We don’t want to get hurt.
We don’t want to be disappointed.
We don’t want to risk experiencing our worst fears coming true.
We do so many things to protect ourselves.
But, so often, the harder we try to protect ourselves, the more we keep ourselves from what we really wanted in the first place.
If I fear rejection, I might avoid giving people opportunities to reject me. I might never extend invitations. I might try to only do or say things I think they will approve of. I might hide my feelings and needs and dreams so they can’t be criticized or dismissed.
This might keep me from being rejected (although it also might not). The problem is that, even if I am protected from rejection, I am ensuring that I will experience the consequences of rejection I’m trying to avoid. Because I’m isolating myself, I’m likely to feel lonely. In changing myself to please another, I’m telling myself that I’m not good enough—I’m not lovable just as I am. In hiding what is really in my mind and heart, I feel unseen.
Similarly, we may try to avoid failure by not trying anything we’re not absolutely sure we can do. But whether we fail or we never try, we still haven’t done the thing. The difference is that it’s only through allowing the risk of failure that we open up the possibility to succeed. Protecting ourselves from failing at something is actually a great way to ensure we never succeed at it.
Where is your fear of losing the possibility of what you want preventing you from having that very thing?
It’s vulnerable to want something and, when we feel vulnerable, it’s normal to try to protect ourselves. Once we recognize what is happening, we might wonder why we’re doing so much to get in our own way. It can be easy to be critical of ourselves, but we have fearful parts that are working hard to protect us in the only way they know how.
The thing is, even though the self-protective ways we’re choosing might not lead to a very satisfying life, they are familiar. The suboptimal familiar is often still more comfortable than uncertainty. When comfortable equals safe and safe is more important than happy, it makes sense that we do what feels safest.
So, what do we do?
For starters, we recognize that discomfort is a part of growth. While it’s normal to want to avoid discomfort, we can build our tolerance with discomfort and grow our capacity to be with uncertainty as we try for what we really want.
We can practice being there for ourselves through disappointment. We can listen to the parts that are afraid. We can learn to see the value in ourselves and build our trust that we can recover when things don’t go as well as we’d hoped. There are so many things we can do to change our patterns, but the first step is to notice what is going on.
Please join me in answering these 4 questions today:
Where in your life are you protecting yourself in a way that keeps you from what you truly want?
What is it that you want?…not just the thing (the relationship, the achievement, etc), but what will having that give you?
If you could know without a doubt that you’d be safe, what would you be doing differently?
What is one small action you will commit to taking that will move you closer to what you want?
I’m curious…did you learn anything about yourself today? What is it that you truly want? What would you like to do differently?
Shifting from self-protection to risking uncertainty isn’t a quick fix. I know what it’s like to be in the process of making these shifts. If you’ve uncovered a place where keeping yourself safe is keeping you limited, I’d love to support you.