To Risk or Not to Risk

Posted by on Mar 22, 2015 in Identity, Therapy

To Risk or Not to Risk

“What did I know of life?  I who had lived so carefully?  Who had neither won nor lost, but just let life happen to him? …Who avoided being hurt and called it a capacity for survival?”  Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending

I’m sitting at the computer, wondering how to get into this topic.  The room is quiet.  I glance at my phone, half hoping for a distracting text.  I notice our puppy’s smeared nose prints on the window facing the street.  I’m stalling.  I’m stuck.

One block for me always is the difficulty of discerning how much to reveal about myself.  As a therapist, I want you to know that I am human,– that I struggle, question, fail, and know pain,– without crossing appropriate professional boundaries.  But I feel a bigger block this time, something more stubborn.

I get up from my seat to warm my coffee in the microwave.  I play for five minutes with the wording of a sentence.  It occurs to me that the last time I posted my own writing was more than nine months ago.

And that’s part of the problem.  The last blog post, “Respecting My Kids: Privacy,” traveled the internet more than any other piece I’d written previously.  Relatively speaking, the article was not widely read, but for me, it attained a new level of success.  And now, I have a standard to meet.  Or rather, a standard to fail.  Why risk it?

I could argue that this battle between avoidance and risk,– between the safety (and paralysis) of the known and the potential pain (but real life) of the unknown,– is at the heart of every issue that clients bring into the therapy process:

“If I take time to be still and let myself grieve this loss…”

“If I let my partner really know me…”

“If I tell my boss what I want…”

“If I give up my eating disorder…”

“If I end this relationship and try life on my own…”

“If I start a conversation with someone at the party…”

“If I say no to a request…”

“If I tell my friend what happened to me…

Much of therapy is about creating a safe place for people first to speak the truth to themselves, and then to discover what they really want and need in order to heal and move forward.  In some way, every session is a risk.  Sitting across from me in that room and choosing to be alive to whatever is real is an act of courage.

I first started my own blog a couple of years ago because I wanted another way to engage with people about meaningful things.  I love to think and talk about ideas, relationships, literature.  I love to hear people’s stories and to be challenged and changed by them.  I wrote the blog for myself.  And I remember feeling that I was waking up parts of me that had been sleeping.  Yes, it was a risk; I was stepping into new territory in order to be more fully myself.  But it was not a performance for an audience.

How much of who we are and what we want and need is stifled by our focus on performance for an audience?  Feeling stuck over these last several months has been good for me. Using the blog to understand this feeling and to move through it has been even better.

Below are related thoughts and experiences shared by friends, colleagues, and clients.  I would love to hear what you have to say about risk.  If you want your comment to be included here, please give me permission to use your first initial.

I have been struggling with this recently too– with my upcoming exhibit and my fear that no one will relate to my work, like it, or find it interesting.  But I think the answer isn’t about the end point, the success, the ‘it’ that we are risking.  It’s about the process and the meaning we find along the way– in writing, art, relationships…  — N.

With my husband, I feel most comfortable to be who I am.  And yet, I was so afraid to put on that sexy lingerie, and I felt so defeated when he turned me down.  Taking a risk isn’t always sky-diving or playing high-stakes poker.  Often for me, it’s revealing myself to someone I care about.  It’s risking the chance that they might reject me.  — K.

This past January marked 10 years since I attempted to take my life by overdose.  It was the most humiliating experience of my life.  I walked out of the woods after a miserable night of vomiting only to face a mob of worried loved ones before heading to a psychiatric hospital.  Since then, life returned to normal; I got married; and I moved to a new place.  On the 10-year anniversary of my suicide attempt, I wanted to change the fact that no one here aside from my husband knew this humiliating part of my past.  It took me weeks to tell one friend my story.  When I finally shared, she said “I’m really glad you told me, and I’m really glad you’re here.”  I had to laugh at myself.  Was that really as risky as I made it out to be?  Maybe not, but I felt high after the conversation– proud and accepted and ready to be brave again. — K.

All the good things that are in my life have come because I took a risk… If I’d kept my fears, doubts, and struggles under wraps, I wouldn’t have gotten that job interview.  If I’d kept my aspirations and hopes under wraps, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to write a movie.  Each time I opened up I risked rejection– and for every door that opened I could tell you about many more that have closed.  I’m okay with that– in fact, it’s the life that my entrepreneur husband and I have chosen for ourselves.  — A.

It reminds me of a talk on personality that distinguished between those who “play to win” and those who “play not to lose.”  Very different approaches.  Playing it safe can be appealing, especially to me.  I think also at play is avoidance of the feeling of loss that would come with making a change or taking a risk for the better.  Loss for what could have been if we’d done it sooner. — E.

In working with couples, I see this repeat. If I… If you… Opening to someone else is so difficult; however, opening to oneself is even more challenging. — G.

We risk failing the courage of our convictions… We risk not achieving what we could… We risk losing what we love most… So ask, if I had it to do all over again, would I?  Wow, [my wife and I] even risked meeting you as a couple back then.  Now again.  Then I risked sharing with you privately when I was sinking fast.  Taking risks can sure be a very good thing sometimes. — J.

The journey I am currently traversing has been long overdue but my reluctance to step out of the comfort zone delayed it and has brought all manner of trickery.  In spite if it all, I understand, FINALLY, that no matter how sad, poignant, or melancholy I may feel… I will come to the other side stronger and more prepared to face the next challenge in this crazy, wonderfully blessed game of life. — M.

About Lynn Davies

I am a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor with a Master of Science in Pastoral Counseling from Loyola University in Maryland. I have been in private practice for over fourteen years and have experience working with adults and adolescents, addressing a variety of issues: anxiety, depression, relationship problems, past or current trauma, eating disorders, self-mutilation, bereavement, parenting concerns, boundaries, and self-care.

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