“I hate my job and my boss, but I’m afraid to look for another job.”
“My husband has been cheating on me for years, but I am financially dependent on him. I’m too scared to leave.”
“I play great in practice, but when the pressure is on in a big game, I get scared and choke.”
“I would love to meet somebody special, but when I go to a party or a social event, I hide in the corner and hope that no one approaches me.”
“I would love to move to Arizona, but I am terrified of leaving my family here in New Jersey.”
As therapists, we spend a lot of time encouraging people and helping them to face and overcome their fears. At times, I have wished I had a “courage pill” that I could give to patients, since so many people are blocked in their lives because they are lacking in courage and scared of
taking useful risks.
While I don’t have this “magic bullet” in my arsenal of therapeutic tools, I do have some thoughts on helping people to feel and act more courageously.
First, it is useful to remember that people tend to feel good about themselves when they are facing their fears and taking on difficult challenges. This is why people gravitate towards fire walks, marathons and sky diving. Part of the thrill for many of them is about facing a fear or filling their desire to live life in an adventurous way.
Conversely, people feel badly about themselves when they are being controlled by their fears.
Second, it is useful to ask yourself the question that many intelligent risk takers do-“What is the worst that will happen?”
Most of the time, our deepest fears are not so terrifying when we examine them in detail.
Third, as we grow older, most of us want to look back on our lives and feel as if we have done all the things we have dreamt about doing. So, taking risks will help you to feel that you have lived and full and rich life, as you age.
Fourth, many fears can be successfully overcome if you break them down into small steps. For instance, if you are afraid of the water, begin in a shallow pool, take some swimming lessons and then when you are comfortable in the water, you can move to the deep end of the pool, then to a lake, a river and the ocean. As your confidence and skill grow, you take on a slightly more challenging situation over time.
A number of years ago, a colleague of mine treated a man who was afraid of flying. This man eventually got his pilot’s license.
Fifth, find a coach, group or therapist who can help you to discover and develop your courageous side. Practicing what you are afraid of will help you to diminish your anxiety and to feel more courageous.
Last, remember, you are not alone with your fears. Most of us are afraid of something. As Mark Twain noted, “Courage is not about absence of fear. It is about mastery of fear.”