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We throw the words compromise and sacrifice around quite a bit in relationships. But what exactly do they mean? And don’t they mean the same thing? 

Well, the short answer is, not exactly. It’s complicated, kind of like relationships are sometimes. Read on to see what I mean.

Both sacrifice and compromise require someone to lose or give something up, but in two very different ways. 

Compromise involves people meeting in the middle to solve a problem. Each person gives in a little… or a lot. Here’s a simple example: one person wants to meet for coffee at 11:00, while the other prefers 11:30. They meet in the middle and decide on 11:15. Each person gave up 15 minutes; problem solved.

Sacrifice is different, though. It requires one person to meet another where they are. They give up something to accommodate the other person regardless of whether they respond or give back. Another simple example: one person can only meet at 11:00 for coffee. Rather than reschedule, the other person gives up a prior engagement to meet with this person. 

Compromise is a team effort toward a common goal, resolving conflict or disagreement. It’s mutual by its very nature. Everyone involved must give up something for it to be called compromise. A compromise works out differences.  

A sacrifice is a solo act done to strengthen the bond between two people. One person gives something up for the relationship; the other person doesn’t necessarily have to, although relationships generally thrive when sacrifice is mutual. Sacrifice seals commitment. 

The nature of sacrifice and compromise gets hairier when you consider different levels and depths of relationships. 

Here’s what I mean. 

Compromising on a coffee time with a co-worker is one thing. Settling with your spouse on how to raise your kids, save money, or where you’ll spend the holidays is a totally different ballgame. Deeper relationships call for deeper considerations.

Perhaps not so much with sacrifice. Giving up a career, living in a particular city, or spending a lot of time with other people is considered good in some relationships, but downright crazy in others.  

**Compromise happens in all healthy relationships to some degree. Sacrifice is probably more appropriate for long-term, committed relationships. And problems can occur when we get those two concepts mixed up.**

As a matter of fact, it’s possible to sacrifice for the wrong reason. An interesting piece of research found that when one romantic partner gave something up for the good of the relationship, both partners had higher than average relationship satisfaction

On the flipside, both partners felt less satisfied in their relationship when a partner gave something up to avoid guilt or hurt feelings. 

Did you catch that? The same behavior—sacrificing for one’s partner—had opposite effects depending on the motive behind it. Your reason for sacrifice makes a difference. 

What can we take away from these ideas? 

  • Disagreements happen. Compromise can help solve problems and keep relationships healthy. 
  • Sacrifice isn’t always the best option, like maybe in a new dating relationship. It can even be harmful. But when it is appropriate (think marriage), both people benefit from it. 
  • Compromise costs, but it’s typically refundable. If a compromise doesn’t work, you can usually step back and try something else.
  • Sacrifice is also costly, but it usually has a no-return policy. It’s risky. And it shouldn’t be done recklessly. 
  • Carefully weigh your relationship’s depth and outlook (and the issue you need to solve) before sacrificing or compromising. 

Some say compromise is the foundation of a relationship. Others say throw compromise out the window and selflessly sacrifice. 

I say there’s a time and a place for each: compromise freely and sacrifice wisely

Related blogs:

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

As Thanksgiving approaches, I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude and how it impacts me and my relationships. Think for a minute about what it feels like when someone says to you, “Your smile made my day!” or “Thank you for checking in on me.” 

Several studies confirm the benefits of being grateful:

There’s something about not being taken for granted and feeling valued that makes people feel better. Gratitude warms your heart and can lift both the giver and the receiver out of despair. 

Gratitude impacts how we relate to others and how we feel about our circumstances. What you choose to focus on is where your focus remains. Concentrating on the negative when things are hard can overwhelm you and it teaches your brain to hone in on the worst. The alternative is to choose gratitude and find things you can appreciate during all the hard stuff going on in your life. 

A month or so into the pandemic, in the middle of “lockdown,” I received an unexpected package in the mail. It was a bubble machine from a friend that included a note saying how much she appreciated our friendship. She encouraged me to put that bubble machine to good use in our neighborhood to lift people’s spirits. Trust me when I tell you that bubble machine brought a lot of joy and laughter to people young and old.

Practicing gratitude doesn’t have to be complicated, time-consuming or expensive. It’s an intentional effort though to acknowledge what we are thankful for and a willingness to receive gratitude from others. 

