Life is a Risk. Love is a Risk. Is There a Way to Stay Safe?

by | Feb 2, 2024 | Anxiety | 32 comments

We had a scare last week.

I went down to the creek early in the morning and Tashi, our kitty, followed me. It was a beautiful, crisp, pre-spring morning, and neither of us could resist the pull to the outdoors. As we left the house I had the thought, “I’m so glad that Tashi gets to be her innate cat-self and explore the outdoors.”

We take a risk letting her roam around outside, but we’ve always felt that it’s worth it.  (*Note: Luckily, Tashi has never been much of a bird hunter, but she does an excellent job keeping the mouse population down.) As she walked beside me, I thought about the risks we take in every day life, and how the only way to secure safety is to never leave the house. But even that isn’t safe as isolation and lack of movement bring a different type of risk. There is simply no way to live a risk-free life in this world.

I had to go back inside to start my workday, so I left Tashi down at the creek. Having grown up on this land, she’s skilled and artful in the wild, but we still worry about her. About an hour later, I peeked out the window and saw an enormous coyote loping along our neighbor’s fence. It was the largest coyote I’ve ever seen – more wolf-sized than coyote. My heart leapt and my stomach dropped. Where was Tashi?

I called for her, searched everywhere, called to my husband, and we spent the next several hours looking for her. She was nowhere to be found. I was imagining how I was going to break the news to my boys, who have grown up with her. I felt absolutely heartsick and terrified. It seemed that she had met her end. We saw the coyote several more times crisscrossing our yards and the creek, but still no sign of kitty.

About four hours later, Tashi casually came walking back up to the house. We have no idea where she had been – most likely she had been hiding somewhere – but she sauntered up without a care in the world. My husband and I rejoiced, and thanked the sweet gods of animals for protecting her.

Life is a Risk

​​​​​​​I’m sharing this story to emphasize the risks we take in loving, and how tempting it is to keep our worlds small with the false assumption that we can prevent the risk of loss. One way or another, risk finds us, for it’s an inherent part of life on this planet.

In our longing to stay safe, it’s easy to forget that with every risk taken, we widen our capacity to embrace life to the fullest.

I think about the risk we took when we allowed our son to fly gilders when he was fourteen, and the immense benefit that came from it. It was through flying the he was able to overcome he lifelong fear of death, which then allowed him to pursue his dreams of becoming a naval aviator, and eventually an astronaut.

I think about the risk we took in moving to Colorado nearly eighteen years ago, leaving behind everything and everyone familiar in search of a place where our souls could breathe.

I think of the risks we take every day in allowing ourselves to love and be loved: how truly terrifying it can feel, especially when you have any kind of trauma history, to let someone into the deepest layers of your heart knowing that loss and hurt are possible.

I think about the risks we take when we travel, leaving behind the stability of home, and how our worlds are widened when we experience other parts of the country and world.

Is There a Way to Stay Safe?

The anxious-sensitive personality type tends to have one topmost need: to stay safe. With a heightened awareness of the risks inherent to life, this personality type has been honed over thousands of years to scan the horizon looking for danger. In the absence of physical danger, we’ll look for emotional danger or risk: Is it safe to love my partner? Are my kids healthy? Am I healthy? We scan and ruminate endlessly, searching for the tiniest clue for danger so that we can slam shut the doors of hearts and bypass the risk of living.

It doesn’t work, of course; there is simply no way to avoid risk and stay safe. What then? We do enough of our emotional and spiritual work to create a foundation of inner safety and outer trust so that we can tolerate the risk of loss inherent to life. That sentence was easy to write; it’s incredibly difficult to live out. But there’s no other way. We either play safe and small, or we step further into life’s adventures and trust, trust, trust that we will be able to meet whatever happens.

What kinds of risks have you taken lately and how have they enlarged and enlivened your world?

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32 Comments

  1. Thank you for this, Sheryl. I am definitely feeling all of this right now. Having just got engaged in December, I find fear rearing it’s ugly head here and there. I know it’s trying to protect me from the pain. As you mentioned, it’s particularly difficult for those who have had a trauma history, which I have. My Dad is constantly (and lovingly) saying – Chantal, only get married once. He and my mom divorced when I was a child and I know he’s saying it lovingly. Of course I only want to get married once and get it right the first time so I feel I’m in a bit of overdrive with putting my fiance under a microscope at times. Luckily for me, I’ve been working on this through therapy and your work for many years. I’ve been getting caught up in the “is he enough” yet funny enough, my confidence has been lacking a ton lately which I know is the projection of me being “am I enough”? I’m working on parenting myself lovingly through this but it’s definitely easier said than done. I’m currently in multiple large transitions so trying to give myself grace. All of this is to say thank you for this and for the reminder I so needed today.

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    • I’m glad it was a helpful reminder, Chantal, and it sounds like you’re doing excellent work on yourself. It does get easier with time and practice.

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    • Chantal I am going through the same thing! i’m getting married in May and feeling lots of anxiety. Im also going through other large life transitions as well. This article resonates so deeply, I’ll be saving it for future reads.

