Harriet Lerner, author of “Fear and Other Uninvited Guests,” believes that it's not fear that makes our lives narrow and small — it is avoidance.
To illustrate, she tells the story of a friend who was recently divorced and having trouble on the dating scene. He wanted to invite a specific woman for dinner but couldn't get past his fear and phobia of being rejected. He told her he did not want to spend months in counseling and asked if she would give him a quick and fast solution.
Lerner told him he would have to do exactly as she said, and he agreed. She sent him to the shopping mall nearest his house and told him to stand at the bottom of the escalator all day. Every time a woman who was by herself came down the escalator, he was to ask her if she would have a cup of coffee with him.
He had some say no but surprisingly enough, he had many women say yes — so he had coffee with several throughout the day.
He called Lerner sometime later and told her he didn't stay as long as she told him to, but he said he had stood at the bottom of the escalator long enough. He finally just called up the woman that he had a crush on, and asked her out for a cup of coffee.
Avoidance is natural in new and unfamiliar situations, but it will never help you get past your problem and your discomfort. Research shows the more you avoid, the worse your fear, phobia, discomfort and anxiety becomes.
The reality is if you are avoiding something or someone, and wish to take action, you have to be willing to feel uncomfortable.
Learning how to be comfortable being uncomfortable takes practice. Exercise or deep breathing can help reduce the anxiety.
Rather than see every new person and new experience as something to dread, think of it as practice — and it will get easier.
Charlotte Lankard is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.