Now that you know practicing gratitude strengthens your relationships, you may be looking for ways to incorporate thankfulness into your life on the regular. If so, you’ll be glad to know there are lots of ways you can show people how thankful you are.

Here are five ways to practice gratitude that will strengthen your relationships:

  • Tell someone how much you appreciate ______________. Thankfulness says, “You matter.” 
  • Write thank you notes to people you are close to, including your children, spouse, parents and friends who wouldn’t necessarily expect anything. 
  • Write a letter thanking someone who has deeply impacted your life. Tell them you appreciate the ways they have encouraged and supported you.
  • Be intentional about expressing appreciation out loud. Sometimes we think about how grateful we are on the inside, but we forget to verbally say it to the person. It can be something as simple as telling your neighbor (instead of just thinking it) how much you enjoy all the flowers blooming in their yard or telling a family member how much you appreciate them checking in on you during COVID-19.
  • Keep a gratitude journal focusing on what you are thankful for in different relationships in your life. This is especially great for those times when you are struggling and need a good reminder of all you can be thankful for.

Practicing gratitude isn’t always easy, and it may even seem hard to be thankful right now, but our relationships will be much stronger and happier when we express our thankfulness to the people in our lives. 

Photo by Nicholas Bartos on Unsplash

#cancelled #cancelculture #RIP

If you pay attention to the news, you know this is a thing. Cancel culture promotes the “canceling” of people, celebrities and public figures because their beliefs are thought to be offensive or problematic. In other words, a group of people comes together to ruin the reputation and livelihood of someone who has views they don’t agree with.

On the surface, this may seem like a good thing. But if you peel back the onion a bit, you might think twice about whether or not it’s a good thing, especially when it comes to relationships.

Here’s an example of how it works in real life. A few weeks ago, screenwriter and television producer Amy Berg shared headshots of Chris Evans, Chris Pine, Chris Pratt and Chris Hemsworth and stated, “One has to go.” In no time, her Tweet went viral with many saying #RIPChrisPratt. 

Since the beginning of time, people have had differing opinions about politics, religion, the importance of a college education, how to raise children, money and plenty of other topics. What’s different today is the way people choose to deal with those who don’t think the same way. If you don’t agree with my perspective, you are #cancelled and basically cease to play any kind of relevant role in my life.

In many instances, cancel culture has silenced conversations between friends, co-workers and family because it seems impossible to have a civil conversation about a topic you feel strongly about and still walk away as friends.

Some may think that cancel culture is a new thing that has come along with social media, but it’s not. It just has a platform that didn’t exist before.

Yale research psychologist Irving L. Janis first used the term “groupthink” in 1972, defining it as when people will set aside their own personal beliefs or adopt the opinion of the rest of the group even if they actually disagree or have doubts about the perspective. 

Research repeatedly has shown us that “groupthink” is very dangerous. Instead of saying what they really believe, some people will remain silent because they don’t want to risk rocking the boat or in this day and time—being #cancelled. 

Symptoms of groupthink include: perceived inability to be wrong, justifying a group’s decisions based on the supposed majority opinion, stereotyping opposing perspectives and creating barriers to alternative views or information that doesn’t support their way of thinking.

Cancel culture impacts relationships. Can we build relationships instead of canceling them?

Instead of canceling people out, let’s be respectful even in our differences because we all have something to offer.

  • Encourage conversation with people who have different opinions than yours. 
  • Focus on trying to understand where others are coming from instead of only trying to change their mind. This can help people feel heard and valued, even if you don’t agree with them. Wouldn’t you want to be treated the same way?
  • Ask questions—not in a third-degree way, but out of curiosity and wanting to learn more. 
  • Be willing to share your perspective without coming across as though your way is the only correct line of thinking.
  • Stay curious. Nobody has all the answers. There is richness in spending time with people who have differing ideas about how to solve a problem. It’s been said: two heads are better than one. That’s because many times what comes out of brainstorming together is much better than what one person can come up with on their own.

Whether we are talking cancel culture or groupthink, bullying people into agreement or attempting to shame someone for what they think doesn’t build relationships. It doesn’t change anything, either. Instead, it tears people down and creates division. Hanging with people who think and act just like you might be comforting initially, but consider this—in the end, your perspective could be wrong.

Photo by fauxels from Pexels

How gritty are you? 