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    • Me too! I’m getting married in June and feeling so much fear of losing my partner in one of many ways or of it not working out. This is such a helpful post Sheryl – thank you

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  2. Sheryl, I’ve been following your work and courses since my engagement five years ago to my now husband! As a brand new parent, this post resonates with me deeply. Parenthood brings a whole new level of the deep fear us sensitive souls have of loss and risk, but words like these keep me motivated to keep going, and through continuing to “do the work” I hope I am setting a positive example for my child. I’ve been a silent follower of yours for the most part, but please know the profound impact your work has had on my life! Much love.

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    • Thank you, Di. It’s always a joy to hear from the silent followers :). And yes, there’s nothing like parenthood to bring the immense of risk of loving to the forefront daily. xo

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  3. I’m so glad Tashi is okay! This post feels so timely for me as I continue to contemplate “putting myself out there” in the world – sharing my writing, my thoughts, etc with others. I have faced so many risks (many of them thanks to you!), but this one feels like the most vulnerable by far. I know that the risk of not taking a risk is also huge though. Continuing to gather my courage. : )

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    • You are such a gem, Cindy, and I look forward to reading/hearing the gems that come through you whenever you’re ready – or even before that since we’re never fully ready! xoxo

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  4. Long time reader, first time commenter. I am feeling this deeply as we are contemplating trying to have another child. I love my daughter more than anything in the world and with that love comes an unprecedented level of fear. And yet I wouldn’t trade her for anything. But I’m still struggling with the idea of jumping off that cliff a second time- can I handle the amount of love/fear that would come with another child? Thank you for sharing your wisdom Sheryl

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    • I hear you, Ally, It’s a huge cliff to jump off of, and it’s a very personal decision. Sending hugs. x

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  5. Hi Sheryl,

    Another mostly silent follower writing to you today with deep gratitude for this post. All of your Sunday missives bring joy and comfort, and I look forward to them each week—but this one resonated so deeply with me today. My partner and I just decided that we will be moving to New Mexico from Colorado, our long-time (and my lifelong!) home for the summer so that he can pursue an internship in his field. I’ve spent all day doing what I feel like I do best: endlessly researching how dangerous the drive to New Mexico is, where we should live, what neighborhood will be safest, how to minimize his commute so he’ll be safer driving, etc. Everything to “make sure” we can be safe, even though each “solution” I find seems to beget another question or problem. Your post reminded me that, even though there is indeed so much to take care of before we move and some of these are good things to look into, that I am not actually solving any “problems” by doing all of this. Rather, I am trying to protect against the sense of loss that I feel just thinking about moving away from Colorado, which is my home and which I love so very deeply. Thank you for reminding me that it is okay to feel sad, that it will be okay to miss home—that those feelings are a portal to move through. Thank you for all the ways in which you and your work continue to make life more beautiful and joyful for so many of us.

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    • This is beautiful, Natalie: to witness your movement from misguided attempts to stay safe (checking) to dropping beneath the defense/protection into your heart, which carries the grief of moving.

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  6. Wow, Sheryl. Thank you so much. “We do enough of our emotional and spiritual work to create a foundation of inner safety and outer trust so that we can tolerate the risk of loss inherent to life.” – the words that strike me are “enough” and “tolerate.” My tendency is to think, “if I do my inner work perfectly, I will finally know the right way to live life and I’ll know I’m doing it right, and I’ll feel right.” There is freedom in not doing it perfectly but rather doing “enough” and having a goal not of feeling perfect but of being able to “tolerate.” It’s still uncomfortable though. I wish there was a rubric for the perfect way to live life, and that I could follow it perfectly, so that I and those around me could say, “she’s doing it right.” And so that I would feel right.

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    • Ah, yes, Jamie: we try so hard to feel right, and then we remember that the deeper work is about learning how to tolerate good enough while also moving toward the spiritual practices that do help us to feel “just right.”

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      • Aw, thank you. That is a soothing response to receive. Thank you, Sheryl!

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  7. Wow! I really needed this post tonight. I was just talking with my husband about how triggered I get when any of our three little girls are sick or hurting in any way. My anxious mind always jumps to the worst case scenario and clouds my better judgment. We’re also transitioning my oldest to a new school tomorrow, so I know we’re all in “liminal space” right now. Sheryl, your words were (as usual!) such a balm to my heart – both that your story ended happily, reminding me that the worst case scenario is rarely the most likely, and that you reminded me that the reason I feel the fear is because I love so deeply. It is hard! And it is worth it. Sending hugs to all my fellow sensitive souls out there!!

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    • Sending big hugs right back to you, Amanda! And a heart for each of your girls 🙂 ❤️❤️❤️

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  8. I’m on the precipice of reporting a coworker whom I work with very closely who is very unprofessional and makes me question almost everything I do. I could stay safe and let it all happen, take notes, but not say anything. Or I can talk to my boss in confidence and essentially do my due diligence to report unprofessional behaviour. I have already talked to her in person but the behaviour persists. I’m also 2 months new into the job so it’s extra scary. But I cannot stay silent any longer haha but I’m scared!

