Finding Courage at the Crossroads of Fear and Change

Two roads diverge in forest, one more strewn with fallen leavesWe all reach a point in our lives where our decisions inevitably create profound changes in our hearts, our minds, and our world. In many cases, fear can be the charging force pushing the direction of our thoughts, dictating our movements. Sometimes our fears are hidden. Sometimes we are simply not ready to confront them.

But eventually, we all come to a crossroads where we need to make life-changing decisions, regardless of our fears. At this point, the direction of our movement must encompass confronting our hidden fears and the other feelings that play a powerful role in our decision-making.

Fear of the unknown can shake our resolve in moving forward as we begin to face the heart-pounding moments that inform our actions.

Our decisions are unconsciously influenced by our experiences during childhood, adolescence, and adult life. We grow up in survival mode, learning to protect ourselves from the verbal, physical, and emotional onslaught of our parents, siblings, teachers, schoolyard bullies, and others.

These learned survival traits compound and confuse our thinking of who we are and the direction of our lives. They affect our daily actions, at times giving us distressing results in our confrontations, causing us to begin asking more contemplative questions at new crossroads: How do I decide what to do? What is my problem? Where do I look for helpful information? Why is it so important to know about my past? Who can help me with my decisions? When should I begin the search? Such thoughts radiate through our decision-making both internally and outwardly.

As we walk through life, we carry our failures, losses, hurts, and other issues experienced while growing up with family or alone. We ask ourselves, “Am I any good? Am I worthwhile? Am I broken?”

Whether we are sitting in our car at a crossroad to an unknown destination or at a crossroad in our mind confronting a fear resulting from an experience, can we determine who we are and what we are all about? What does all of this mean for us?

It means courage. As we walk through life, we carry our failures, losses, hurts, and other issues experienced while growing up with family or alone. We ask ourselves, “Am I any good? Am I worthwhile? Am I broken?”

These are scary and real questions that may present themselves at a crossroad. How do we explore thoughts and confront fears resulting from our actions, or the actions of others that have affected our lives?

Here are four simplified steps that can help:

  1. One needs to explore the ways we protect ourselves unconsciously from the anxiety of recognizing singular or multiple traumatic events that have shaped our decision-making. We do this to defend against a fear or other troubling emotion which becomes the catalyst for our actions.
  2. In my therapeutic experience, when looking at unconscious fears that interfere with our decision-making, it’s advisable to attempt to understand one issue at a time. Otherwise, we may experience frustration, aggravation, and other emotions, resulting in nothing being done at all.
  3. Once the issue is brought into the light, exploration of our feelings can be utilized using “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” and “why” to try to understand how our unconscious manipulates our thoughts and emotions. Recognizing our basic emotions and understanding them is just as important as being able to accept the defenses we utilize in protecting our fears. We often experience interacting emotions, producing thoughts that may result in anxiety, anger, apathy, despair, doubt, and indecision. We direct ourselves to play out emotional entanglements by interjecting ourselves into circumstances we have unconsciously designed. The emotions and fears we deal with unconsciously affect the decisions we make as we travel forward into the crossroads of our lives.
  4. Once we understand our feelings and survival techniques, goals can be visualized, empowering us to resolve the fears that have impeded our decisions. In turn, we are able to move forward. The many crossroads encountered in life can help us strengthen our belief about ourselves.

The most recent crossroad I have confronted was related to heart surgery. It was determined on the operating table that the surgery could not be performed because my heart was covered by plaque, closing my aortic valve by more than two-thirds. If surgery continued, a stroke most likely would have occurred since the procedure for this type of surgery was so recently developed.

Afterward, I was informed there are surgeons currently in training to perform this next level of operation. So I wrestled with two decisions: Wait for the training to finish and risk having the surgery, or do nothing and let go.

This life decision was not easy, as it affected not just myself but my family. In the end, I elected to let go of the surgery. In coming to terms with this decision, I have become more comfortable with managing this arduous crossroad.

The life-changing decisions and crossroads we experience are different for all of us. Trying to use complicated methods to explore our issues can result in the opposite of the desired goal. A simplified approach to understanding who and what we are about may have a greater positive influence on the changes in our life and the decisions we make.

© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Elizabeth MacGregor, Ed.D, LP, ACS. ASE, EMDR, CBT, therapist in Montville, New Jersey

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Rainer

    Rainer

    September 8th, 2017 at 9:19 AM

    I felt that same fear when I had back surgery not knowing if this would really help or if I was simply doing something that would in the end not help but make things so much worse. It can be a true battle within yourself when you are making what could very well be a life altering decision.

  • Johnnie

    Johnnie

    September 11th, 2017 at 2:20 PM

    We will all come to a certain point where we have to face that difficult decision.
    Do we go with the well worn path or do we take a chance and do something that is different and new?
    I would like to say that I take a chance any time that the opportunity arises, but of course there are toes when I feel constrained and held back by that fear that is within me.
    I want to have a better ability to indeed take that road less taken.

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