Is your marriage gritty

Do you teach your kids to be gritty

In her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Harvard-trained psychologist and researcher Angela Duckworth examines what it takes to stick things out and accomplish long-term goals. 

Grit has everything to do with how we do family relationships. 

Don’t mistake grit with talent (which Duckworth describes as the rate at which a person improves a skill). Grit isn’t how intensely you want something. Instead, grit is an attitude. It is a relentless, determined work ethic—despite setbacks, defeats, and hard days

It’s a “never-give-up” attitude.

Who do you know that is truly gritty? Grit is what drove Thomas Edison to succeed as an inventor. As a boy, teachers said he was “too stupid to learn anything.” Edison was  fired from his first two jobs for being “unproductive.” He reportedly experienced 1,000 failed attempts before successfully inventing the lightbulb. (Edison reported that, rather than failing 1,000 times, the lightbulb was an invention with 1,000 steps. Now that’s grit.)  

Great things are achievable in ordinary people through gritty determination.

Duckworth quotes sociologist Dan Chambliss, “…the main thing is greatness is doable. Greatness is many, many individual feats, and each of them is doable.

Grit is more than just a trait for inventors, athletes, or business leaders; grit is a significant family value. 

Duckworth’s research points to a high correlation between grit and marital longevity. People with a gritty determination have a can-do attitude toward building a healthy, strong marriage—despite struggles, conflict, and tension. Gritty couples say, “No matter what we have to do, we’re going to make this work. We’re committed to this marriage.”  [Note: There are some situations in marriage that are unhealthy and unsafe. “Grit” is NOT enduring a dangerous relationship. See the note at the bottom of the article.]

For parents, the nagging question is, how do you teach grit to your children? Duckworth offers some great answers. 

First, grit is best taught with a balanced parenting style. In other words, parents who connect through affection and encouragement, while also creating structure and appropriate expectations, have a parenting style that fosters grit. 

It’s a balance between love and support with accountability and parental toughness.

Second, gritty kids want to take after gritty parents. Duckworth explains that “if you want to bring forth grit in your child, first ask how much passion and perseverance you have for your own life goals.” 

Third, Duckworth suggests that extracurricular activities are especially beneficial in developing grit in kids. An organized activity requiring a child to overcome challenges or criticism from peers, coaches, or teachers fosters grit. Bad days, lack of energy or motivation can help teach kids to push through and be gritty. 

Let’s get practical. Do hard things.

Duckworth shares a very practical strategy for developing grit in her teenage children called the “Hard Thing Rule.” There are three parts: 

  1. Everyone in the family, including the parents, has to do a Hard Thing. A “Hard Thing” is anything that requires deliberate practice. For a parent, in addition to the skills they use at work, it might be yoga, running, or completing a degree. For kids, it might be ballet, piano, or soccer. 
  2. You can quit your Hard Thing. But there’s a catch. You can’t quit until “your season is over, the tuition payment is up, or some other ‘natural’ stopping point has arrived.” In other words, you can’t quit on the day your coach yells at you, or you have to miss a party because you have practice. 
  3. You get to pick your Hard Thing. 

As a family and relationship educator, it makes me wonder: if grit was a more common character quality, would we see more successful marriages, healthier parenting styles, and overall relationship satisfaction? 

Perhaps it starts with you.

Maybe it means you are more intentional about pressing through your small, doable feats even when you’re not motivated. Maybe you model more grit for your family and lead by example. Perhaps this week, you and your family can pick your Hard Thing to practice. 

Don’t be afraid to get your hands gritty.

I’m convinced—and I hope you are, too—grit is a good thing and something we all can use in our family. 

Related: 

10 Things Healthy, Happy Families Do

How To Encourage A Growth Mindset In Kids

The Blessing Of The Skinned Knee

Got some gritty thoughts on grit? Share them in the comments below!


***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Family. Have you ever wondered how you can share the same parents, grandparents, or even great-grandparents, a common bloodline, yet see things so differently and have so many different opinions? COVID-19 has highlighted the differences in belief systems, political views, economic status, and so many other issues that can lie within a single-family.

These differences can become polarizing, causing serious divisions and potentially irreparable damage to your family unit. You’re probably reading this because you’re aware that your family is at risk of ripping apart. And of course, you want to do everything you can to keep it together.

