Shawshank and Sherpas

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On Sundays, after we sing in our church choir, we plan our week with the themes that will best serve our clients.

After our choir had finished the anthem, our beloved pastor, Dr. Stephen McConnell began his message titled, “The Greatest Thing to Fear.” Several moments into his message, we looked up and smiled at one another. A knowing smile that said, “He’s preaching to the choir.” 🙂

It is that four-letter “F” word, Fear, that ensnares each of us usually every day. It is fear that keeps us from addressing concerns that need addressing. Fear keeps our relationships from growing, thriving, flourishing. Like emotional prison guards, we allow these imagined voices to rule us; keep us stuck, stagnant and stalemated.

Why do we avoid approaching a sensitive subject or a disparate view with a family member or co-worker? Why are we afraid to approach our boss with a concern that keeps us awake at night?

Our imaginations run amok. What if my partner/spouse rejects me and wants to break up? What if my boss decides I’m actually dispensable, that I have no value, and fires me?

Our minister’s message resonated with us, as we sat on opposite ends of our row. We leaned forward in courage knowing that fear can incarcerate all of our relationships, unless we bring our conscious awareness that we are the ones who have allowed fear to imprison us. Our minister continued with: “Familiar captivity is often more desirable than an unfamiliar freedom.”

As relationship consultants, we often say this in different ways. We say people stay stuck in unhealthy relationships. We say that sometimes people remain in relationships and are comfortably numb.

We know it has to do with this safety feeling in familiarity that our minister was talking about. And while captivity is a strong word, many of us have allowed ourselves to be be trapped, jailed, or “held in captivity” in our personal and professional lives—voluntary prisoners in our relationships.

We underscore the word voluntary, because we are willing participants in many of these scenarios. Think of Morgan Freeman in Shawshank Redemption. His familiarity with prison was so well-engrained, he had no frame of reference for how to live as a free man.

So why do we do this? Why do we not consider an alternative that is almost always healthier for our wellbeing? Why not “self-parole” to extricate ourselves from those relationships that disempower us? Why do some of us feel we need permission to live a life of well-being—a life that brings utter joy and fulfillment?

Why do we avoid approaching a sensitive subject or a disparate view with a family member or co-worker? Why are we afraid to approach our boss with a concern that keeps us awake at night?

Our evolutionary brains give us the answer.

Psychology Today Contributor, Raj Raghunathan Ph.D. explains that our brains are responsible for giving us familiarity. “Generally speaking, things that are familiar are likely to be safer than things that are not. If something is familiar, we have clearly survived exposure to it, and our brain, recognizing this, steers us towards it.”

Even if a relationship is toxic—abusive—many will choose it over the unknown.

Raghunathan offers additional rationale: “The second reason why we don’t actively seek exposure to new and unfamiliar stimuli has to do with our ego.”

Our ego is like the driver of our car. It directs our decision making. The ego maintains status quo. The ego does not like Scott Peck’s, The Road Less Traveled.

We’ve worked with dozens of individuals who’ve had tremendous epiphanies after they have looked their fear smack in the face and mustered the courage to move on from a familiar life of being an emotional prisoner.

We help people to consider a better unknown vs. the uncomfortable known.

We are the liaison to guide people from being on the fence of fear. We give them immediate tools to find relief. We help people “see” the possibilities of a future that is desirable.

Like Sherpas, we gently walk beside you on the unknown mountain trails; give you the right equipment when you feel unsteady, and let you know that although seemingly insurmountable, you can do it.






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Poppy and Geoff Spencer