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Don't let fear of what you can't control ruin your life

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Fear of things you can't control can poison your present life

Anxious Bride: Any advice for a soon-to-be bride? I am getting married really soon, and instead of being happy, I find myself continually nervous. I've analyzed and analyzed, and I know I am making the right choice in marrying this person. However, I think the pit in my stomach is nerves. Nerves over actually completely letting myself love someone, the threat of losing myself if I do let myself love, the fear of losing my established identity because I got married, and the fear of heartbreak due to unexpected death or illness or some other catastrophic circumstance. How can I let these fears go?

Carolyn: All these fears you list are making you really unhappy.

As it happens, every single thing you fear can be condensed into this sentence: "I'm afraid I'm going to be unhappy."

So, right now, without even discovering that you married the wrong guy, or don't love him as much as you thought, or have lost your identity, or that he doesn't love you as much, or that he has gotten sick or died, you've skipped the messy business of waiting for the outcome and jumped straight to the unhappiness.

Worst fear realized, no?

Fear is a habit you've developed, and need to break in order to put unhappiness back where it belongs: as a consequence of things going wrong (though even that's not a permanent state of things; humans are famously resilient).

The way to start breaking the habit is by seeing — right under your nose — that none of your fears is currently happening. That's your cue to accept or even embrace things you can't control, and enjoy what you have while you have it.

If you can't reason your way out of your anxiety — or distract your way or even exercise — then a reputable counselor is a solid next step.

But if you can get from A to B on your own, from "I've done my best" to "I feel good right now," then, congratulations, you have acquired the No. 1 coping skill: the ability to enjoy the moment. That's all we have, really — the moment, and whatever that moment foretells.

Anxious Bride, again: I think you hit the nail on the head — it is a fear of being unhappy, and I think I'm trying to control my potential future unhappiness by limiting the amount I let myself feel. There are people in my life whom I love completely, and I let myself feel it because I already know the end — like, for instance, my grandma. I adore her, and I feel my love for her completely. She's 91, and I know I can't control the eventual reality with her. With my future husband, however, there are so many things that could be potentially heartbreaking! So I put the wall up to protect myself.

Carolyn: If it helps, I can't think of anything more heartbreaking than suffering a heartbreak — through death, divorce, drift — without ever having loved or enjoyed or appreciated them fully up to that point. When you lose someone you love intensely, it's agony, but that eases. When you live with someone you never completely love, that's pain that never lets up.

Don't let fear of what you can't control ruin your life 01/12/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 12, 2010 10:14am]
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