How can you keep COVID-19 opinions from tearing your family apart?

Call it Out. You may be the one who has to say, “I’m afraid that we’re going to allow this virus and our opinions on this virus to tear us apart.” You may have to ask, “All of the memories, experiences, love, and connectedness that we’ve shared as a family over the years, are we willing to throw it away because of our opinions about the virus? How do we make sure that doesn’t happen?

The awareness of the virus is infiltrating so many of our thoughts, plans, behaviors, and lifestyles. You may have to be the one who is intentional about shifting the focus to what it means to be a family. Family is the one place that you remain a part of despite the differences. So you learn how to thrive in the midst of difference. Bringing to everyone’s attention the need to be intentional about staying connected as a family in the midst of the virus can be powerful.

The family is bigger than one person. Don’t carry the weight of trying to control how others may or may not prioritize the family. No one person can carry the full weight of keeping the family together. Family means different things to different people even within the same family. Recognize what you can control. Leverage your influence to help your family see the bigger picture. 

Understand your need to be emotionally and mentally healthy. A healthy and secure you will have more influence than an unstable, insecure you. Your family may have helped you develop a sense of self. However, do not depend on your family for your entire sense of self. You can’t depend on your family’s acceptance and agreement to feel validated and complete. If you do, you can run the risk of trying to keep the family together out of fear or a personal need for fulfillment. 

Don’t invest energy trying to change the mind of others. A person convinced against their will is still of the same opinion. Let that sink in. Rarely do I see arguments and debates where someone actually changes their mind. I still haven’t heard of someone changing someone’s mind using social media. Often, the more we try, the more we can slip into trying to control others or lose control of ourselves.

Respect. Leading a conversation about what it means to respect one another can help the family set boundaries and be intentional about respecting one another’s thoughts, ideas, and opinions. Sometimes we can become so passionate about our position that we totally disrespect the position of others without even realizing it. As a family, having a clear understanding of what it means to respect one another’s differences can help family members coexist with the differing opinions.

Model healthy behavior. Be the one to talk less and listen more. Recognize that people are motivated by different things. Some have good motivations, and others not so good. Manage your emotions and be willing to try and understand your family. If you can help people feel heard, valued, and understood, then you’ve helped your family members know that they matter even if their opinions are different.

Acceptance of choices. Some family members are going to be extremely cautious and follow all of the CDC guidelines. Other family members may believe the virus isn’t a big deal and act accordingly. Some may feel like family members don’t care and are putting others at risk. Others may believe some are acting totally out of fear. A family is made up of individuals who have the freedom to think and feel whatever they choose. Give individuals the freedom to be who they are and you do what you need to do.

Make decisions based on what you know about the virus and your family members. This can be difficult because it may mean we don’t get to see certain people. When a person shows you who they are, believe them. There are conversations you may not need to have with family members because it always sparks animosity. Remember, everyone is learning how to live with COVID-19 in our world. Learning to live with differing opinions can take time.

Look for ways to show that you care about one another. Host virtual family game nights and Zoom family calls. Send one another care packages. Send messages of love and support. COVID-19 can have you so focused on what we can’t do that we forget what we can do

Set aside time to be intentional about spending time with one another and talk about other topics. This helps to remind you that the family is stronger and has more history than COVID-19. For example, celebrating birthdays. This has been a wild year! Instead of letting a birthday go by with just a card or phone call, consider celebrating virtually and making it a big deal because this year will be one for the books for sure! 

✭ Beliefs, opinions, and thoughts regarding COVID-19 dominate social media and news outlets. It hasn’t escaped family dinner tables and Zoom calls and it’s affecting everyone’s ability to show love and care to the ones we care the most about—family. This can cause fear, stress, loneliness, and anxiety. People develop their own expectations—some reasonable and some unrealistic. Family members will respond to change in different ways

You CAN’T control what family members say and do. You CAN focus on being your best self while at the same time working to care for and understand your family. As you model respect and value for each person, you can hope that the love and care you have for your family will help others see that the family is bigger than the virus.

Image from Pexels.com

I just can’t handle it anymore. I’m overwhelmed by bitterness, I feel let down, and I just don’t get how this isn’t obvious to anyone else. 

Does it look like I want to do extra work all the time? 

Do I have to be the one to initiate each conversation?  

Why am I always staying late to clean up after my co-workers?

