You can only talk about something you’re afraid to do for so long in therapy before talk becomes superfluous and the only way to move past the fear is to push yourself into taking action. It’s one thing to discuss barriers to change and how to overcome them; it’s another to say you’re going to do something but do nothing to make that happen.
Here are some examples of positive movement forward. You think you want to leave your partner and read up on your state’s divorce laws. You want to change jobs and use therapy to explore what work you might and might not be suited for. You’d like to become a “normal” eater and read books on how to eat mindfully. In each case, you still have the fear—of not knowing whether you want to be single again, will find a better job, or will ever learn to have a better relationship with food—but are taking steps to move forward and past it.
Alternately, here are examples of using therapy as a stall tactic to avoid taking steps to overcome your fear:
- Changing the subject when you and your therapist start to discuss your fears and how to overcome them
- Insisting you can’t do something until a whole bunch of other things are done first
- Claiming that someone is preventing you from moving forward and focusing on them changing rather than on changing
- Shifting focus to the past and how many times you’ve failed at what you’re trying to do or have not succeeded at in general (this is a biggie!)
- Engaging in another course of action that you’re not so afraid to do so you can feel successful rather than tackle your larger fear
- Keeping the focus solely on all the things you’ve succeeded at doing, rather than on what challenges lie ahead
I’m not saying you’re avoiding facing your fears if you do any (or even all) of the above. I’m saying that if you use these (conscious or unconscious) tactics on a regular basis, you’re avoiding change and not facing your fears. While most therapists want to spend some time exploring your fears, we can also get stuck in that phase of treatment and not push hard enough to get someone unstuck. It’s not called “talk” therapy for nothing!
The more you sit in fear and avoid taking action toward reaching your goals, the more mired you become in fear, or may even sink into paralysis. One of my favorite books is the classic by Susan Jeffers, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. It won’t take away your fear, but it will teach you how to put yourself out there and do what scares you.