by Richard Skerritt
[Fear is a huge issue for people in abusive situations, because for many of us, there is a compelling need for us to take action to change our situation to protect ourselves. Fear can be paralyzing, especially when we are stepping into the unknown and considering choices we think others will condemn. Remember: ignorance is the guardian of fear. And a journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step, no matter how small. With conviction, fear can be overcome, and more easily than you think.
I suppose that on its face, the anecdote I share in this essay might seem mundane. Yet it represents a way of definitely – if slowly – getting over or around a change that is just too scary to deal with in one step. I think that because this was a step that no one or no circumstance was forcing me to take, that it was easy to back away. It was only by chipping away at it – by walking up to the door and stopping and then coming back again and stopping a little bit closer – that I could lift myself over that barrier of fear.
Some of the challenge we face in dealing with these relationships is truly within us. It is easy to get focused on the craziness of a disordered partner – it’s hard not to, usually – but our own emotions and decisions play an important role in what our experience turns out to be.
Well, it’s one thing to think about making changes in your life. Or even to decide that we need to make changes. But the real kicker comes when it’s time to actually make those changes happen. And that, my friend, is where all of us run smack into fear. And it can be paralyzing, totally paralyzing.
Ignorance Guards Fear
This fear is protected with a wall of ignorance. Take divorce: Can I make a living? Is it best for the children? Can I get custody? Partial custody? How much alimony will I get? How long will it take? Can I afford the fight? And so on.
All these questions have answers, or approximate answers. And it’s pretty certain that if we’re feeling afraid, we probably don’t know these answers. These answers give you the understanding and knowledge to allow you to see where change will take you. The more of the answers you have, the less ignorance you have to protect your fears. Once the fears diminish, it becomes possible to make the decision WITHOUT anguish. What’s more, it becomes emotionally possible to start making those changes.
Fear is dealt with by 1000 tiny steps to LEARN. It’s amazing how little we know about the things we fear. One phone call, a visit to a web site, a phone call to a friend, a question on a support list – can provide the knowledge to change something from a fearful unknown to “Hey! I can do that!” The key is to recognize the fear of change, and put your finger on what you are assuming, without really knowing, that makes you afraid. From that, you can take a step to get a better understanding. And once you have it, you’ll be able to take another step.
It may take ten or 20 small steps to make a big change. For me, a great example was finding a divorce attorney. I was so frightened of that. But I did the 20 steps, one by one: buy a book; read the book; look in the phone book; read the book again; talk to a friend; read that book again to find out what I’m supposed to ask; make a list of questions; write a script for a voicemail; look on the internet; look again; try harder this time; make a call; return a call, make an appointment; Every damned one of those things I was afraid of. Even buying the book! I bought it with cash so my wife wouldn’t ask what I’d bought! But as a result of those small steps, I was able to make a big change.
Once I determined to knock these walls down, everything came into focus and my actions became part of a plan. Something that I chose and I took control of. By eliminating ignorance of the “what ifs”, you eliminate the anguish and allow yourself to own your choices, and to move forward and change your life.
Step by step, little by little, you knock down the walls of ignorance that guard those fears.