If you’re my friend, shouldn’t you know why I felt left out?

Why do I have to remind you three times before you do something?

Since when is my job being in charge of remembering every important date?

Who decided to make me the default solution to “if no one else will do it she/he will?”

You’re just over it. 

Feeling overworked and underappreciated is a lethal combination. It doesn’t motivate you to be the best version of yourself. And why would it?

What is Resentment?

There’s a word for this heavy feeling of disappointment, bitterness from unfair treatment, and anger. It’s resentment. Resentment feels so individual and deeply personal, but it can actually be something that comes between you and the people you want to be personal with. Resentment and contempt can walk hand in hand. Contempt can be lethal and destructive for relationships according to Dr. John Gottman, marriage researcher, therapist, and co-founder of The Gottman Institute, which uses research to help people improve their relationships. Though resentment is a common emotion, when it becomes persistent and something that holds you back from forgiving or being able to move forward, it must come to a resolution so you can go on with your life.

If you can relate to any of those questions or feelings above, consider doing two things before we move any further.

  • Acknowledge your self-awareness. You bravely admitted that there is something getting in your way of you moving forward or holding back a relationship that you either care about or you can’t avoid.
  • Acknowledge you’re capable of moving forward. Since you’re self-aware, you have a heightened understanding of how you relate to yourself and others. You’ve got this and you’re going to reconcile the resentment you may be experiencing in your relationship(s).

In many instances, to be free of resentment means forgiving, according to GoodTherapy, a resource for those searching for therapists, counselors, rehab, residential treatment, and care for mental health issues. “Some individuals find that making peace with something that happened and moving on works better for them. Regardless of how someone chooses to get rid of resentment, it most likely means adjusting one’s frame of mind or emotional responses.

How to Stop Resentment in a Relationship: 

Identify the root issue, irritation, or problem.

Are you mad there are dishes in the sink or are you mad there’s an expectation you’ll do them if they sit long enough? Are you upset your idea in the meeting wasn’t used or tired of feeling unheard? Is it possible you are mad that you’re using gas to drive to your friend’s house again? Or maybe frustrated that you are the one who initiates hanging out each time?

Be honest with yourself about what makes it difficult to let go.

Are there emotions that flood to the surface whenever you try dealing with it? Where do you think they are coming from?  Does it remind you of someone you had a bad relationship with?  Acknowledging the answers to the questions above can help you determine the best next steps. Is this something you need to deal with on your own or is there something you need to communicate to the person you are resenting? How you express these thoughts is critical.

Communicate your expectations.

If a conversation needs to take place, it will most likely be an ongoing conversation. Relationships grow and change over time. Sometimes expectations shift—both spoken and unspoken. It’s the things that go unspoken that can really create resentment and chaos. 

Be realistic with your expectations.

Don’t expect something from someone else you wouldn’t expect of yourself. Be flexible and willing to meet halfway. When you reach a compromise, your worth is acknowledged, your voice is heard and you practice empathy.

Don’t underestimate the power of empathy.

Perhaps the resentment you’ve been living with came from a misunderstanding or from someone who has a different perspective of what happened or interpretation of a situation. To alleviate the tension between you and the other person, consider talking about it with them. (It may not feel natural, but it may provide the peace you need to move forward.) Now, if you’re in a situation where a conversation with the other person isn’t an option, consider processing what their perspective could be with a trusted friend or family member.

Invite gratitude into your life.

In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships,” according to Harvard Health Publishing for Harvard’s medical school.

Without remedy, resentment can consume your thoughts and impact how you may carry yourself. These tips can equip you to face the problems of the past and propel your relationships into a healthier and more fulfilling future. You’ve got this.


***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Image from Unsplash.com

Sam Collier didn’t have his first white friend until he was 21 years old.

“It wasn’t until I had this friend that I realized how different our worlds were. He didn’t understand my world and I didn’t really understand his,” says Collier.

It might be helpful to know that Sam is one of five children. However, when he and his twin sister were born, his dad was not in the picture. His mother gave them up for adoption, and a couple eventually adopted Sam and his sister. 

Sam grew up surrounded by people who looked just like him in Decatur, Georgia. His dad owned a barbershop and his mother quit a corporate position at FedEx to focus on raising both of them. 

