Being an exposure therapist, I help clients confront their fears all day long–but what about my own fears?
Ironically, in my personal life I am generally a risk-averse person. I recently took a vacation with some adventurous friends and had the opportunity to go canyoneering. Canyoneering involves hiking up a cliffside and using a variety of techniques to descend, including rappelling, jumping, water sliding, and zip lining. When discussing this activity, my friends assumed I would opt out. In our shared itinerary next to canyoneering my friends had noted, “Elyse will be afraid of this.”
Seeing that in writing stung. They were objectively right—I was afraid; however, that fear misaligned with my own values. I had a moment of self-reflection—How do I want to show up in my friendships and do I want to be known as the friend who opts out? I profoundly care about the friendships I have nurtured throughout my lifetime and despised that fear could impede an opportunity to deepen those connections. Therefore, I accepted my friends’ “challenge” and decided I would do it.
As I am hanging off the edge of a waterfall, my canyoneering guide instructs me to let go of the rope, yet I find my heart beat pounding louder than her instructions. I grip the rope tighter and instinctively shout “No!”.
I can’t help but to feel smacked in the face by the literal and figurative metaphor of dropping the rope—something I ask clients to do all the time. I did eventually let go and actually had fun! But what helped me get there? Two things: 1. Trust in my guide; and, 2. Accessing what I care about.
In my work as a therapist, I strive to create a context in which clients trust me enough as their guide to be willing to get curious and explore in presence of their fears. Facing fears is not easy and I am humbled by the fact that my clients are constantly facing their own waterfalls. Through this experience I can appreciate more deeply my clients’ true bravery, vulnerability, and willingness to let go so that they may learn to thrive and create meaning in their own lives.