The things you want most in your life are the things you’re most scared of.
Like starting your own business. Moving far away. Singing in public. Or leaving an unhappy relationship.
The bigger your dream, the bigger the fear associated with it.
It’s easier to stay where you are and listen to the voices that tell you you’re not good enough, it wouldn’t work anyway, and you’d regret trying.
This week’s YBTV interview helps you face your fear of risk or failure and discover the valuable message it has for you.
Dr. Carla Manly is an expert in fear: how it can destroy us and how it can make us. She’s a psychologist, author, and advocate based in Sonoma County, California.
She shares her own journey from taking the safe route to risking everything to follow her dreams. She explains the difference between the kind of fear you should be listening to and the kind of fear you should be ignoring. She walks us through a practical example of how to work with fear, for anyone thinking of leaving a long-term relationship.
What You’ll Learn
I don’t promise anyone I work with an easy journey. What I do promise is that if you link arms with me and link arms with the idea of creating joy and moving away from destructive fear, I can promise you that you will find your passion and fulfillment.”
Dr. Carla Manly wasn’t always an expert in facing fears.
For most of her life, she avoided confrontations with those she loved. She wanted to please her family. So she listened when her father shot down her dreams of becoming a therapist in favor of a career path as a high-level attorney.
By the time she entered law school, her body told her in no uncertain terms that she was on the wrong path. She became anorexic. She weighed just 85 pounds by the time she realized what she was doing to herself. The truth was staring her in the face: “I had to listen to me.”
That insight was short-lived.
When she announced her dream to go back to school and get her master’s in counseling, her parents disapproved. “So, again, going back to the old childhood habits of not listening to myself,” she entered the family business in the investment sector. She got married, had children, and made it all work.
Then she had a wake-up call:
One day, I woke up and I said to myself, ‘I’m not being a good role model. Not for myself, not for my children, not for women…’ I was living in a jail so that looked beautiful—all my friends thought I had the perfect life—but it was terrible.”
So Dr. Manly decided to face her fears. “Face my fears of losing my marriage, which I did; [and] face my fears of causing my children some upheaval, which was the best thing I ever did for them.”
The result was freedom and personal happiness on a level she hadn’t known before.
Listen to Yourself
So many of our fears come from the tension between what we want for ourselves and what we’re told we should want.
“We’re not listening to what’s right for us,” Dr. Manly says. “We’re listening to a vast array of internal messages that came from somewhere else, messages that tell us what we should be doing, what the right thing to do is, what you better do, what a good woman does.”
She adds, “To me, what a good man or woman does is to take the time to go on that vital all-important journey of self-awareness. Find out what makes you tick. Find out what your moral code is, your moral compass. Find out what your passion is, and then go out and live it.”
It’s terrifying to think you might not be living the life of your dreams because you lived up to other people’s expectations.
The fear of breaking the mold and walking away can be overpowering. You might let other people down. You might fail everyone, including yourself.
But Dr. Manly believes that the risk can be worth it. “I think that when we are our best selves, there’s no way we can harm other people or the self, because the best self lives from a place of goodness.”
Two Kinds of Fear
The journey of self-awareness starts with distinguishing two different kinds of fear.
One kind of fear is constructive. It makes sense, like the fear of cancer when you’ve got a family history of it. This kind of fear drives you to make constructive changes, like eating better and not smoking.
The other kind of fear is destructive. Its powerful hold paralyzes you. Examples include “a fear of not being good enough, a fear of leaving a toxic relationship, [or] a fear of going into the career of your dreams.”
“Destructive fear loves to keep us stuck,” Dr. Manly says. “It wants us to stay right there. And then, when we get wise to it, we go asking, ‘What’s the message on the other side?'”
That’s what her book Joy from Fear is about. It helps you listen to fear and decode its valuable messages.
The Decision to Leave a Marriage
One of the greatest fears we can face is the fear of leaving an important relationship.
As women, we’re often taught that our identity is wrapped up in being a wife and partner. It’s our job to make our relationship work. If we can’t make it work, it feels like a personal failure.
Dr. Manly urges women to take the time to process what’s happening in the relationship before making any big decision.
“We first look at the self,” she says. Because “if you just jump from the marriage, all of those issues that took you into the marriage and kept you stuck there are just going to be waiting for you outside the marriage.”
So why are you here? What’s kept you in the marriage?
Then you look at the part you’ve played. You “do the internal work to find out what didn’t go right in the relationship.” You also look at the role your partner is playing. Is he willing to change?
“If the answer is, ‘I’m willing to change, I’m willing to go to therapy, but he’s not,‘” Dr. Manly says, you have to ask yourself, “Am I willing to stay knowing that … or must I leave?”
If you do decide to leave, you’ll need to become more conscious about the qualities you value most, qualities upon which you’ll build your new life. These “essential qualities” might include integrity, kindness, respect, tenderness, and emotional intelligence.
Not only do you want to look for those qualities in a partner, but you also want to work on those qualities in yourself.
When you leave the relationship, do it with integrity. You can’t control your partner’s behavior, but you can use your moral compass to behave with dignity and model integrity for your children.
Joy from Fear
Until the day I die, I want to be a kinder, more loving compassionate human being … and that’s the journey of the book.”
Dr. Manly’s book Joy from Fear helps women work through the challenge of leaving a relationship as well as face their fears of changing careers or pursuing their dreams. It includes exercises that are valuable for women at any stage in their journey.
The book can be valuable to work through in a group setting. Dr. Manly runs women’s groups and would love to help listeners set their own up. “You would be surprised at how, when women are in a group, the defenses just come down, and we realize that we are so much more alike than different.”
Jump to Topics of Interest
2:34 Dr. Manly’s wake-up call
6:14 The messages we should be listening to
7:31 The journey through fear is the journey of self-awareness
8:34 The two faces of fear
10:57 Making the decision to stay or leave your marriage
14:00 Identifying your “essential qualities”
16:12 Leaving a relationship with integrity
18:02 The value of women’s groups
Dr. Carla Manly
As a psychologist, author, and advocate based in Sonoma County, California, Dr. Manly is passionate about helping others create the lives of their dreams. Dr. Manly believes there’s no topic too big or small to address head-on. From offering guidance for relationships, sexuality, work, and communication issues to providing tools for healing stress, anxiety, and depression, Dr. Manly finds it a pleasure to offer insights on even the most challenging topics. Find out how you can work with Dr. Manly.