Why Making Decisions Can Feel Like Life-or-Death

by | Feb 11, 2024 | Trust Yourself | 12 comments

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! 

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Is my doubt about my relationship an offshoot of my own anxiety or is it a warning that I’m with the wrong person?

Many people wonder what “relationship anxiety” is and if they are, indeed, suffering from it. They also desperately want an answer to that million-dollar question.

The answer to this question is contained in the assessment. Fill in your information to receive an immediate answer (and a lot of reassurance just from going through the material).

12 Comments

  1. Thank you Sheryl. Your words are immensely encouraging as we learn to trust ourselves more.

    Reply
  2. Hi Sheryl! Beautiful article! how you you know that youre connected to that wisdom body? Is there a sense of neutrality or detachment? Im curious as to how you experience it or others you have worked with describe it! I find it so interesting. Sometimes I feel like I have accessed this place inside that feel like a solid tree trunk, that knows all will be okay no matter what I choose but it’s okay nudging me toward what it knows brings a smile to my soul, even if it’s terrifying!! Like a wise willow tree. I wonder if that’s what you’re referring to 🙂

    Reply
    • Yes, that’s exactly what I’m referring to. You’ve answered your own question ;).

      Reply
  3. This is lovely Sheryl. 17 years married and I asked myself these questions a lot during our relationship and engagement. The older I get, the more I realise that leaning in, standing strong in the face of fear when I am terrified, allowing myself to be vulnerable and open up to my husband – those are the time we have made real and beautiful growth. As my psychotherapist said to me a week ago ‘he see’s all these parts of you, and he still loves you’. Such a huge moment for me. So glad I made that decision to marry my best friend.

    Reply
    • Beautiful, Jo. Thank you so much for sharing here, and I’m really glad you made that decision, too. 🙂

      Reply
  4. Hi Sheryl,

    Thank you for this very grounding piece.

    Could I ask – does the self-trust course cover self-compassion? This is a really challenging issue for me at the moment in the context of a major anxiety spike I’m having about my kids’ health and wellbeing (a recurring theme for me).

    I’m wondering if this course might help, with the self compassion or this particular anxiety.

    Reply
    • Hi Lucy: Yes, a significant part of the course is about growing more self-compassion. The basic formula is:
      self-knowledge + self-love = self-trust. In other words, when we know ourselves and love ourselves we trust ourselves. This is what I teach in the course, and yes, it will help with your current anxiety spike.

      Reply
  5. Hi Sheryl, I know my ex is probably the one for me, but I’m not into it. I’m finding every reason to stay away.

    Reply
  6. Hi Sheryl – what about trusting your past decisions ? Does this help with that or just future ones? Like doubting your life choices or even your accomplishments, should I have looked at this or that when making that choice maybe I wouldn’t be doubting myself now

    Reply
  7. Hi Sheryl,
    I’m considering signing up again for Trust Yourself. It’s the only course of yours I’ve done, and I liked it a lot. But due to overwhelm, I managed about 80% through, and about 25% of the extended course material. And I was looking forward to signing up ‘at some point in the future again’ as I really wasn’t able to make myself available/resourced enough to reap the full benefits of the live features either, so I didn’t participate in the calls, and barely on the forum.
    I always felt ‘at some point, I’ll do it again’.
    I’m now saddened and shocked that you announced that you’ll likely stop offering Trust Yourself in a live format. May I ask what is the reason?
    I know your decision will be your own, but perhaps, if I could be one of many voices pleading ‘no’, it can make a difference? Even if you only offer it once in two years…

    Reply
    • Hi Tea: I’m being called to other offerings. Trust Yourself and my other 30-day courses will always be available as self-paced programs, and there is the possibility that I’ll offer them live again at some point. I hope you’ll join us for this round!

      Reply

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