Independence from Fear: It’s all about baby steps

By Meg Chuhran

(PLEASE NOTE: In the following post the author is not referring to traumatic situations when fight, flight, or freeze are instinctive, survival-based, necessary actions.)

I’m a freezer.

When I’m afraid, I freeze; I become paralyzed; any decision seems insurmountable. Sometimes, when I’m in that state of fear, I become so overwhelmed that even brushing my teeth or washing the dishes seem too big to tackle. My mind can get so wrapped up, so twisted around, that I believe that there is an absolute right and an absolute wrong decision to make –  even over when/how to do the dishes – and if I don’t pick correctly… well, that’s too much to even think about.

So I freeze.

And this level of fear can start with a variety of different issues: where to live, when to enter or leave a relationship, picking a job, managing my finances, etc. It often starts low in my stomach – just that light sense of butterflies. Then my mind joins in – “but how do I decide? What if I’m wrong?” and those butterflies start beating their wings faster and grow in numbers. My mind continues: “You know, if you make the wrong pick, things could start tumbling down. Ya, you think you want to live there, but what if you can’t make friends? What if that apartment isn’t as nice as it seems?” With those what ifs my heart creates a rhythm for those butterflies and my lungs tighten to make room.

Soon, my body is on high alert and my mind is racing with questions of “right” and “wrong” and all those “what ifs.”

Then I freeze. I procrastinate making any decision until I get into the danger zone of having nowhere to live or the person I’m interested in gets tired of waiting. I start talking about the issue obsessively with friends and family until they’re tired of listening to me go back and forth and tell me to “just decide already!” I’ve basically talked myself into circles at this point and my body is so tired of being on hyper alert that it’s too tired to even care.

Recently, I was talking on the phone with my best friend about all of this and how I needed to change it, but wasn’t sure how. She reminded me to take small steps – that I could start by brushing my teeth. Right then, while I was on the phone with her, I could brush my teeth. And then maybe I could do the dishes. So I channeled Billy Murray in What About Bob and brushed my teeth and then managed to do the dishes.

My personal belief is that this one of the best ways to gain independence from that complete, absolute, paralyzing fear. To set small, reasonable goals. To break everything down into tiny, minute, present moment tasks. To brush those teeth or get out of the room and into the hall. It’s breaking down that big decision into smaller pieces – focusing solely on searching the internet for apartments without worrying about the next step.

Just present moment baby steps. Baby step. Baby step. Baby step. And each of those baby steps will put me one step closer to independence from fear and from being froze in it.

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7 thoughts on “Independence from Fear: It’s all about baby steps

  1. Small steps…great advice! Fear can be paralyzing after experiencing trauma because we over-analyze everything! Decisions feel like they are life or death because we have experienced the consequences of simple decisions that were followed by abuse. Great blog Meg.

  2. Thank you, Meg. Could it also be called ‘avoidance’? I used to avoid situations. I avoided making the decision. I avoided cleaning the house. I avoided parenting (that is a harder one to get around). Keeping social and busy kept me away so I didn’t have to face those things that caused me to freeze.

    Making the decision to face the issues and make a decision and take action, no how small the step, was helpful. Baby steps, my friend, baby steps.

  3. THANKS Meg! Here it is…….in black and white………what I’ve been feeling for YEARS…….yet couldn’t put it into words!
    Now…….a quote for you………
    “A small step toward recovery is giant progress.”
    ― Mark Cortes

    1. Meg………..you silly bean………it was ‘Mark Cortes’ who wrote the quote….but it was me who wrote the comment before the quote………your reply read……’Thanks Mark’…….you silly!!!!!!!!!!
      Don’t post this……..I just had to give you a hard time!!!!!!!!! Hahahaha!!!

      1. Ahhhhhhhhhhh……I didn’t know it was going to post automatically…….oh well……now the secret is out………Meg is a silly bean! :o)

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