Today, Sam is a communicator at Northpoint Ministries as well as the Director of City Strategy for The reThink Group. He is also a nationally-syndicated tv and radio host (A Greater Story Podcast; reaches 100 Million Homes weekly), a top 20 Gospel Billboard producer and the founder of No Losing, Inc. In these roles, he has empowered over 80 thousand young people to have a winning mindset in life to achieve their goals by creatively making education relevant to youth.

At this point in his life, Sam has many white and black friends. Sickened and sad over the events surrounding the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, he believes he is in a unique position to help both black and white people come together and learn so we can all do better with race relations.

Relationships Are Key to Understanding and Change

“Black people have been screaming for many years that something isn’t right, thinking that white people were hearing them and beginning to understand their plight,” Collier says. “In reality, that’s probably not the case. In many instances, I think white people don’t understand Black culture. Honestly, a lot of us don’t really understand white culture. Even though we have been trying to communicate, it’s as though we are on different radio frequencies and both white people and black people have missed each other.

Collier believes that relationships are the bedrock of change for race relations. They are an essential piece of the strategy when it comes to antiracism. After protesting and marching shook the nation in the 60s, MLK built a relationship with a “white” President. Together, they worked to fight evil.

“The first step that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught during the Civil Rights Movement was information gathering,” Collier says. “Before you try and solve a problem, you need to get all the information. Seek to see it from every side. We have to get people coming together, listening to each other and coming up with collective solutions for better outcomes for everyone. This is how you shift a nation. Enough voices saying the same thing, running after the same problem, fighting for the same solutions, refusing to quit until the battle is won. Relationships lead to conversations, conversations lead to strategy, strategy leads to action and strategic action leads to change. There is power in conversations birthed out of personal relationships. We have probably never been more postured for this to be able to happen.

Relationships Can Lead to Lasting Change

Additionally, Collier encourages anyone who is a person of influence in any sector in life to talk with those who are feeling the impact. Lean into the pain of why we are where we are and then seek solutions.

If you are white and don’t know anyone in the black community, reach out. If you are black and see an opportunity to influence a white person seeking to learn through friendship, don’t be afraid to enter in, if they are genuine. This relationship may also help you understand where black and white communities are missing each other. This is a huge step in the right direction. Put yourself in new circles. Collier believes one of the best ways to gain perspective and learn how to take action is by being brave enough to friend someone who is different than you. When you get close you start to debunk a lot of myths you’ve learned in the community.

“We also should be looking at policy changes that need to be made,” Collier says. “This will take some time and strategic thinking.”

Collier believes that there is value in both communities being willing to fight injustice in a Kingian Nonviolent way. He also believes that the injustice we see in our country will change quicker as we come together. Let’s work hard to unify our country so that together we can defeat racism and help America live up to its truest ideals.

Image from Unsplash.com

“So first let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself… nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inaugural address

Too afraid to leave the house because of COVID-19? I understand that. Fear can be debilitating. Let me start with a little story about that…

So there I was

…hanging off the edge, behind-first, staring down into a hole in the ground about as wide as my house. My heels dug into the earthen ledge as I felt the tension of the rope pulling at my waist and holding me in place. We were on a spelunking (caving) adventure. Ropes were strategically fastened to trees, harnesses fastened to ropes, and my body strapped in a harness. I had been rappelling since my high school years, but never into a 150-foot vertical cave in the middle of the Tennessee wilderness. 

All facts pointed to the assurance of safety, security and success: the friends I was with were trained to do this in the military; all knots, harnesses and other gear were checked and rechecked; and my buddy was at the bottom of the cave below me hanging on to my rope, ready to cinch it down and “catch” me should I slip. (And besides—he made it down safely; certainly I would, too… right?)

And yet, there were still the nagging what ifs in my mind. What if that rope snaps? What if a knot comes undone? And even, what if a squirrel leapt from out of nowhere, landed on my harness and chewed the straps away, causing me to fall into nothingness? 

And it was the what ifs that kept me stuck, paralyzed, on the edge of that cave for what seemed like hours (really, it was a few minutes), petrified to take that first step to descend into the cave. 

Fear has a funny way of making a person think the most irrational thoughts. And as the COVID-19 pandemic has caused life to slam on its brakes, fear has certainly done a real number for many people. What happens when the pandemic has you so afraid that you can’t seem to leave the house? 

