How to handle the fear
Divorce is a time of uncertainty, which can be painful and challenging. Many of my clients say that they are afraid of what the future might hold, or they fear how life might look and feel in 6 months, or a year.
When your life is in a state of transition and change, it is normal to be fearful. Divorce turns the world upside down, so who wouldn’t be afraid? Fear is uncomfortable and, when faced with an imminent danger like a sabre-toothed tiger, useful, as it stimulates our fight or flight response. Unlike the tiger though, the fears we face during divorce aren’t usually imminent physical dangers. Instead they are internalised fears, fuelled by our thoughts and feelings. Much of it is fear of the unknown.
So what can you do to handle and overcome the fear?
“There are four ways you can handle fear. You can go over it, under it, or around it. But if you are ever to put fear behind you, you must walk straight through it” (Donna Favors).
Some people try to avoid fear through keeping really busy (yes, that was me), others turn to drink or drugs, or medication, and others simply bury their head in the sand, hoping it will all go away. Some people find fear paralysing, and they don’t know which way to turn, so they do nothing. These approaches may work for a while, but in the long run they will keep you stuck, or exhaust you.
Instead, I encourage you to examine what you are afraid of. Walk straight through your fear, rather than trying to avoid it. You may be surprised by the results, and in the changes you see in yourself. Some questions to ask yourself:
- What is the worst that could happen?
- What is it costing me to stay where I am?
- What will happen if I do nothing?
- What do I want instead?
- What is my ideal outcome?
- What one step can I take right now to move towards my ideal outcome? (remember the joke, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!)
- How will I know when I’ve got that?
- What choices/options do I have?
- What resources do I have?
- Who could help me?
- Who could I learn from?
- How can I best support myself?
It can also be helpful to look at your fear from a different perspective. So, ask yourself what your best friend would advise you to do right now? Or imagine you are a loving, independent third party, looking in – what advice would you give yourself?
Begin to notice when you do something that you were previously afraid of. For me, that meant looking at my bank account and working out a monthly budget. For some of my clients, it is thinking about what arrangements might work for the children, or working out what boundaries they want to hold around communication they will accept from their ex. When you do something that scares you, be proud.
Fear only has the power to paralyse you when you let it.
There’s a great Buddhist story, that I first read in Pema Chodron’s book, ‘When things fall apart – heart advice for difficult times’, which illustrates this really well.
Once there was a young trainee warrior, who was told by her master that as the next part of her training, she must fight Fear. The warrior did not want to fight Fear – it looked unfriendly and unpleasant. Fear was bigger than her, and more ferocious.
But her master said that she had to do it.
When the day came, the warrior stood on one side, and Fear stood on the other, both holding their weapons. The warrior was scared and afraid.
The warrior approached Fear, and asked "may I have your permission to fight you?" Fear replied, "thank you for showing me so much respect that you ask for my permission to fight me."
The warrior plucked up her courage again and asked, "please, tell me, how may I defeat you?". Fear replied, " I will rise up bigger than you. I will talk very loudly and fast, and I will shout right in your face. I will intimidate you, and I will threaten you. You will be unnerved, and do whatever I say. But if you don't do what I say, I have no power. You can listen to me, or be convinced by me, or respect me, but if you don't do what I say, I have no power."
And this is how the warrior learnt to defeat fear.
You can do this too.
If you’d like to talk to me about coaching so that you too can overcome your fears, please get in touch!