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Tales of the Unexpected

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Lesley McCall

Summer 2016

Tales of the Unexpected

 

Do you thrive on change? Not knowing what’s going to happen next? Love the unexpected? No? Well you are not alone. There are some brave souls who love living life day to day, living on the edge, but most of us like a bit of security in our life. We are programmed to look for security, to prefer certainty. It makes sense from an evolutionary point of view – if we were all a species of risk takers who raced through life never knowing where the next meal was coming from then we would be extinct. So evolution advocates the tried and tested – eat what everybody else eats, live where we know we can be safe, fit into the herd, don’t deviate from the norm.

Obviously you need a certain amount of risk in order to progress, we need to try new things but to be in a state of change, looking for a new job, the end of a relationship, moving house, divorce etc. can make us very anxious and unsettled. Even a positive change like starting a new job, can leave us stressed and unsure.

The problem is that life is uncertain at times we all have situations where we don’t know what comes next and uncertainty scares us. For example, one certainty we all know is that everybody dies sometime but what scares us is the uncertainty of how and when, when we cannot plan and predict we are fearful.

It’s about control, if we can organise our lives to cover all possibilities then we are safe, except that’s not possible, nobody can predict the future, life always throws us into confusion when we least expect it. Anxiety is all about fear of the future, and the uncertainty of what could happen. If we don’t get control of it then anxiety can run amok creating worst case scenarios which in turn, make us even more anxious, creating triggers out of nothing to help us avoid problems. In extreme cases it leads to panic attacks, phobias and OCD – all because our unconscious is scared of the unknown. It’s the ‘Fight or Flight’ reflex but without knowing exactly what we are scared of…. and that’s the most frightening thing of all!

So the strategy we usually employ to feel safe is to live in packs, surrounded by the people we trust and live within our comfort zone. But what if we don’t or can’t do the usual? What if we have to take a different path? or, even worse don’t know which path to take? Then we don’t know the safe route, the safest place …. we are in danger …. run! What if we can’t run? We are trapped and …. back to anxiety again.

Out of our comfort zone is where the magic happens – it’s where we achieve and move forwards, so why don’t we do this more often? Why does it scare us when the rewards are so great? Uncertainty once again, we often haven’t done it before, there is no certainty about the outcome and we may fail. So the temptation is to run back to the usual…the safe option…the tried and tested, and in so doing miss out on something that just may have been magic.

It’s easy to see why uncertainty and risk taking makes us anxious, why we don’t always like life to change on us, why we get anxious when life is changing, why we stay in our comfort zone. So what can we do when we need to cope with change – sometimes that has been forced upon us – sometimes change we have chosen but that makes us anxious? How can we deal with the unexpected in life?

The unconscious will drive us away from what is painful or frightening – it wants to protect us and it will find interesting and imaginative ways to divert us. It will sabotage us without us realising. The thing about self-sabotage is that it will seem perfectly reasonable at the time because our emotions are working overtime and logic goes out the window. So if we are in a period of uncertainty in our lives where we have to fight through fear to move on, instead of helping us progress our unconscious may ‘push our buttons’ to make us anxious and drive us away from what scares us but also away from what could help us. The unconscious does not reason it reacts – and not always helpfully.

This sabotaging is the reason we don’t always cope well with uncertainty and change – especially forced change. That feeling of wanting to run away, or feeling helpless and anxious that’s what ‘freezes’ us and prevents us helping ourselves to resolve difficult situations. The unconscious finds many ways to lead us back to safety – or what it sees as safety -that’s its primary job so the unexpected, the uncertain often triggers self-sabotage in order to get back to safety – and when there is no route back to safety we get anxious.

Self-Sabotage and how to get round it.

Negative thoughts: Our mind makes up worst case scenarios to frighten us into flight, to make us run away from what is painful or potentially dangerous. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s more harmful to run away than to stand and fight but our unconscious doesn’t care about that it just dumps scary thoughts into our minds in the hope will panic and run.

So firstly simply understanding why they are there and what they are trying to achieve can help to fight them. If the unexpected happens and your mind suddenly starts thinking up worst case scenarios, then it is trying to frighten you into running away, but to where? You suddenly lose your job or someone you love becomes ill, what is needed is calm logical thinking and a plan, what you get is visions of losing everything and becoming bankrupt or losing your loved ones.

In order to defeat negative thoughts, understand why and when they occur and identify them. Sometimes writing them down so that you can look at them later when you are calmer can be very helpful. Focus on how to calm yourself and challenge the thoughts rather than allowing them to take you off into fear. The unexpected can be a change for the better – losing your job may mean you get a better one! Why does the unexpected or uncertain have to lead to the worst rather than the better?

Confusion and inertia.

Another reaction that people have to the unexpected is the ‘freeze’ response. If something is potentially scary or upsetting our minds can try to avoid it altogether. In evolution freezing is another way to avoid a predator. We are out hunting and a sabre toothed tiger leaps out at us – so freezing is what we sometimes do, not the most successful strategy maybe but sometimes we are beyond logic.

So if there is something so threatening in our lives that we freeze because it seems too big to deal with, then we can use a technique called ‘splitting’. Problems rarely are made up of one big issue – most often they are a mixture of things we can do something about and things we can’t. If someone we love gets ill then we can’t change that but we can focus on what we can change – sorting out their pets, house, finding an agency that can support them and you etc. Focusing on what you can do, allows you to be logical and moves you on.

Fear of failure: This is a big contributor to anxiety for many people. If we can’t be certain we will succeed, then fear of failure makes sure we don’t even try. Clients who have ‘failed’ at relationships before would sometimes rather stay lonely and unhappy than risk failing again. Their unconscious makes every excuse under the sun as to why nothing will work rather than risk it. Depression is safer than trying something new, something unknown. The way forward is goals – small achievable goals. Perfectionism is a way of keeping you stuck – perfect is not achievable so best not even try! So don’t set the bar too high – make your way forward in small steps not giant leaps. Set a small achievable goal every day and reward yourself when you do it.

So if you want to challenge yourself, face the fear, conquer the anxiety when facing the unexpected

  • Understand that it is normal to be scared of uncertainty and fear the unexpected but focus on best possible outcome and fight those worst case scenario negative thoughts.
  • Set small achievable goals that will help you to move forward, in whatever way you can. Don’t try to move mountains. Focus only on what you can do something about, ignore the rest.
  • Identify and challenge that voice that tries to frighten you into inaction. That voice that adds to your fear by scaring you with what could go wrong. It’s your unconscious doing its job trying to keep you safe and away from the unknown, the uncertain.
  • When you feel trapped in a situation that seems unsolvable make a list of what you can do something about and do them one by one and bin everything else.

Never forget – out of your comfort zone is where the magic happens. Although our brains are programmed to be scared of uncertainty and the unexpected, although our first reaction may be to freeze and pretend it hasn’t happened or run away, we can overcome our programming, we can fight evolution, if we couldn’t then we would still be in caves hunting for our food. We can overcome adversity and our fears – that’s why we survive and how we move forward.