Good Fear and Bad Fear

Fear isn’t always bad. There is a good kind of fear. Good fear protects us; it’s rational, valuable, and tells us how to accurately assess a risk. Good fear says, “Hey, that’s a deep hole in the ground. Better be sure your rope is tied correctly, your gear is checked, and your buddy down there has your back (er… rather, your rope).” 

Bad fear does not help us. It jumps straight to the worse-case scenario based on irrational conclusions. Bad fear says, “Hey, that’s a deep hole in the ground. Your rope will probably snap and your buddy below has probably taken off to grab a burger. It’s best if you go home, lock the door, hide in your room and never ever think about caves again…

Bad fear started out as good fear, but quickly turned irrational, dysfunctional, petrifying and therefore valueless. It’s junk fear—good fear gone bad, like a mild-mannered comic book scientist turned supervillain. 

And just like any true villain, bad fear doesn’t help us at all. It hinders us from a more fulfilling life. And at its worst, fear can be so irrational that it can cause us to react in ways that are actually harmful to us. 

Irrational Is the Key Word

★ The difference between good fear and bad fear is the weight of the information each is based on. ★

Good fear is based on good, solid facts from credible sources. It seeks the right amount of precautions to take while still being able to function. And so you have to know who you’re listening to. Health and safety precautions taken from the CDC are much weightier than from fake-news outlets or crazy Uncle Joe who’s stockpiled ammo and canned beans in his backyard bunker. 

Bad fear is based on the irrational, the sensational and the worst-case scenario (refer to Uncle Joe above). Bad fear makes us believe we have all the information we need in order to anticipate a future full of dread and terror. 

What Bad Fear Does to Us

Fear works in a way that, when we sense a threat, our body releases hormones that shut down the functions not needed for survival. It sharpens the functions that might help us survive, such as increased heart rate and more blood flow to the muscles (so that we can, for example, heighten our awareness or run faster). 

This is great for single, isolated incidents of threat, such as seeing a snake or standing on a high ledge. However, prolonged, chronic fear wreaks havoc on our body and brain.  

Research has shown us that it weakens our immune system, leaving us more susceptible to sickness. (Think about the irony here: Irrational anxiety and fear of the COVID-19 virus could actually increase our chances of catching it.) Bad fear can cause cardiovascular damage, gastrointestinal problems, and can lead to accelerated aging and even premature death. 

Bad fear also hijacks our brain processes that help us regulate our emotions, read non-verbal cues and think before we act. Therefore, it can have a very negative impact on our relationships. 

When fear is based on irrational assumptions, it tends to keep churning out the dread. It can also have some nasty consequences for our health. 

Fear Gone Bad Back to Good 

Knowing the dangers of bad fear is a good start to turning bad fear around. Here are some other tips: 

  • Listen to credible sources for information. Be picky about who you listen to. There is a lot of sensationalism, and armchair COVID-19 experts abound out there. Ignore these voices and pay attention to the advice of experts such as the CDC, physicians and scientists. Be careful how much time you spend immersing yourself in information-digging. An unhealthy preoccupation in fact-finding can feed fear rather than alleviate it. 
  • Carefully assess what you see, experience and feel. Irrational fear can make us question every little sniffle, sneeze or cough we notice in ourselves and others, sending us down a spiral of unneeded worry. Pay attention to the symptoms and warning signs given by the experts, as well as the level of risk for your age group. And if you have a logical concern, refer to your physician
  • Practice self-care. Be sure you are doing intentional things to keep your mind and body healthy. Being physically active, practicing mindfulness and getting enough rest helps alleviate anxiety and boost the feel-good hormones in our brains. This helps us to think more clearly when weighing reason against irrationality. 
  • Know that this is a process. Overcoming any kind of fear takes time, and it’s often done in small steps. Give yourself patience and grace. Over time, reason will trump the irrational.
  • If you find that your fear is causing you to move toward harmful behaviors such as drinking or using drugs, or that it’s moving you away from basic necessary functions such as eating, personal hygiene or getting basic work done, consider seeking help. There are many professionals who are offering remote counseling services. 

By the way… I made it down into the cave safe and sound. Knots stayed tied and no strap-gnawing squirrels appeared. Why? Because that was just unreasonable. Bad fear does not have to prevent you from diving into a fulfilling life, even in the midst of a pandemic. 

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