A few years ago my friend Lisa started dating someone new, and initially felt very optimistic about the relationship. She was happy for the first six months and then started to worry. As we sat over coffee one day, Lisa asked me, "What if he breaks my heart? What if he's not who he says he is? What if I let myself really fall in love, and it doesn't work out?"
I responded by saying, "Okay, what if everything you're worried about comes true; he breaks your heart; turns out to be a phony and it doesn't work out. What would happen to you?" Lisa sat for a minute, and then said emphatically, "Well, I wouldn't like it!" "Yeah", I said, "that's pretty clear, but what would actually happen to you?" She stared at me, sighed and said grudgingly, "I guess I would survive."
She spoke with such exaggeration that we both laughed out loud. Despite her sullen tone, Lisa's conviction was pretty strong. She knew she would be okay because, like many of us, she had gone through tough times before and had survived.
When you're worried, your mind becomes a maze of anxiety. You speculate on situations whose outcome is unknown. It's easy to get caught up in a "loop of fear", convinced that the worst will happen. If you don't do something to shift your perspective, you can end up feeling paralyzed by that fear.
Below is a technique I call completing "the incomplete picture." Once you know what you fear the most, you can start to figure out how to face it and get support. It's all about taking the unknown and making it knowable.
COMPLETING THE INCOMPLETE PICTURE
- Identify what you are worried about (focus on one thing at a time).
- Is it a person, situation or event?
- Rate your worry on a scale from 1-10 with 10 being the highest state of worry.
- I am worried because__________(fill in the blank).
- I fear that_______(fill in the blank) will happen to me or another person or in this situation.
- If the worst outcome occurs, what would that be?
- Then what would happen?
- After that, what would happen?
- Then what? (Keep asking this question until you get to where you have reached the worst possible outcome).
- What would you need to recover from this circumstance?
- Who could you help you figure it out?
- What action do you want to take?
- What options have you identified?
- Is there anything else you need to do to help ease your mind?
- Now think about your original worry and rate it again from 1-10.
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