Two months ago I decided that I want to end my relationship with my boyfriend. I’m positive it’s the right decision but, for some reason, I’m afraid and keep putting it off. He’s not violent or abusive, so I don’t know why I get so scared and back down every time I try to face him and tell him it’s over.

— Jen

Dear Patti,

I’ve been putting off changing jobs for six months. Intellectually, I realize it’s not the best career decision. My present job is comfortable, familiar and easy, but I have an excellent opportunity to work for another company that’s more successful. I keep avoiding the change even when I’m clear it’s not in my best interest. How can I stop this irrational and avoidant behavior?

— Mathew

Dear Patti,

Six months ago I was in a horrific car accident. My left hip and left arm were crushed and broken in several places. I’m extremely grateful to still be alive and with my family.
I have physical rehabilitation daily and at times it’s extremely painful. My physical therapist says I need to push through the pain and fear in order to improve as I’m not progressing as I should. It’s clearly due to an emotional cause rather a physical one. I‘m normally a strong guy, but I felt such pain following the accident that I now freeze up during therapy, terrified of feeling such horrific physical suffering ever again. 

— Brian

Dear Jen, Mathew and Brian,

Sit quietly and explore your worst fears; i.e., ending up all alone, failing at work, or enduring severe pain. Face the feelings these thoughts bring to the surface. Do you have physical symptoms such as knots in your stomach, a tight throat, shallow breathing, a racing heartbeat, or tense muscles? Are you experiencing emotions such as sadness or anger? Pay attention to these feelings and focus on your symptoms. Lie back, stretch out and close your eyes. Breathe in and out, deeply and slowly, until your physical feelings go away. Feel the tension slowly leaving your body until you’re completely relaxed. This relaxation exercise should be repeated until you have desensitized your fears.   

Now, encourage yourself to move on and push through the fear. Don’t allow yourself to ruminate. Every time these frightening thoughts return, dismiss them by saying, “I don’t need to scare myself.” Concentrate on changing your behavior to get positive results and stay focused in present time. Visualize yourself confidently taking the steps to change necessary behaviors. Keep in mind the direction you want to go as you push through the fear. You’ll come to the conclusion that it is less frightening to face your fear than to be dominated by feelings of helplessness. Live wide, not narrow. Ask yourself each day if you’re in the same place or if you have moved.

When your fear level is extremely high, your confidence will lower dramatically. It is, therefore, crucial to develop an inner voice that is encouraging, nurturing, calming and respectful. In a loving way, take responsibility for your life rather than being a victim to helplessness. Increase your sense of power through self-acceptance and self-compassion. It’s essential to learn how to self-repair and deregulate paralyzing fright. Refuse to indulge in self-attacks and expressions of self-dislike. Take control of the negative voice in your head. Change phrases in your vocabulary that signify a lack of control to more empowering phrases. For example, say “I haven’t yet” instead of “I can’t.” Replace “it’s a terrible problem” with “it’s a chance to learn and grow.” Replace “I should” with “I can if I choose to.” It will also be valuable to learn stress-reduction techniques such as self-hypnosis, yoga and meditation. 

If your fear doesn’t decrease, I recommend seeing a professional psychotherapist trained in treating anxiety disorders. Psychotherapy will provide you the opportunity to explore what’s going on inside you. The more you can access these covered up feelings and experience them for what they are, the better you’ll be able to reduce your fear.

If you’re committed to doing the work and willing to take personal responsibility, change is possible.

“Fear: The best way out is always through.” — Helen Keller  


Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her website, patticarmalt-vener.com.