Originally Posted by anachronism
I think a lot of this discussion is helping me get my head right. Part of my frustration is getting stuck in the mindset that pushing through the fear should be easy- Exasperated that she skied it before, we all agree she is capable of skiing it, so just swallow it back and drop in!
I think you've proven that your way of dealing with risk and fear--pushing through it without processing it--doesn't work for her, and that you're unable to come up with a different angle on the issue. I admire you for your honesty in admitting this and reaching out for more ideas.
Perhaps unlike other women here I do believe that women, at least in our society, generally deal with risk and fear differently than men. Some are more risk-tolerant than others, and some do fine just brushing fears aside seemingly forever; some rack up enough terror that they practically stop going outdoors; but most of us need to learn to actually work constructively with fear. "Managing" fear, for people who need to process emotion, doesn't mean stuffing it; it means acknowledging it, validating it, and taking the steps necessary to become comfortable with it. Think about it: how many jokes are there about how men always wanting to fix or resolve problems, while women want to talk about their feelings about the situation? Of course that's simplistic, but it wouldn't seem so funny if there weren't some truth in it. Whether it's hard wired or a weakness or whatever, it is what it is, and it does no good to pretend it ain't so.
I'm no psychologist, but what I hear is a traumatic incident surrounded by dozens, maybe more, incidents where she prevailed by shoving her fear into the corner, but probably never became comfortable skiing whatever seemed scary. "Just do it" is a great mantra when the issue is endurance or strength, but if you use it repeatedly to make believe fear doesn't exist and never make peace with it, all those incidents tend to fester in the corner, waiting for the right time to rear up and bite you in the ass in the most bewildering ways. In your girlfriend's case, it sounds to me like all the times she successfully ignored her fears have magnified the "burial" incident, which also involved pushing fear aside. So even though she wants to ski something she knows she can ski, the very idea of any kind of challenge churns the whole thing up, and she becomes so locked up that she probably doesn't trust herself to distinguish between a trivial risk and extreme risk of the ultimate penalty. And although she might not say it aloud, she can't trust your judgment either, because it's gotten her into this predicament. Now she can no longer ignore her feelings but doesn't yet know how to handle them, so she just freezes.
And I'm not sure she needs psychiatric help; even if she did, I'd be shocked if she were medicated unless she's got a general anxiety disorder and has panic attacks about everything. It's true that over time her fear has blossomed into what seems
like a phobia, but it's entirely possible that the her behavior is so closely linked with specific patterns that just altering some tactics would give her space to break things down. We know she does well with women's clinics, which means pushing her limits with people who are 1) at her level, 2) supportive, and 3) probably share the same kinds of fears. Maybe more women's clinics would allow her to stop pressuring herself and work her way through her fears; maybe a series of lessons with a very high level instructor who has the will and patience to walk her through what's actually going on in her head would be the ticket. Whatever it is, she needs to ski in situations where she gets to challenge her fears on her terms, not anyone else's, and where saying "no" isn't a sign of weakness or failure.
Unfortunately, I can just about guarantee that she needs different ski partners, because she does not do well skiing with you. My take is that she's internalized your voice. Without meaning to, you've become a symbol of years of forcing herself to dismiss, ignore, and "push through" her fears, as well as the habit of calling them crazy. None of the skiing you do together sounds happy--when you ski together in her safety zone you're bored and impatient and she feels like she must be a dead weight, and when you encourage her to push through her fear she's panicky and you're frustrated. The longer you keep doing it, the deeper the rut will get. You need to let go--and for a while, that might mean that you need to almost push her away. If you can enjoy skiing easy terrain with her, do that and then go off and do your own thing. If you can't enjoy skiing in her comfort zone, don't ski with her.
Push her to find other skiing friends, whether men or women, who don't know her well enough to push her around. Give her the space to experiment. Meanwhile, find other ways to enjoy each other's company for as long as it takes for her to take control of her own skiing destiny.
Best of luck with all this. You're a good friend, and I hope you manage to help your friend get through this.
Originally Posted by anachronism
So... I realize my initial post asking for female perspective could leave people with the wrong idea. I was thinking along those lines because this problem is very much alleviated when she is doing things like women's ski clinics, and she LOVES all of those. Skiing with other women seem to help the problem while currently skiing with me seems to exacerbate the problem.
I'm not making the assumption that being afraid/locked up/panic is a girl trait.
I think fear is something everyone that skis deals with on some level. I just want to make that crystal before somebody makes the valid critique that what I wrote could be considered sexist.
I could see just how you managed to stumble into that tangle. The text is offensive, but as someone who runs off at the keyboard all the time, I know what it's like for the words to look right but be objectively insane. It's a good reason to stand up, stretch, and then read a preview of a post before hitting that damned "submit" button.