This is a common dialogue with my clients and course members:
“My wedding is in six months and I’m so scared that I’m making a mistake.”
“What scares you about making a mistake?”
“Well, of course I don’t want to get divorced, but it’s more than that. I’m scared I’m missing something and that if I only did more research or ‘trusted my gut‘ then I could avoid a negative outcome.”
“I’m guessing that you’ve raked this relationship and your future partner over the coals, so it sounds like there’s something deeper at play.”
You see, it’s not only the negative outcome that we fear, which, in this case, is getting divorced. It’s that the negative outcome will be your fault because you weren’t vigilant enough.
With relationship anxiety, as in the example above, this often sounds like:
“How could I have missed the obvious signals that I was marrying the wrong person? What if doubt does mean don’t, like everyone says?”
With health anxiety, this can sound like:
“I was too trusting. I should have done more tests. I wasn’t thorough enough and if something is wrong it will be my fault.”
Now, to be clear, these are people who, again, have scoured their relationship with a fine-tooth comb looking for evidence to corroborate with the interpretation that they’re making a mistake.
And these are people who are more than responsible in terms of seeing doctors and having symptoms checked out.
The commonality is in the interpretation of symptoms and in the over-responsibility/shame that underscores this particular subset of anxiety.
The Roots of the Fear of Making a Mistake
In times past, making a mistake could have resulted in death. As the highly sensitive seer in the community, you were likely responsible for things like detecting if a batch of meat was bad or standing sentry at the perimeters to keep the tribe safe from intruders. If you failed at your job – if you missed a cue or signal – people could have died. It’s possible that this deeply ingrained pattern still lives in the genetic code of the highly sensitive soul.
Of course, the stakes are no longer quite so high. Anxious mind will argue with that statement, especially when it comes to health anxiety, but at some point we must, if we’re going to heal, take the immense risk of trusting ourselves, trusting our support team (therapist, doctor, partner, friends), and trusting the bigger life force that weaves throughout our world.
In other words, we can continue to attempt to control against every possible negative outcome, which results in paralysis, or we can move forward with trust.
Difficulty making decisions isn’t only about relationships and health. The highly sensitive people who find their way to my work often struggle with decision-making when it comes to almost anything in life, from what to order at a restaurant to career changes to whether or not to have a baby or a second child. From the everyday to the life-changing, the wrestling between this-or-that can become debilitating.
How do we find this elusive trust?
How do we gather enough trust to say, “Okay, I have enough facts, now it’s time to tune in to what I know to be true enough”?
The Art of Making Decisions
Our culture teaches us to make decisions by making a pros-and-cons list, which can be marginally helpful at best. It also teaches us to “trust your gut”, which can be downright dangerous.
So if we don’t make decisions from our heads or from our feelings, how do we make them?
We make them from our wisdom-body, the pool that runs beneath our thoughts and between our feelings. In essence, we make them from our Well of Self. We make them from a place of knowing, which isn’t quite intuition and isn’t quite thought. We make them from the place inside that trusts ourselves and knows ourselves, the place that doesn’t equate outcomes with self-worth, which means that we’re willing to take risks and make a mistake.
Here we come back to trust, which is the foundational stone of our lives. Reclaiming the birthright of our self-trust is what I teach in Trust Yourself: A 30-day course to help you overcome your fear of failure, caring what others think, perfectionism, difficulty making decisions, and self-doubt. From self-trust, we are more readily able to trust others and trust life.
Held in Trust
Held in trust, you move forward, following the stepping stones of the next “best” decision while keeping in mind that there is no “best” or “worst” or “right” or “wrong”. There is only learning.
Held in trust, you remember that the fate of your relationship or your health or your children’s well-being or your career or the planet does not only hinge on you. There are bigger forces at play. When we trust this, we can loosen our grip on the wheel of life and sink into a deeper awareness that all will be well.
The 19th live round of Trust Yourself starts on March 2, 2024. This will likely be the last time I lead it as a live course, which includes two group coaching calls and a moderated support forum. I look forward to meeting you there. If you can’t make the live call, you will receive the recording immediately afterward.
P.S. Here’s a fun clip on the “doubt means don’t” topic from when I was on Oprah in 2003!