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Recalim & Recover: Daring to Take Risks

Updated: Apr 10, 2021

After trauma and heartbreak the world can feel scary and overwhelming. Things feel threatening and we fear that we won’t be able to cope due to whatever complications, like increased anxiety or depression, that have arisen from trauma. One reason we get stuck in the muck after trauma and heartbreak is that we become afraid of taking risks. I’m not talking about negative risks that are dangerous or impulsive. I’m talking about the calculated risks that lead to personal growth and create new opportunities. These can be as small as asking someone out to coffee to make a new friend or as big as a career change or the decision to have a child.

Daring to dream is how we cultivate hope for a better future and daring to take risks is how we pursue that future. As we practice risk taking we build our resilience. We begin to see that we are capable and strong and we learn how to pivot when things do not work out the way we had hoped. By taking risks we learn that while the world can be hard place, it is not as scary as it once seemed and is in fact beautiful and full of joy. We become stronger, more confident, more grounded and better equipped to respond in a healthier way when trauma and heartbreak arrive again throughout our lives. Risk taking helps us move forward after trauma and heartbreak by challenging the shame mantras that always provide us with excuses to hide. The more we step out in vulnerability, the less fearful we become and the more we grow our resilience.

When we have experienced trauma and heartbreak our mind tells us to play it safe to avoid being hurt further. Our shame mantra tells us that we can’t succeed so why even try? It’s easy to think that our level of fear is equal to how the level of risk. The scarier something feels, the risker it must be. When considering risk taking, it’s important to assess why you might be averse to certain risks. Previously, we discussed how to use cognitive reframing to identify, challenge and change negative thought patterns. When we encounter something that feels risky, it’s helpful to use that same process to see if the fear is rational. We have to ask ourselves, “What is it that I’m afraid of?,

What is the actual risk?” and, “How can I respond if this does not work out?“.

Here’s what this looked like in my own life. After my divorce, which was in large part a consequence my own trauma responses and poor choices, I felt like such an absolute failure that I could not imagine that anyone would want to be friends with me. I was completely convinced that people would and could immediately see what a failure I was and would reject any offers of friendship. I was so terrified of proving myself right that it just felt safer to stay in my apartment with a bottle of bourbon and a pizza and veg out watching Netflix.

It wasn’t productive but at least it was safe. When I finally got tired of sitting in the muck and tired of the image of a sad girl hiding in her apartment, I started looking for ways to slog forward out of the muck. One of my biggest fears was being rejected. I worked through this in my own mind, assessing WHY I was afraid of rejection and what proof I had that everyone thought I was a loser. After my own self assessment, I had the sneaking suspicion that perhaps other people did not perceive me to be a loser and, in fact, might enjoy my friendship.

I didn’t want to be insecure and fearful anymore; I wanted to be confident and generous and joyful. I imagined, I DREAMED, of this confident, generous, joyful woman opening her home, laughing and celebrating amongst friends. I decided to host a small Christmas party at my apartment. I created an event on Facebook and invited a bunch of people. And then nearly had a meltdown as those old fears crept in and I worried that people would think the idea was stupid or I was stupid or both. But the interesting thing was, people responded positively. And I hosted my first Christmas party with appetizers and baked goodies and mulled wine and cocktails… and a house full of friends. And it was so much fun. I challenged the fear. I took a risk. And it’s still something I consider one of my greatest accomplishments because it felt so terrifying and risky at the time.

Quite honestly, deciding to blog and create this curriculum and sharing both the good and bad parts of my story was a risk. It was a risk for the same reason that hosting that party felt like a risk because that fear of rejection still exists. Those old insecurities are still present sometimes; but I have greatly improved in learning how to check them against reality and move forward even when I’m scared. In fact, when I posted about looking for ladies to participate in my first curriculum test group, I sat on the couch for thirty minutes after I made the post, terrified that everyone would think it was stupid and no one would be interested. But I chose to take the risk anyway. Because I know that fear and shame have only kept me living small and living stuck. Because I know that success and leadership are not defined by a lack of failure, they are defined by a willingness to go first and a willingness to try new things until you find the thing that works.

When shame and fear become internalized, our fight/flight/freeze response is activated and we end up in a constant state of anxiety, hypervigilant in protecting ourselves from future pain. When our central nervous system is constantly activated to protect us from danger, there isn’t much energy let for curiosity or exploration. In this mode of activated anxiety, we can become averse to healthy risk taking and to trying new things. Learning to take risks is a way to rewire and retrain our brains. If we run away every time the voices of fear and shame rear their heads, we reinforce those old shame mantras like “I’m not good enough”, “I’m incapable”, “I’m a failure”, etc. To take back our power we have to stop cowering to the voices of shame and fear and, as Brene Brown says, stop “dress rehearsing tragedy”. We have to choose courage. We have to practice being vulnerable in order to create space for love and joy and success and connection.

Journal Prompts:

a) What have you been avoiding because it feels too risky?

b) What is the underlying fear?

c) What are some small risks you can try?

d) What are bigger risks you want to tackle and how can you prepare for them?

e) What are the benefits of practicing risk taking and vulnerability?

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