How have you addressed or overcome risk aversion in terms of personal growth/change?
September 12, 2012 7:26 AM   Subscribe

How have you addressed or overcome risk aversion in terms of personal growth/change?

I'm posting this on behalf of my husband (and myself, as I am trying to be as supportive and informed as possible). As a disclaimer, I am not a therapist - just a caring wife. As noted below, my husband has agreed to revisit therapy. In the meantime, the description below is not a professional assessment of his situation, just our lay-person conclusions from a discussion we had.

Last night, my husband and I had a lengthy conversation about a variety of things he's been struggling with. Through this conversation, we tried to get a better understanding of the underlying issues so that we could define the true problem (or problems). We talked about how one can't solve a problem until one recognizes that there is a problem and can define that problem. There are certain things he's been dealing with that he can agree are problematic, but through our conversation we seemed to reach a new understanding that those are symptoms of a deeper problem, one that he's been unable to acknowledge as a problem until now.

During this conversation, he recalled therapy sessions from the past--at least two therapists over the last 10 years have noted that he thinks he's better than other people and therefore should be held to a higher standard. Although it can appear as snobbery in some cases, it's actually much more extensive than things people are usually snobs about. For example, when he was in a long-distance relationship in the past, he felt like he shouldn't be missing his girlfriend so much. He told his therapist at the time that those feelings were fine and normal for other people, but he should be better than that.

Until our conversation last night, he hadn't acknowledged that this perfectionist/narcissistic view is a problem. But throughout the conversation, we talked about how it really affected his ability to do the things he needs to do. And therefore, as the underlying cause for other problems, it too is a problem. After he acknowledged this problem, we talked about why he clings to that view and why he has been reluctant to address it in the past. Through a very complicated conversational path I can't recreate at the moment, we agreed that at least one aspect of confronting this problem is confronting the risk aversion associated with it. He is afraid that if he gives up this view of himself and what he should be, then his whole sense of self will start to unravel. He doesn't know what he will feel like or be if he gives it up. (To the extent it matters, the way we reached that conclusion was because the feelings he expressed were very similar to risk aversion I've been feeling in a different area of my life, and he agreed that the two were similar. However, we're both very different in how we confront things, so the way I've been confronting my risk aversion won't work for him.)

He's agreed to give therapy another shot. (He's been seeking medical care for anxiety, depression, and ADHD, but hasn't been to therapy in about a year because his schedule has been too overwhelming.) In the meantime, my question...

If you have ever tackled risk aversion or something similar to the feelings described above, what were some of the steps you took to overcome that risk aversion? What are the "baby steps" along that path? What were some of the tools/techniques you took or your therapist suggested? I think if my husband could get a sense of what that path might look like, that could lessen some of his fears going into this process.
posted by Terriniski to Human Relations (3 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Yoga helped me a lot with this, as long as I stayed with teachers who very much emphasized the non-competitive nature of the activity (e.g., Don't compare yourself with other students, do what you can do without pushing yourself into injury, etc.). Yoga postures themselves are kind of inherently ridiculous, so "failing" at them (which sometimes included literally falling on my butt) didn't make me think of myself as a failure, and that attitude of "Falling down doesn't make a difference in who I am as a person, as long as I get back up and try again" very much carried over into the rest of my life.

I did some explicit cognitive-behavioral work with it, too: Learning to recognize when I was feeling anxious, taking deep breaths to calm down, and talking to myself kindly and supportively ("It's ok to be anxious, and I can do this" or "Even if things go badly, I'll be fine"). The book When Anger Scares You helped me a lot, since a lot of my perfectionism was coming from anxiety about making other people upset, angry, or disappointed.

Antidepressants have also been a big help. Those of us with anxiety and depression tend to combine the two and catastrophize -- you get nervous about everything (anxiety) and therefore assume it's going to go terribly and you're a terrible person (depression). I would imagine that adding a history of ADHD would intensify that, as most adults with ADHD have had childhoods in which they were constantly criticized for not living up to expectations, so there's a history of actual experiences of receiving negative judgments. Part of getting all that under control is learning to separate what happened in the past, when you had less control over yourself (simply due to being a child with a child's brain and coping mechanisms), from what can happen now, when you have more control. Therapy and medications are probably the best help for that unpacking process.
posted by jaguar at 7:54 AM on September 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

One of the things that helped me was to explore (with my therapist and on my own), what would happen if I did, say, miss my long distance girlfriend just as much as other people. What if I were completely non-special-snowflake-y and sometimes had emotions that I couldn't control?

Realizing that, no, the world wouldn't end, and even My world wouldn't end if I were, in fact, an imperfect human just like everyone else has helped a Lot. I'd just, y'no, miss that girlfriend and be sad and acknowledge it, and then Deal with the emotion - emotions are scary, but repressing them never works.

I totally sympathize with his feeling that he might go poof! if he isn't the person he's wanted to be in his own head. But perfection isn't humanly possible, and while that mechanism has worked for him for a Long Time, the strain is showing now. It's not a long term solution, whereas getting better at dealing with it through therapy can mean Worlds more happiness.
posted by ldthomps at 8:50 AM on September 12, 2012

Came face to face with the fact I was going to die eventually, possibly anytime and at random, but definitely going to, so I'd better do what I want while I can.

No idea about baby steps. Arrived like a freight train.
posted by ead at 5:51 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

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