By Felicity Dineen, LCPC
I was recently having a conversation with a friend about a significant life decision and she was providing me with all sorts of congratulatory statements. I was happily accepting them until suddenly that familiar feeling of dread began washing over me. Instantly I blurted out, “I’m terrified.” After hearing myself say those words I remembered having this same feeling when faced with other significant life decisions: going back to grad school, quitting or starting a new job, getting married. In those times I had used all my power to push that feeling aside, out of fear of what it meant to be afraid, not to mention the fact that society had taught me for 30 years that “I’m terrified” was not an appropriate response. Luckily, after verbalizing my terror, my friend had the wisdom to respond with, “That’s totally normal. This is a big change.” And there it was, that horrible, anxiety-provoking word: Change.
When I talk about change with clients I can instantly sense their anxiety awaken. Their eyes typically get bigger and some shifting in their seat quickly follows. Then, right on queue, the flood of “what if” questions begins to flood their brains and the sweating and discomfort really set in. The main issue with these “what if” questions is that they do not have an answer. This fact unfortunately does not prevent our brain from attempting to find one, however, leading us down a spiral of undesirable scenarios. In reality, our brain is not searching for answers to these specific questions, but rather certainty that we are making the right decision and we are safe. Often when I remind myself that I will never know either of those things, it takes every bit of my courage to prevent me from wrapping myself in a warm blanket of certainty and familiarity and drift into a cocoon of safety.
Whenever I am tempted to simply withdraw back into my comfort of certainty I take really deep breaths and picture a life without all of those things that I know I am worthy of. I remind myself I am worthy of the love and belonging of a healthy relationship, or the fulfillment and challenge of a new job, or the excitement of decorating a new home to build for my future family. And once I have found that sense of worthiness through self-love and compassion, I find gratitude for the opportunity to do all of these really amazing things. Finding gratitude in the face of sadness or fear can be difficult, as our brain’s automatic response is to protect us from these exact feelings. It takes a conscious effort to encourage our brains to think differently in response to feeling terrified. Often times I will thank my brain for working so hard to protect me and then kindly show those thoughts the door to make space for gratitude.
As I continue to work through my challenge with change and moving toward finding gratitude, I remind myself that through each life change I have grown in some way or faced some fear. Through each loss I have had the opportunity to connect or learn. Through each attempt and failure I have discovered something different about myself or those around me. Through each fight I was given the opportunity to make it better. And for this I am grateful.