Often people come to me when they are distressed over conflict in a relationship. Through our conversation, it is not unusual to find out that they have a lot of fear. This fear stands in their way of forgiving their partner, opening up and trusting and, as such, usually increases conflict. Then, they beat themselves up over the conflict and the whole situation mushrooms from there. They tell me, “I don’t want to get close because I am scared of getting hurt.” I point out that they are hurting now. And getting close might actually mean the connection they are so desperately craving and a relief from the hurt. It leaves me wondering. Do we often protecting our self from the wrong thing?
We often intend to protect ourselves from getting hurt and yet hurt ourselves more in the process. Staying separate from those we love hurts. While getting close does have some risks, the benefits of connection are fantastic. If given the choice, connection (with the right person) always frees us, separation keeps us suffering. By protecting ourselves, we are actually suffering to avoid suffering.
In a conversation with another man, I noticed the same phenomenon. He was telling me of his anxieties that made him perform patterns (often called OCD or OCPD). For example, he would wash his hands frequently, wipe his fork off before use, and count the syllables in words. They increased because of the way he was berating himself for doing them. The more he tried and failed to resist these behaviors, the worse they’d get. He was working so hard to avoid them that his suffering increased exponentially. Logically, the behaviors were not a big deal: washing hands is a great habit, no one would notice him wiping his fork, and counting syllables takes mere seconds to do. The fact that he judged these things as a problem made all the difference, it gave the anxiety power. The real problem was that he thought these were a problem. Resisting them was like protecting himself from what he thought was suffering, and that in fact made him suffer, intensely.
He told me it felt like the Anxiety was trying to push him off a cliff and he had to desperately fight to stay put. I asked him what would happen if he went off the cliff. (I figured he only assumes it would be horrible.) The answer is “nothing,” nothing would happen if he went off the cliff, except that he would be farther away from that Anxiety creature! Nothing happens if he wipes his fork or if he counts syllables, except seconds pass. Many people do these things.
Pushing through fear
I introduced him to two words, “who” and “cares.” And he embraced them. “Who cares if I do it?” I also changed the meaning of the metaphor for him. “This Anxiety creature is trying to throw you off the cliff. But maybe off the cliff is where you want to go. Maybe there is freedom or paradise beyond it. Maybe it’ll be an adventure!” I continued, “He is pretending he is trying to push you off, but it is reverse psychology, he actually is the guard, trying to keep you from this freedom.” This was eye opening for him. And as soon as he started not to worry about his patterns, they became less frequent and some disappeared. Even if they do come he has no judging energy about it and he no longer suffers at all. He no longer suffers. He is free.
We often are so scared of taking that leap of faith either to connect with people, or to allow ourselves to be ourselves without judging, that we stay where we are and feel trapped there. But we are really suffering “B” just to prevent suffering “A.” “B” is horrible and when we leap, we often realize, “A” was never really a threat.
Anxiety is a guard, keeping you from adventure. As soon as we are no longer afraid of it, it ceases to have power. Leap! Freedom is off the cliff.
Did you ever think of what scares you as an adventure?