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    • Oh, that’s very scary, Lisa, but it sounds like your inner voice is guiding you to do what’s right. It takes so much courage!

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  9. I’ve just entered a new relationship… it’s been about 6 weeks. She is a wonderful and beautiful human being who is also a single parent to a young child. Her child is 8 and mine is 4. I’ve found myself holding back and I know it’s out of fear. Fear of whether I’m making the right decision. Fear of whether it will work out between us. Fear that if it doesn’t work, what impact will that have the children. Fear of hurting or breaking her heart, and somewhere almost hidden away, is the fear that I will be hurt. Fear too comes from the awareness that this is all something utterly beyond my control.

    All I know is that by acknowledging this and yet moving forward anyway, I am rewarded with relief and peace. Yes I have these thoughts, but it doesn’t need to stop me from taking the actions that lead to a loving commitment. Love is an action. A decision. If we listen to our inner anxious voice and allow it to halt us, we get stuck in a viscous cycle of rumination, but if we give our anxious voice the space to express itself, say thank you for trying to keep us safe, and taking a loving action anyway, we can actively live out a journey of life that is what our ultimately hearts yearn for.

    I’m choosing to enlarge my world, my experience, and in many ways, my family, and this type of growth, as with any, can feel hard, even painful… But it always feels so rewarding each time we get closer, and understand one another and ourselves a little more.

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    • Deep wisdom as always, Brent. This encapsulates the path beautifully: “If we listen to our inner anxious voice and allow it to halt us, we get stuck in a viscous cycle of rumination, but if we give our anxious voice the space to express itself, say thank you for trying to keep us safe, and taking a loving action anyway, we can actively live out a journey of life that is what our ultimately hearts yearn for.”

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  10. Brent from Sydney? I’m not on the board but your other published stories really resonated with me — to the core — and it’d be great to connect over email.

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  11. I made the huge decision to have a baby last year. He’s only 4 months old and it’s been tough but I didn’t want the only reason not to do it to be fear, so I took the plunge and I’m trusting that it will get easier.

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    • It will get easier in some ways and harder than others, but I highly doubt it’s a plunge that you’ll regret.

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  12. I recently had a baby and I’m so scared of how vulnerable she is. I’m terrified of losing her, and because of that I’ve felt a part of me wall up. I realize that my fear of loss is keeping me from opening up as much I really want to. I’m afraid that if I drop my defenses I’ll be caught by surprise by some tragedy. Ugh. I’ve followed your work for a while to recognize the ways anxiety can sound so convincing. I also realize I’m at the biggest transitional point of my life. I got the Conscious Motherhood course and it has helped, and I’m thankfully not struggling emotionally as much I as I feared I would. But the fear of loss is still very real.

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    • Sending huge hugs, Margot. Gratitude and coming back to the present moment are powerful elixirs that can help mitigate the fear of loss, but it’s something that we wrestle with our entire lives as parents (and humans).

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  13. This message was so timely to me! Living here in the north and it has been a dark and cold and long winter. I suffer from anxiety, even suicidal thoughts come into my mind sometimes. But, as an eternal optimist, I have been waiting for spring, summer and a riding holiday. I just love horses. Then this man I have been dating said, “you know what I just read a news about a girl who was in a riding accident”. I don’t know what happened to her but that comment made me angry. Why he wanted to poison my joy, my excitement, my light at the end of the tunnel?! I said to him, you know what, everything is basically a risk, driving a car, travelling in a airplane, sex, life…but there is at least a way to minimize risks, for example a wild horse and inexperienced rider is of course a huge risk. I don’t think I am so attracted to him anymore. It sounds dramatic but tears came into my eyes when I thought, if I die riding a horse, then I at least died happy and I had the courage to LIVE the life!! I really want to live the life, feel alive and for someone who has often thought about suicide, this is a big thing to say!!

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    • That’s a beautiful thing to say, Anna, and it’s exactly how our son talks about flying.

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  14. I loved what you said that NOT taking risk is a risk too. For example, I’m engaged to be married in May and I’ve had the thought: well if you don’t get married, there’d be no change for divorce. (Even though he’s a kind, great person)

    It’s also interesting to think: but if I don’t get married, just because I’m afraid of divorce, I would miss out on the trips we’d take, the joy of relationship, the great things that he has brought into my life since we started dating.

    It would be a risk of loss if I DIDNT marry him too.

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    • Exactly! There really is no way to avoid risk in this life.

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    • Thank you Sheryl, as a new mum I feel this deeply. I have a question in relation to my partner though – I just don’t feel like I like him anymore, especially after becoming parents six months ago. It’s seemed to have made all the ways in which we differ that much more obvious and in some areas I can’t see how we can breach that gap and come closer again, although no doubt this would be best for our little one. I just don’t feel like I like him anymore and it’s a very hard place to be. Could this be relationship anxiety ? Any wisdom would be really appreciated right now.

      Reply

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