|Photo: Tiwago. Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.|
I was talking to a psychologist about anxiety a couple of weeks ago and he used a metaphor that I found to be very helpful in thinking it all through.
"Are you afraid of snakes?" he asked.
"OK. So imagine that I'm deathly afraid of snakes and one falls through the ceiling, as we sit here. What am I most likely to do?"
"Run out of the room."
"And what's likely to happen to the level of my anxiety, once I'm on the other side of the door?"
"It will go down."
"But next time I come across a snake, what will happen to my anxiety?"
"It will spike again."
"So imagine that you are somewhat of a snake expert. What if you reassured me that this particular snake was harmless? What if I stayed in the room and you showed me that it's just a harmless garter snake and that nothing bad happens when we stay near it. What happens to my anxiety then?"
"It would go down a little."
"And the next time, I come across a snake?"
"You'd still feel anxious but perhaps not as much."
"Exactly. It's not comfortable to work through anxiety but that's exactly what makes it lessen. And hopefully, in confronting your fear, you could eventually make it disappear. Or at least diminish to the point that it doesn't affect your ability to function."
This metaphor really, really resonated with me. I told my own therapist about it and she really liked it too. It's become a short form for us. I will tell her about something that scares me or that I'm hesitant to do and she will ask, "What's the snake in that story?"
"I'm afraid that it won't be good enough."
"I don't want to feel guilty or ashamed."
"I worry that I am uninteresting."
"I'm afraid that people won't like me."
It's been very helpful. And on my own, when I feel unreasonably anxious about doing something, I imagine the snake and how it really is not as bad as it seems.
Unless it's a rattlesnake and then all bets are off. What if the thing that scares you really is as bad as your worst fears? What if it's possible or even likely to happen?
That's the part I'm still trying to figure out.
|Photo: Brent Myers Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.|