A Coaching Power Tool By Tatiana Mitroi, Personal Coach, SWITZERLAND
Fear vs. Trust: What if We Made Decisions Based on Trust Rather Than Fear?
Sofia wanted to change her career. She was a successful marketer but she lost interest in her marketing job as she realized that something was missing and not in alignment with her anymore. It’s been a few years already since she wanted to make a change. She wanted to do something different but she was not sure what. In the meantime, she chose to continue with her job in marketing, even if she didn’t enjoy it, and kept thinking about alternative job options. With time, it became more and more difficult to stay engaged in her marketing job, the confusion about her future professional options increased and the burnout symptoms started to appear. As she started to disengage from her marketing job, she also started to feel incompetent. She felt she was not particularly good in any specific area, despite her professional success until then. Sofia’s behavior and choices were driven by fear and she was bearing the consequences. Sofia’s example, choices, and behavior can be representative of situations when we empower our fears and allow them to prevent us from doing what we want, instead of investigating them and moving beyond. But what if we would make choices based on trust instead of fear? What makes people make choices based on fear and what would it mean to choose trust?
Explanation of Fear vs. Trust
Fear, as defined by thefreedictionay.com, is“a very unpleasant or disturbing feeling caused by the presence or imminence of danger”. On verywell.com fear is presented as“a natural, powerful, and primitive human emotion. It involves a universal biochemical response as well as a high individual emotional response. Fear alerts us to the presence of danger or the threat of harm, whether that danger is physical or psychological”.
While fear is a natural and basic emotion that is experienced by all human beings, the awareness of the sensations we experience in our bodies in the presence of fear and how we handle these sensations, consciously or unconsciously, influence the choices we make. We can react driven by fear or we can act and decide consciously, based on what is best for us, regardless of the present fear.
Fear is a complex emotion and it can be triggered by a variety of factors, such as real environmental dangers (e.g. seeing a nearby car approaching at a very high speed, seeing a wolf coming towards you in the forest, etc.), associations with past traumatic events (e.g. abandon, sexual abuse, etc.) or imagined scenarios/threats (e.g.imagining that you will fail, suffer, lack money, etc.). There is also more and more evidence advocating that some fears can be innate and evolutionary influenced to help our species survive.
Neuroscience shows that our mind can’t make the distinction between an imminent physical danger and a psychological threat and our body activates the fight or flight response in both situations. On a physical level, the signs that can indicate to us that the fight or flight response is activated are sensations in our bodies such as accelerated heart rate and breathing, trembling, pale skin, dilated pupils, etc. The stress created by the situation prepares our body for action, to cope effectively with the threat (whether real or perceived). Hence, psychological threats such as the risk of failing when we make a change or when we try something new can ignite a fight or flight response. This is our body’s response to help us cope with the situation at hand, for our survival. Whenever the surviving response is activated, we become hypervigilant. While this reaction is evolutionarily intended to prevent suffering again, it has a downside too. Hypervigilance, especially when activated due to a perceived psychological threat, can also keep us isolated from others and from taking action in the desired direction.
Furthermore, when we talk about making changes and about situations where we deal with uncertainty, our brain’s natural reaction, to protect us from potential dangers, is to resist.
If the fear and the resistance are not explored and understood correctly, if these reactions are not addressed properly and consciously or if they become prolonged/excessive, they can lead to chronic stress and/or act as a barrier to making the changes needed in satisfying one’s needs and desires.
For instance, looking at Sofia’s example, she chose to continue doing something that didn’t serve her due to the perceived uncertainty and the fear of the unknown. This led her to believe that she may not succeed. The perceived threat (the risk of failing in making a career choice that suits her better)led her to choose to stay where she was and to keep doing what she was doing even if it was not fulfilling for her. She chose to stay in her comfort zone and this cost her a burnout over time.
Trust, as defined by thefreedictionary.com, is a firm belief in the integrity, ability, or character of a person or thing; confidence or reliance.
One way to determine the level of trust in oneself, a situation, or a relationship is by evaluating how safe one feels when vulnerable. When we face uncomfortable situations or feelings, we need to trust others and ourselves to successfully deal with those situations or feelings. If trust is present, the chances are those things will go smoother; otherwise, the discomfort and the challenges can be prolonged or increased.
Trust can be difficult to define but we can feel and know when it’s missing or when it’s lost. When that happens, our level of energy and engagement withdraws and fear, suspicion, avoidance, doubt or insecurity can surface.
If we look at Sophia’s example, we can easily notice that she lost trust. She lost interest in her marketing job gradually when she started to realize that something was missing and that she was doing a job that was no anymore in alignment with her. As a consequence, her energy and engagement withdrew and fear, insecurity, and doubt dominated. The more she stayed in this state, without examining and reflecting on what was holding her back, the more her lack of trust increased and the fear of change, uncertainty, and doubt dominated her.
The presence or lack of trust is very much connected with the degree of safety a person perceives.
Sophia didn’t feel safe enough to make a change because it was not clear yet what the next step would be for her. She struggled to imagine herself as capable of doing something that is empowering and fulfilling for her. She got used to and became very good at doing whatever she was asked to do, no matter her preference and needs. Hence, she didn’t trust that something else could be possible for her as well. Hence, she lost trust in herself and the possibility of different, better options.
Fear vs. Trust: How Can We Support Our Clients to Pivot From Fear to Trust?
To support our clients to switch from fear to trust, we need first to help them to become aware that fear is present and that their actions are driven by it, when applicable. Once the client has this awareness, it is important to allow some time and space for the awareness to settle within them, so that they can feel it and connect with all the emotions, sensations, and thoughts that arise. After settling in this awareness, we can accompany the clients, at their rhythm, to move towards acceptance. It’s about accepting the fear, the situation, and the behavior they put in place in those circumstances. When acceptance is reached, the client can feel a sort of release, and peace of mind. We may notice that through a shift in the tone of voice, attitude, posture, words used, and body language in general. This is the moment when we can explore with the client different perspectives and alternative ways to think and act. It is about supporting the client to see the same situation in a more trusting way, shifting from fearful thoughts to more empowering ones. When the client starts to open up to more empowering thoughts and perspectives, we can explore the relevant action plan to reach the desired outcome. Questions for coaching to support the client to pivot from fear to trust.
A set of powerful questions in these situations is the set of the 4 questions proposed by Byron Katie through the process that she developed and called “The Work”:
- Question 1: Is it true?
- Question 2: Can you know it’s true?
- Question 3: How do you react—what happens—when you believe that thought?
- Question 4: Who would you be without the thought?
Other Relevant Questions to Consider:
- What role does your fear / self-trust play in your decision to leave or stay?
- How fear/lack of trust is impacting your life right now?
- How trust/lack of trust is showing up in your life right now?
- What is costing you to be in this situation? What else?
- What is the benefit for you to be in this situation? What else?
- What would you say and do if you would trust yourself and life?
- What facts do you have to support this thought/ behavior?
- What is another perspective that you can have with regards to this situation?
- What possibilities will open up for you if you choose trust instead of fear / another perspective?
- What would be different for you if you choose to trust?
- What does trust/fear mean to you?
- If you knew that you are capable to succeed, what would you do?
What Is The Fight Or Flight Response