Blind Bends and Other Leaps of Faith
One day my clients Dee and Em arrived for their appointment and Dee, as usual, was wearing a sweater and shorts. I stared at her for a long moment before finally asking, “What the heck happened to you?”
Both Dee and Em started to laugh as I continued to stare at Dee’s legs, which were covered with a smattering of bandages and bruises. Em said, “Oh you know… just one of those types of things that only happen to Dee.” To which I reiterated with even more puzzlement, “What happened?”
It turns out that a couple of days prior, Dee had been at work. Dee was rushing down the hall to get to a meeting and, like any good indoor citizen, stayed to the right, looked straight ahead (not at her phone), and was not wearing headphones. This particular hallway is pretty straight except for one section where it makes a sharp switchback. Dee was briskly walking around this blind bend when she felt a thud against her shin and saw the floor as it came up quickly to nearly meet her face.
Dee’s impressive reflexes saved her face, but not the skin on her legs as she slid several feet down the hall. Dee sat up and came face to face with a very surprised miniature goat, who had been taking the bend on the left, contrary to social etiquette.
Recovered from the initial daze, the goat continued to bolt down the hall. A breathless man came running up with a leash asking, “Did you see a goat?” Dee pointed in the appropriate direction and the man went running.
A few minutes later, he returned with “Mr. Billy” in tow, full of apologies, explaining that someone’s dog had spooked his goat causing him to pull out of his leash. As the man continued to speak, Dee began to vaguely remember that today was Bring Your Pet to Work Day. Dee was finally able to grasp the reality of this situation and her brain categorized this incident as one of those things that is “Unexpected but Possible,” like triple rainbows or winning the lottery.
On the surface, Dee found this experience to be amusing; however, for a while, she and Em noticed that Dee approached blind bends with some caution. On the road, on the sidewalk, and in the office, she peered around corners while bracing herself for impact. Dee started to no longer recognize her previously freewheeling self.
Fortunately, over time and without the reinforcement of further incidents, Dee was able to regain her previous level of confidence, sense of safety, and assumption that no two-foot tall creatures would run into her.
This story is a light-hearted illustration of what can happen when people have had a negative or traumatic experience or suffer from chronic anxiety. The worries and fears regarding “what if” can cause various levels of paralysis, ranging from cautious pauses to refusals to leave home. They might have the mistaken belief that if they are careful enough or prepared enough, they can subvert any potential problems.
For example, consider Jay, whose previous partner had a secret life outside of their relationship. Now Jay is in a new relationship with Bee, and he finds himself emotionally holding back and vigilantly keeping an eye out for red flags, despite Bee’s extraordinary level of openness and transparency. Bee’s continued stable behavior over time may help decrease Jay’s worries, but in the end, Jay will have to take a leap of faith because no one can guarantee that he will never again be betrayed.
Leap of Faith
What does a leap of faith look like? When one proceeds forward with the assumption and expectation that all will be well, despite incomplete information. Many of us developed this skill thanks to secure attachments with our parents or other parent-figures who reassured us that we would be OK. There are others of us that did not develop this skill as children or who have lost that sense of security. In that case, we may have to build these reassuring thoughts with the help of loved ones or healthcare practitioners.
This leap of faith can be very important. If you approach situations with pessimism or fear, there’s a good chance that something bad will happen because you are distracted and not present. Instead of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, you can challenge yourself with reasonable and intentional levels of risk.
What is a reasonable level of risk? If you fear abandonment and find yourself in a relationship with a steadfast partner, this might be a good opportunity for you to intentionally choose to accept a reasonable level of risk and let down your guard. However, if you are nervous about earthquakes, it may be unreasonably risky to live in Los Angeles unless you are intentionally willing to accept the high level of risk and have confidence that you will be fine even if there is an earthquake.
In other words, if you’re afraid of goats, you should not live on a goat farm. Also, it is not very effective to try to organize your life around avoiding goats, because as we’ve seen before, goats can appear out of nowhere. The better strategy is to work on the belief that you will be OK even if you do have a run-in with a goat.
I’m a firm believer in taking leaps of faith, as long as there’s a reasonable possibility of things going the way you hope and you own the decision to accept that risk. After all, blaming someone else for your own choices is a surefire way to get someone’s goat! #DrDug #LittleThingsFromDrDug