An obstacle can come in different shapes and sizes. And sometimes it is us, who is the biggest obstacle of all. We can stand in our own way. Why is that so, and what can we do about it?
We all experience obstacles in our lives – people, situations, events, sometimes unexpectedly so. And sometimes what appears to be an obstacle is no such thing. It is our fear or unease that can create the illusion of obstacles.
1. When an obstacle appears
This went through my mind, when I recently found a tree swept up close to my home. This quick story might help illustrate how we can stand in our way and let anxiety rise. And what we can do about it.
As you may know, I live on a boat.
And when the tide is out, the boat is out of water. Thankfully, it is not very often that bulky things, carried by the tide up and down the river, get trapped under the boat. But often I find things washed up – a shoe, a dead fish, flowers and other green matter.
One morning a tree had been washed up and left me feeling ill at ease. In the past a tree got trapped under the boat during the night leaving it and me feeling unbalanced. We needed to fix ropes to the tree, be around for the next tide, then pull the tree out of its location, tie it up elsewhere and then later-on safely remove it. I did not want this (or worse) to happen again.
I noticed my fear rising and starting to get out of proportion. What if …?
I needed to do a reality check.
- The tree was not too big. I could move it.
- Would I be around at the next tide? Yes, that could be arranged.
- It worked before, so why not now?
- What was the big deal?
I felt frustrated.
- Another thing to worry about, to think through, to take responsibility for.
- I was not in control.
- Why could life not be easier?
I was tempted to take a risk and ignore the obstacle.
- Should I just ignore the tree and hope for the best?
- It may never happen.
- The tree may get washed away and may not return.
But I also knew this strategy would take a lot more energy away from me then facing up to the tree.
2. When we are vulnerable
Sometimes, we can feel ‘together’, ready to face the world and then very little can throw us off balance. And at other times, we can shake and crumble at the mere whiff of a real or potential problem.
There is nothing right or wrong about it. There is no shame in it. It all depends on what is happening in our lives and how close or far away we are from our coping threshold.
3. Your coping threshold
If you think about your own life, where are you at right now regards your own threshold? Can you think of other times, when you felt differently? What’s the difference?
Personally I think a lot of the time fear is at the bottom of things – fear, doubt and low self confidence. Even if it is disguised as anger or frustration.
If some of the key pillars of our lives are undergoing stress or threats this will affect our mental and emotional foundation: problems in areas like relationships, financial security, work, our health, spiritual crisis etc.
That morning I noticed how my own frustrations could tip into a whole different league, if I let it happen. The tree could have become the last straw, if I had let it.
In a strange kind of a way, we have the power to break our spirit and with that ourselves.
What good would that have served? Nothing whatsoever. It would have been a total waste of good energy.
I needed to remain factual about the tree, what to do about it, then stick to it and not embellish it with misplaced feelings.
That would have turned the tree into the kind of obstacle it was not. And my own thought process would have left me feeling disempowered.
In that moment I had the power to become an obstacle bigger and more sever than the tree.
So, I pushed and pulled, with my arms and with sticks, got all muddy, and finally got the tree away from my own and neighbouring boats as far as I could. The incoming tide did the rest.
6. Removing an obstacle may take several attempts.
Yet, life does not always oblige, and tress floating majestically with the tide even less so. About 10 minutes after the tide turned and started floating the other way, I could see the tree coming back. Prepared with a long stick I helped it along on its way, pushing it as far away from the boat as I could. I have not seen it since. But most days I catch myself watching out for it or one of its mates.
And then I need to remind myself to keep perspective.
7. But what about the really serious obstacles?
Now, that’s all very well, I hear you say. But what about real big obstacles – illness, uncertainty, loss and death?
The same applies. When these things happen, then it is important to check in with ourselves and see where we are at regards our own fear and coping threshold. Sometimes that means we may need to ask for help, slow down, that a deep breath.
It does not make the awfulness of the situation go away. But it does help with keeping perspective and not ‘flipping’, which is easily done and does not take a lot.
Since the tree event and writing this piece, 2 people I know have died. I was re-diagnosed with breast cancer, and my trusted dog companion got it too.
Yes, disbelief and grief can cloud our perceptions and heighten our fear.
And so I found myself being dismissive of my own power in the face of obstacles like illness and death.
Who am I kidding? Uncertainty, illness and death are so big, I have no power. And the whole business about taking a deep breath and keeping perspective is all make-belief twaddle of people who cannot possibly know what it feels like. How can I be so delusional?
Yes, we all have such moments of desperate doubt.
8. When all is said and done
But when the initial height of emotions subsides and you start feeling your toes a bit more firmly back on the ground. Then you may still feel the awfulness of it all and your fear. But remember you have at least 2 options:
- Lose yourself, keep sinking and become my own biggest obstacle.
- Or try and raise your head and soul above the parapet, inch by inch. Gain some perspective and make choices about your life.
What do I want? What do I need? I cannot have it all, but what do I need to make happen for myself, in all this awfulness?
It’s not easy and it can take a lot of effort.
But what is the alternative? To give in to obstacles and to give up?
Yes, I can do that. And in doing so I become complicit in creating the biggest and most powerful obstacle of all – myselves.
Image courtesy of Steve Johnson vix Pexels.com
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Need some advice? Submit your question to my #DearKarin advice column here. Karin Sieger BA (Hons), MA (PsychCouns), Reg. MBACP (Accred) is a therapist and writer. All rights reserved © Karin Sieger. Neither articles nor videos substitute medical advice or therapy.