Destination Unknown: Fear of Moving Forward


We all want to be happier people, right? Yes and no. Sometimes just as you are beginning to feel better, your outlook changes. Instead of being filled only with hope and excitement, there are strong feelings of fear mixed in there too.

Many people are shocked when this happens in counseling. They might reach a breakthrough or achieve a powerful insight, only to experience fear. This is what they have been working so hard on, so how can they now be scared of moving forward?

But being afraid of personal progress - when battling issues like anxiety and eating disorders, for example - makes a lot of sense once you take the time to really look at what it means for you.

You will be able to do things that you have not been able to do before

Moving forward opens up a world of possibilities. As wonderful as this may be, it can also be very intimidating. You may feel that all of a sudden there is a giant mountain to begin climbing and that you are only at the bottom of it. Or perhaps you are not even sure what the next steps forward would be and fear that you will never figure out where the right path even begins.

The lack of _______ leaves an emptiness for you to fill

Intrusive thoughts, whether they stem from social anxiety and panic attacks or an eating disordersfocus on food and the body, can consume your life. Once you start to feel better, you may also begin to feel empty inside. Questions begin to arise: Who am I now that I am not defined by an anxiety disorder, or anorexia, or bulimia? That empty feeling of the unknown can be challenging in its own right. After all, you already know what to expect from the old pains you are so used to feeling, but tolerating not knowing what each day will bring can be a whole different experience.

Being in a consistent level of mental and/or physical pain for an extended period of time means that your life has more or less been in same place for a while now. People learn to live with their pain until it is treated as a constant companion. Overcoming it can bring up two different kinds of fear:

Fear of failure

In these types of experiences, thoughts such as these are quite common: Now that my pain isnt holding me back and I can give something my best shot, what if it doesn't work and I fail? How will I be able to hang in there and not be completely devastated if I don't succeed?

One thing that is helpful to remember is that fear of failure is common not only in counseling and overcoming anxiety oreating disorders, but in all sorts of situations, from the personal to the professional, and there are a number of ways to address it.

Tech developer, designer, and entrepreneur Paul Scrivens has written about using failure as a tool instead of a crutch — he calls it becoming a "failure scientist":

I’ve failed at a lot of things and it doesn’t get easier over time. What has become easier is getting something out of that failure. I’ve become more of a failure scientist. It’s interesting to me to try and understand why something didn’t work the way I intended.

This attitude toward failure  — that each setback can present invaluable lessons to learn from is helpful in all aspects of life, and its no different in individual or group counseling.

Fear of success

Similarly, many people are haunted by this same questions. Do I deserve to be successful?  In counseling, your symptoms may have dissipated, and you might notice feeling less anxious or a newfound ability to sustain a meal plan, but what about your self-esteem? If deep down you do not feel that you are worth it, thinking about actually succeeding can be terrifying. Our minds are set up to prefer to be consistency and habit, and if your view of yourself is a negative one, you may grow to feel comfortable only with negative experiences that reinforce that view.

Despite these common difficulties that are involved in personal growth, in the end it is always worth it. And you do not have to go through this without support and guidance.

For some further insight into this topic, see Jon Spaydes post for strategies to help you overcome the barriers you face when attempting to move forward in your life.

Keep experimenting, keep talking to others, keep growing.