NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Standing at the Crossroad: Fear of Making Major Life Decisions

Standing at the proverbial crossroad is something that everyone faces at some point in his or her life. It can be an exhilarating time with new hope and possibilities or it can be a fearful, paralyzing time that keeps you frozen in stagnation. 

How you respond when you're standing at the crossroad might depend on many factors, including your comfort level with change, how you respond to risk, your personal history, your self confidence, whether you chose to be at this particular crossroad, your life stage, and your view of the world.

Fear of Making a Major Life Decisions

If you look forward to new challenges, you'll have an easier time than if you feel fearful and frozen by the possibility of making changes. Ideally, if you've considered the risks of the particular paths available to you, if you feel optimistic about your decision-making abilities and your ability to make a course correction, if needed, standing at the crossroads can be an exciting time.

But if the thought of making a major life decision makes you want to pull the covers over your head, you could benefit from seeking the help of a trusted friend, family member, or a licensed mental health professional. Friends and family members can be helpful when you're faced with major life decisions. But if they have the same trepidation about making major life decisions, they might reinforce your own fears.

Even for some people who relished challenges in their teens and 20s, making a major life decision when they're older can be daunting.

The following fictionalized scenario, which is not about any one particular person, is an example of how a person can overcome his fear when faced with making a major life decision:

Ben had fantasized about starting his own consulting firm for many years. He often thought about what it might be like to be his own boss, make his own hours, and reap the benefits of his hard work. But Ben felt comfortable working for the large consulting firm where he had worked for more than 20 years. He earned a good salary, and he felt secure. So, even though Ben daydreamed about working for himself, especially when he felt frustrated about his job, he never seriously considered how he could turn his fantasy into a reality.

Every so often when Ben came home and complained to his wife, Barbara, about his frustrations at work, she would remind him about his dream of having his own business. She would encourage him to think seriously about it, especially now that their children had graduated from college and were in good jobs, and she was doing well at her law firm. She told him that he had the skills, knowledge, and the contacts to be successful. And even if it took a while for him to get his business off the ground, her salary would more than see them through. Most of all, she told him, he would be happier.

On some level, Ben knew that Barbara was right. But he couldn't get himself to even consider making a plan for a potential new business. Whenever he even started to consider the possibility, he felt a churning in his gut and he pushed the idea out of his mind.

Barbara was aware of how frightening it was for Ben, so she never pushed the idea on him. However, she told him that she remembered a time, when they both were in their 20s, that he would have jumped at the chance, if they had been in a better financial situation at the time. She told Ben that she remembered when he was more comfortable taking risks back then. She reminded him of the time, after he graduated college, when he traveled all over Europe, staying in youth hostels, taking odd jobs to support himself, and loving the sense of adventure that he felt.

At the time, Ben's parents wanted him to settle down and find a secure job. Having lived through the Depression, his parents tended to be anxious about finances, even though they were financially secure by the time that Ben was in college. But, at the time, he was living out his dream to see countries that he had always fantasized about.

Whenever Ben thought about that time, he smiled to himself. He had fond memories of his travels after college. He knew that he was much more adventurous at that time, and he often wondered whatever happened to that more daring part of himself. But whenever he had these thoughts, he would soon dismiss them and focus on his life now.

One day Ben was called into his director's office. As soon as he entered the office, he saw that the human resources director was also there. After a few moments, his director told Ben that he was very sorry to inform him that he was being laid off due to company cutbacks. Ben's mouth went dry. He felt like he was having a bad dream. The human resources director told Ben that they could possibly save his job if he was willing to take a significant pay cut. He told Ben that he should think it over, talk to his wife, and get back to them by the end of the month. He also told Ben that if he chose not to take the pay cut, he would be laid off with the standard severance.

When Ben left the director's office, his mind was reeling. He was unable to focus on anything for the rest of the day. He had always assumed that, since he had been there for so long, his job was secure.

When he talked to Barbara, he told her that he felt hurt and angry to be treated this way by the company that he had been loyal to for more than 20 years. He was especially angry about the possibility of remaining with the company and taking a large pay cut. But then he thought about his parents, who put financial security above all else, and he thought that maybe he should take the pay cut rather than be out of a job. He went back and forth in his conversation with his wife, trying to decide if he should stay or go.

Barbara listened patiently to what Ben had to say, and when he finished, she told him that she thought he would be selling himself short if he took the offer to stay with a reduced salary. She thought he deserved much better than this. She also told him that this would be a perfect time to start his own business.

Ben felt gripped with fear. He also felt a lot of pressure to make a decision by the end of the month. Rationally, he knew that Barbara was right. They could live comfortably on her salary. They were not in debt. They also had ample savings. He knew that there was no rational reason why he couldn't take a leap of faith and start his own business. He also knew, deep down, that he would be successful. And yet, something stopped him. He felt paralyzed by fear.

Even though he had never been in therapy before, he sought the help of a psychotherapist so that he could work through whatever fears were keeping him frozen in his tracks. After a few sessions, Ben realized that he had taken on his parents' fears about financial security. He couldn't understand how or when this happened because, when he was younger, he never wanted to be this way. But he realized that, over the years, these fears, while not as great as his parents', kept him from taking risks in his life.

With the help of his therapist, who used hypnotherapy, Ben was able to access and tap into that younger, more adventurous part of himself. He began to experience, on a visceral level, how excited and happy he felt when he used to face new challenges. And even though he was no longer in his 20s, he learned to tap into that part of himself to find the courage to face this major life decision before him.

By the end of the month, Ben informed his director that he would take the severance package. He felt exhilarated and comfortable with his decision. He also began working hard at beginning his new business. And whenever he felt his old fears come up again, he worked with his therapist to overcome those obstacles.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're standing at the crossroads, facing a major life decision, rather than remaining frozen by fear, you can realize that you're not alone and you could benefit from seeking help from a licensed mental health professional. You might find, especially if you choose to work with a psychotherapist who uses clinical hypnosis, that you're able to access a more daring, adventurous part of yourself. 

This might even be a part of yourself that you never even knew that you had. And, often, when you begin to access that part of yourself in one area of your life, you will experience the upward spiral in many other areas of your life too.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many clients overcome their fears about making major life decisions so that they can lead more fulfilling lives.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, you can call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.