by individuals who proclaimed interest, promising first dates who mysteriously disappear, salacious electronic threads that never yield an in-person meeting.
(Sidebar: no wonder my friend was feeling overwhelmed by fear—online dating is a veritable roller coaster of hope and disappointment!)
The next time you sense urgency in the absence emergency, this is a cue to pause and inquire. Ask yourself what you are afraid of. When we give a voice to fear, we deflate its power. Name your fear(s) out loud. If a child experiencing the same fear approached you for reassurance, how would you respond? Would you judge or criticize this child or would you surround him or her with loving grace? I suspect you would do the latter, so offer this gift to yourself. Repeat this process as often as needed.
Remember that fear and desire are opposite sides of the same continuum. To move from one end, we must lovingly attend to the other. When we really listen to our fear, when we respond to self-doubt with loving kindness, we inch closer to desire.
Just as fear begets scarcity, desire beget abundance. When we act from a fearful place, our energetic field constricts, practically guaranteeing we will not find what we are seeking. When we act from a place of authentic desire, we make room for the things want to find us and, when they do, we are more likely to value them.
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, therapist, and counselor. She offers grief therapy, divorce support, dating consultation and other counseling services in the Phinney Greenwood area of Seattle, WA. Want to have a richer, more satisfying online dating experience? Schedule a free consultation now!
People often seek therapy to help mitigate fear or discomfort. No wonder. Being on the back end of the life spiral is not much fun. However, did you know that pain and discomfort are precursors to growth? Let's explore this together.
Each of us was born with an instinctive drive to seek pleasure and avoid pain--both real or imagined. As cave dwellers, the latter kept us from getting eaten by predators whilst out foraging for bison and berries. So let's be grateful for that!
Times eventually changed and so did our brains. However, the part of the brain that is responsible for logic and reasoning (frontal cortex) is located nowhere near the part where primal fear occurs, (amygdala). Thus, many of us today struggle to accurately interpret fear.
Sometimes fear is meant to notify us of imminent danger. However, it is more common to experience fear in the absence of a true threat. Fear in the absence of danger is called "anxiety." Anxiety would have us believe there is a tiger in the grass when, really, there is no tiger.
Because fear can be quite convincing, many of us choose to mitigate it with avoidance, even when the feared stimulus is (somewhat) neutral, like dogs, conflict, bridges, public speaking, or peanut butter getting stuck to the roof of your mouth (yes, that really is a phobia).
The imagined equation looks like this: fear + avoidance = relief.
However, what most of us don't know is that avoidance actually increases the likelihood that we will experience more fear the next time we encounter the feared stimulus. And what coping strategy are we most likely to use to handle this fear? You guessed it: avoidance!
So, the real equation looks more like this: fear + avoidance = self-doubt + more fear + future avoidance.
This is not how most of us want our lives to add up!
I once observed an interaction between a mother and her teenaged son, the latter of whom struggled with social anxiety (i.e., an excessive fear of being judged, scrutinized, or criticized in social situations). The son decided he wanted pizza for dinner and, when it came time to call in the order, the mother automatically assumed she was the best candidate for the job. When I asked why her son couldn't order his own pizza, she was gobsmacked. "He has anxiety!" she exclaimed. As if I was the one with problem for asking. The loving mother could not see how this kind of "protection" deprived her son of the option to know his own strength by challenging his fear.
The taproot of all anxiety is the fear of temporary discomfort. For example, if the boy would have phoned in his own order, the worst case scenario was that he would have felt awkward or uncomfortable for a little while. Discomfort, like any other transitory emotional state, is felt and then released. No one has ever died of discomfort. But many have regretting not having fully lived!
Avoiding what we fear is a way of whispering"I can't do it!" into our unconscious minds. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more we allow fear to drive our decisions, the smaller our worlds become. The next time you feel gripped by anxiety, try this:
1. Name your fear. Say out loud exactly what you are afraid of. Sometimes we can deflate fear just by hearing it spoken aloud in our own words.
2. Ask yourself: "What might happen if I do ___?" Ask yourself what the consequences would be if you challenged your fear. If the answer is anything that resembles, "I will feel awkward, uncomfortable, look stupid, etc." tell yourself this: "From now on, I choose to live in the light. I am reclaiming strength and joy in my life."
3. Ask yourself: "What might happen if I don't do ___?" What opportunity for growth would you be missing if you chose to avoid this fear? Remember, the temporary relief afforded by avoidance is a prequel to more fear and self-doubt. You deserve better!
4. Go for it! Your confidence is hiding, just beyond your fear of discomfort. Doing what you fear is the only way to access it. Why deprive yourself of feeling capable? (Hint: there is no good answer to this question.)
5. Pay attention to your feelings. As you live by this new creed, pay attention to how you feel. It is okay if things do not turn out perfectly every time. Perfect is the enemy of the good enough. The most important thing is that you tried. So keep trying!
Remember that courage is not the absence of fear--it is what happens when we feel afraid and do it anyway. Each step away from fear is a step toward confidence. You are creating the life you deserve by showing yourself that YOU are stronger than fear!
Not sure you want to try this alone? Email me to find out how you can kick fear to the curb!
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, therapist, and counselor. She offers grief therapy, divorce support, and other counseling services in the Phinney Greenwood area of Seattle, WA. Schedule a free consultation to find out how therapy or counseling can help you get from fearful to fierce!
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Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, grief counselor, and dating coach. Her coaching and therapy practice is located in the Phinney - Greenwood area of North Seattle in Washington.