I recently watched Brené Brown’s TED talk Listening to Shame, and it got me thinking about how I made decisions specifically in the dating arena. How did I “operate”? Did I run on courage, healthy flirtation, confidence and a strong sense of self? Or did I run on shame, guilt, avoidance and fear? How do any of us operate in the world of romantic relationships?
I know that for many years, part of my modus operandi was avoidance. Duh. That’s the signature move of a love addict: look for anything and anyone to distract us from whatever it is we’re trying to avoid be it responsibility, growing up, getting a job or being alone.
But, when I dug a little deeper, I came to learn that fear was fueling the avoidance. Plain ‘ol dark and gloomy fear. I was, for example, petrified of intimacy. The thought of “normal” and “healthy” made very little sense to me because I was raised to be fiercely proud of my not-so-normal life. We were a quirky, unique and creative family and if I heard it once, I heard it a thousand times, “We’re not normal.” Besides, the mere idea of a partner who could be loving, intense, intimate, kind, caring and present looked like no one I had ever known, so the very thought of those things made me run in the opposite direction. I was afraid of those things. I didn’t recognize those things. I felt safest with what I knew–people who placed little to no demand for intimacy upon me (aka, avoidants).
Fear decided when I would get married (when I was looking for someone to support me financially and move out of my parents’ house); fear kept me from graduating from college (it was too big a task; I was too afraid to attempt it); and fear kept me from getting a real job (um, it kinda still does, unless you consider writer to be “real,” which I now do! 😉
Sadly, I never knew I was making decisions based on fear. I really, wholeheartedly thought I was making the best grown up decisions I could make for myself. And truth be told, I was. But, looking back, that’s all I knew how to do. I now see that I could have been making decisions on more eco-friendly fuel than fear. But how can you tell if you’re making a decision based on fear or courage? It’s tricky. To find out, ask yourself these five questions related to your decision-making process. Be as honest as possible. And, be prepared to not like all your answers. Fear is often a hidden decision maker!
- When I make a decision do I do so impulsively, with my emotions only?: While impulsivity does not necessarily come from a place of fear, and heck, some of my best decisions were made on impulse, its converse–slow, deliberate, logical, decision-making– can often scare the pants off someone who isn’t used to making decisions systematically. The idea of making lists, comparing and contrasting positives and negatives, and considering research can be mentally exhausting to some. Good decision-making is learned. And while emotional input is always part of the equation, it’s not the whole part. The more you learn about how to make a decision, the less you will make decision on impulse. All decisions are hit or miss. But the less impulse and the more calculated risk, the safer!
- Am I afraid of anything? This is a dumb question. Of course you’re afraid of something. Everyone is. Death, disease, cancer, dying, being alone, a monster under your bed… But, consider for a moment that you might be afraid of things you never thought you could be afraid of: making mistakes, looking weird in public, managing something you’ve never managed before, intimacy, someone knowing you in all your humanness, being vulnerable? You get the point. These fear, though seemingly small and inconsequential, are the key drivers to how you make choices. Think of people who suffer from anxieties or phobias. About 16 years ago, right after 9/11 I was scared to death to cross a bridge or go through a tunnel. All my driving decisions were made based on that fear. It’s the same with relationships. Like I said, I was scared to death of intimacy, so, everyone I was attracted to was cold and aloof, avoidant or unavailable. Coincidence?!
- Do I avoid making decisions? When you avoid making a decision, you are making a decision to do nothing. This is not to be confused with the decision to do nothing once you’ve weighed all your options and you’ve come to the conclusion that doing nothing is the most logical choice. What does it look like when you avoid making a decision? I’m sure you already know. But here’s a few of examples: the locks on your door need to be changed because someone broke in and yet, you do nothing; you felt a lump on your breast and you ignore it; you are in a toxic relationship and you stay. In these cases action needs to be taken and yet, we are often paralyzed by fear, or simply too deep in avoidant-mode to act. How do you address this fear? Go buy The Fear Book and read it. And that’s just a start. After that, read about 20 more. Become an expert on fear! Overcoming serious, life-threatening fears is not my forte. I still have work to do in that department, but I do recommend getting help.
- When I make a decision do I try to outsmart myself? You know what you have to do, but you don’t do it. Instead, you think up a hundred logical reasons not to do it. Example: you’re dating a guy who cheated on you twice. He’s kind of denied it, kinda not. He’s kind of apologized, kinda not. He still hasn’t technically said he loves you, even though you’re sleeping together and he wants to move in, because his mom has threatened to kick him out. It’s obvious that you should probably move on, and yet, your positives list somehow magically outweighs your negatives list. He’s got a great smile; he always texts me; he’s great in bed; he did, after all, say he would never cheat again, etc. Perhaps, and I could be wrong, perhaps you are afraid of being alone, or afraid that there’s not going to be another guy out there. Whatever it may be, you have to consider the possibility that fear could be holding you back from moving on.
- And last but not least, when I make decisions do I ask others to decide for me; or, when I make a decision myself, do I immediately regret it? There is such a thing as fear in your own ability to make decisions. It comes from a place of mistrust, that is to say, a place where you do not trust that you are capable of making decisions. An example may be that you allow others to decide for you. Not occasionally, but chronically. And so, everything that comes your way is technically someone else’s idea. If you’re lucky and you have a great amount of trust in your personal decision-makers, good for you. But, like most of us, chances are the decisions being made for you are hit or miss. When this happens, you never fully participate in your own life! This was a chronic problem of mine. I would meet someone whom I would really like, but because I didn’t trust my own ability to decide or because I was scared of rejection, I would wait until someone came up to me and said, “let’s go out!” OK. When I would take whatever was given to me in the form of a boyfriend it wasn’t ideal. In fact, until D, it was horrible. No wonder all my relationships in the past were bad ones. I was never part of the process, or I should say, I was only minimally part of the process.
Take inventory of your fears. Meditate deeply on the possibility that what you fear might be making decisions for you. And then, change it. Shake up your world a bit and learn how to start making decisions in new ways, based on what you want in this world, not what you are afraid of.