I have developed a new motto by which to live my life. “Take care of yourself and have a plan” has also become the watchword of my counseling practice. For the past two years, my husband and I have experienced financial letdowns and disillusionment from trusting people we thought had our best interests in mind. It is hard to admit this, but I found myself being in a funk from the stress of these circumstances. I stopped exercising, turned to comfort foods, gained weight, developed a negative outlook, and went through my own grieving process that included disbelief, sadness and fear.
Maybe it was the will to survive or the fact that I no longer wanted to remain in victim mode. To borrow a line from the movie Network, I became “mad as hell and [didn’t] want to take it anymore!”
I finally found myself turning a corner and emerging from that dark period. It helped to pray, to do some inspirational reading, and to give to and receive emotional support from my husband. We needed each other and we needed to make a plan or a few plans to deal with the problematic areas of our lives.
Of course, my patients never knew that I was feeling this way. Actually, my work was a blessing and took me away from my own problems. I continued to help my patients develop goal plans and methods for self-care.
But, isn’t it interesting that as I suggested tools for my patients to use in dealing with their challenges, I neglected to utilize these same tools for myself. Did I write down goals for improving my life? Did I listen to my relaxation CD? Was I eating healthy meals? Did I get enough exercise and rest? A trip to the hospital last summer showed me the importance of not ignoring messages sent by my body to my brain. So, why did I ignore my own advice? It’s possible that my feelings of victimization left me in a state of anxiety and fear. I needed to work through this, before I could put a plan together.
Dr. Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., a noted psychologist and psychotherapist has written several books to help women understand and work through negativity in their lives and in their relationships. Many of her books utilize the word “dance” in the title. I believe that the word “dance” refers to the games we play as we dance around the truth. I first became acquainted with her work, when I read the Dance of Anger, a New York Times bestseller. This book helped me to understand the underlying anger I was dealing with from my childhood and adolescence, into adulthood.
Currently, I am reading The Dance of Fear, which is helping me to put fear in a proper perspective. It is amazing that I have had this book sitting on my bookshelf for a couple of years! I guess we don’t take the opportunity, until we are ready.
Dr. Lerner makes the distinction between productive fear, and irrational fear which keeps us from “living authentically.” Just as we need some stress to function in life (otherwise, we would be zombies), we also need a little bit of fear to operate in life or death situations.
After all, doesn’t fear of bodily injury keep us from jumping off of the roof of our homes, much less climbing up on the roof in the first place! I don’t think I would want to jump off a cliff to see how long it would take me to reach the bottom, either!
Dr. Lerner wrote her book with the desire to:
While fear can motivate us to maintain self-preservation, it can also keep us from doing things that could improve our lives. We can be blind-sided by fear itself, believing that fear of the known is easier to cope with, than fear of the unknown. Our fear can also cause us to become helpless and hopeless, believing that we must continue to live a life of suffering, with no hope of recovery.
I am so grateful that I was able to work through my fear to realize that suffering does not have to be my “lot in life.” There is absolutely no reason why I can’t find solutions to problems when I look at the network of support I have with my husband, other family members and good friends. Knowing that I have these valuable resources makes it even more important to take care of myself and have a plan. But…I will admit that every once in awhile, I do allow myself to have a “pity party.” Fortunately, for my husband’s sake, it doesn’t last too long!
*From the book The Dance of Fear, by Harriet Lerner, Ph.D. (HarperCollins Publishers, 2004).
For more information about Leslie’s CD, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org