Growing is Scary

Last week’s blog was about the fact that sometimes, making healthy choices is hard.  This week, I’m looking at one aspect of that in greater detail.  When I am working with clients, it is not unusual to arrive at a moment in the therapy where my client is able to label some choice or coping strategy as taking them in an unhealthy direction.  It’s also not unusual for that recognition to create some panic or resistance.

The coping strategy or relationship might not be healthy, but it is what is normal, and familiar.  To change, and move in a healthy direction, I’m often asking a client to consider letting go of something familiar without having a clear replacement.  To move into the empty space.  This is how we grow.  But it’s darn scary.

Why Space is Scary

We like to know what our next step is.  When you change, and create the space to build new patterns, you are doing something frightening.  Fear is incredibly uncomfortable.  Most of us, intentionally or unconsciously, work very hard to protect ourselves from being afraid.  We have all kinds of coping mechanisms to help us push fear away, or to distract ourselves from feeling the fear, or to cover the fear up.

So, when you reach the point of recognizing that a familiar coping strategy is actually unhealthy, or holding you back in some way, you have a choice to make.  You can continue to do what you know how to do.  To do those things that feel familiar and routine–even though they are ultimately making you feel bad.  Or, you can let go of the familiar and take the risk of growing.

One of the reasons that I emphasize to my patients that therapy is a safe space is that I know the work of therapy often means making these scary choices.  It means doing the opposite of your reflexive reaction.  Instead of avoiding fear, you practice facing it head on.  Instead of hiding from your feelings, you sit with them.  You learn that you are strong enough to change, to grow, to feel.

You Deserve Healthy Change–Even though it’s Scary

I truly believe that you deserve the opportunity to grow and change–even though getting there is scary.  You deserve to see yourself as someone who is strong and capable.  You deserve to experience top-notch self-care.  So here are a few questions to think about as you go into your week:

  1. How do you cope when you feel anxious, overwhelmed, sad, or angry?
  2. Are those coping choices healthy and life-giving?
  3. If not, are you willing to consider changing from an unhealthy strategy to one that is more truly caring?
  4. What kind of support will you need to change coping strategies?  Do you need a friend, a support group, a family member, a pastor or a therapist?
  5. Where can you get the support you need?

I hope that answering these questions brings you closer to excellent self-care.  If there is something I can do to support you in that journey, feel free to let me know in the comments or contact me directly via the “Contact Me” link.


Image Credit: Photo by Shorts and Longs | The Both And via Flickr

15 thoughts on “Growing is Scary

  1. Change is scary, but when the time comes that staying the same is scarier, we need to embrace the change and make your own opportunities from it. Self-care is so important when we’re going through change, but it’s so easy to set it aside for “tomorrow.” Thanks for your encouraging message!

    1. Lynda,

      I appreciate you reiterating the reminder for self-care. Sometimes it can feel like a lot to juggle: meet our responsibilities, do good self-care, oh, and also do the scary work of growth & change. I think that juggling act is one of the reasons a therapist can be an important support.


  2. Hi Anne, I love this post. I think you have really articulated one of the major obstacles to doing something different. Fear. I see this for myself and for my patients. Often the unknown feels scarier than the same old bad habits that we know don’t work. I especially like the emphasis on sitting with the difficult feeling that come up when we are brave enough to let go and try something new. Best, Allison

    1. Allison,

      It is amazing to me how much power that fear of the unknown holds for all of us. And even knowing that the unknown can hold brighter possibilities isn’t always enough to entice us to try. I love that practicing therapy allows me to walk hand in hand with my patients as they grow brave enough to face that fear and make changes. Thanks for your perspective.


  3. Thanks for a well-written post. I particularly liked how you DIDN’T just theorize and leave us all hanging but you put your theories into some great practical advice at the end.

    As someone who lives with the daily challenge of depression I have found the issue of ‘where can I get the support I need?’ tricky.

    Some of the ‘supports’ I have sought out have been inadequate for one reason or another. That is hard. BUT…it has forced me to study and research and discuss my situation with the one person who knows me best, my husband. The self-study I have done has amounted to more progress than any of the ‘professionals’ could have ever achieved.

    Having said that however, I still use professionals, usually my doctor, to report my progress to, to be accountable to, and even though I seem to be in charge of my own plan for health, I am relieved to have a ‘professional’ to report to along the way, just in case I get way off base.

    Thanks for asking some good questions and giving some sound advice.

    1. Wendy,

      I am so happy that you found something useful in this post. That is one of the things that keeps me writing every week–the hope that I am providing helpful information to my readers. I think that you described an important phenomenon about therapy. I am very clear with my patients that most of the “hard work” that will be done in changing their lives will be done by them. I have the power to create a supportive environment, be caring and challenging when need be, and help them with accountability. But I don’t have the power to control their choices, so the most important steps toward change always belong to the person I am sitting with. Thank you so much for sharing your story and your thoughts.


  4. Yup, I can think of several coping strategies that are not healthy and life-giving for me – some that I’ve given up and others that are more difficult to abandon. I really can identify with that fear of the unknown. Thank you for the encouragement to take the first step anyway!

    1. Rachelle,

      In some ways, this post was also a reminder to myself. I think that all of us benefit from periodically assessing how healthy our coping strategies are. Thanks for your own self-reflection.


    1. Kathy,

      I was thinking a lot about the overall therapy process as I wrote this post. It was a reminder to me to remind my patients that change can be a slow and effort-filled process. Thanks for picking up on that.


  5. A slight modification to the five questions might also assist families as they approach change. When dealing with issues, some families have family meetings. During these meetings they could for example: discuss their emotions, their varying needs of support, and whether the family can provide the support or needs to seek it outside the family.

    1. JoAnn,

      Oh, thanks for that. So much of my work is individual that, even though I talk to patients about systems perspectives, I forget to write with the system in mind. I appreciate the reframe!


  6. Dear Ann,
    Thanks so much for a thoughtful description of how change happens. For myself, I often have the image of skating out onto thin ice. Maybe it will hold, maybe not. Presenting the therapy relationship as the safe place to take these chances is just what we do when we do it best.
    And I like the idea of wondering what the coping strategies are and how they work. It’s a process getting to the point that we can observe those patterns as coping strategies that are not supporting health.
    Warm regards,

    1. Carolyn,

      I am a bit of a nerd when it comes to therapy. I love thinking about what works, what is healthy, and why those things are true. I love the thin ice image–maybe we as therapists are the ones holding the safety rope.


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