September 16, 2009

Excerpts from "Embracing Fear" by Thom Rutledge

The following is a collection of excerpts I found "shareworthy" whilst reading this book:

When faced with some worry or uncertain fear, ask yourself the following: Am I responding to something in my environment or to something in my imagination? Is this feeling based on something I perceive in my circumstance, or merely something in my memory?

If the feeling is a worry, we just chew on it, giving the illusion that we’re doing something, when in fact, worry is stalling us from doing something. Conversely, when a dreaded outcome is actually imminent, we don’t worry about it—we take action. Seeing lava from the local volcano ooze down the street toward our house does not cause any worry; it causes running.

  • Almost all worry evolves from the conflict between intuition and inaction.
There is only one freedom: the freedom from fear.

Healthy fear is about protection and guidance. Neurotic fear is about the need to be in control. Healthy fear inspires us to do what can be done in the present. Neurotic fear speaks to us endlessly about everything that could possibly go wrong tomorrow, or the next day, or next year.

...we will look at why and how we as otherwise intelligent human beings can look at the glaring contrast between healthy and neurotic fear, and in spite of what is rational and wise consistently choose neurotic fear as our lead advisor.

Bottom line: the lower our self-esteem, the easier we are to control. This holds true whether the controlling personality is a parent, a spouse, or a neurotic fear within us.

We must learn to make the conscious choice to turn away from the Bully and toward the Ally. In the group exercise, that is what we do: the person in the middle practices listening to the neurotic fear long enough to identify who and what it is, then he or she is taught to turn away from the Bully and face the Ally.

Four Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Fear
• Face it.
• Explore it.
• Accept it.
• Respond to it.

I tell therapy clients that keeping a journal can save them time and money because sometimes sitting down with a journal can be as productive as a good therapy session.

I told Jenni that the point of my pairing these two learning challenges is simply this: you should not expect to master a new way of thinking without hours and hours of dedicated practice any more than you would expect to master the card sleight without practice.

Chapter 2

My intention is not to oversimplify the potential solution to our battles with fear, but to make an important point: the great majority of the emotional distress we experience results from how we think about ourselves and our circumstances, rather than the circumstances themselves.

Remember that the little voice told me that “the assignment is to live a life that is not ruled by fear.” It didn’t say anything about being without fear.

What occurred to me seemed too simple, offensively simple. But each time I approached it, like trying to get 2 + 2 to equal something other than 4, I came up with the same answer: how we relate to fear determines how we do in life, and maybe it is the essence of who we are.

Chapter 3

To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.

Sometime when you are feeling stuck or confused, ask yourself, “What am I afraid of?” Listen for the first answer that occurs to you, and then climb down your own ladder. Don’t run from the fear; turn to face it; go looking for the most powerful, threatening part of the fear by climbing down your ladder. The chances of solving a problem are greatly enhanced by accurately defining the problem.

Chapter 4

One of the ways we send out distress calls, demonstrating our need to be reminded, is complaining. It is far from the cleanest communication, certainly not the most effective, but listening to our complaints with a willingness to climb down the ladder is at least a starting point. Rather than discount our human tendency to complain, I try to make good use of it. A complaint that seems petty or meaningless is just at the top of the ladder. By bitching and moaning about this and that, we avoid taking the ladder down to discover the bigger fears below. So instead of simply criticizing ourselves for complaining (which is essentially complaining about our complaining), it serves us well to look more closely at the nature of our complaints.

When we become aware of these old, stored-up feelings, it is important to spend some time with them. Beware of tendencies to notice the feeling, quickly explain it to yourself, and then move on. I am not suggesting you become obsessive about your fears, just that you practice moving into that place of self-awareness without acting on the natural temptations to shut the feelings down, cover them up, minimize their importance, or explain them away. Some of the hardest work you will do will be sitting still with your fears, experiencing the anxiety or the terror sitting in the pit of your stomach or lodged in your throat. The effort to sit still and do nothing beyond being aware of a feeling state, even for just a few minutes, is real and difficult work. Please give yourself credit when you are able to do it, and try not to condemn yourself when you are not. I strongly urge you to make a decision right now to take plenty of self-compassion along on this journey.

And on top of the fear, as so often is the case, was self judgment. As I did Owen, I encourage you to suspend self judgment as you read on. In our acronym map there is no J for judging. Face what you become aware of, whether it is in the form of a deeply ingrained fear or a seemingly innocuous complaint. Explore whatever you find, remaining willing to travel down the ladder to discover your deeper fears. And remember that accepting your discoveries and insights, contrary to popular belief, will not keep you stuck. Acceptance is the way through to the other side of your fears, where you will learn to respond from a position of power and strength.

Consider the emotions that may be stuck within you, the feelings still unexpressed. Be aware of the feelings. Resist the temptation to run, and resist the temptation to try changing whatever emotions you discover. Feel what is there to feel. Accept this as your experience, remembering that acceptance doesn’t mean you like it; it only means you know that this is yours to experience.

Fully aware of these unexpressed feelings stuck somewhere inside you, try this strange little exercise: imagine that you, as an adult, can travel back in time, scoop up the child you once were, and walk right through the feelings. Repeat the motto to yourself: NO FEAR. Holding your child close to you, walk straight through the feelings, never changing one of them. Sadness, anger, hurt, shame, confusion—and all kinds of fear. Keep walking until you come all the way through.

The bad news—or what we think is bad news—is that we cannot change the feelings that are already inside us. The good news is that we don’t have to change even one of them in order to heal. We simply have to become willing, with our eyes wide open, to walk straight through them.

Chapter 5

In fact, evaluating ourselves according to that kind of comparison is one extremely effective way of stopping forward progress dead in its tracks. I have heard this expressed in a very concise form: compare and despair.

Certainly I cannot offer you any guarantee that you will find meaning and purpose when you invest time and energy in examining your life. In fact, I tend to distrust those who tell me they know the specific purpose of their life—all tied up in a neat little package. I prefer the wisdom of Viktor Frankl, psychiatrist, author, and survivor of the Nazi death camps of World War II. Dr. Frankl tells us we should not ask, “What is the meaning of my life?” but instead realize that each of us is being asked, “What meaning will you make of your life?” It is an excellent question, possibly the only question we would ever need—a question I hope to never stop answering.

Put it to work and discover what a versatile tool it is. Ask the question about your life as a whole or apply the question to specific areas of your life. What meaning will I make of my life as a parent, spouse, friend, or worker? Or apply it to particular events or periods of time. What meaning will I make of my life in the wake of this disaster, or this loss, or this success? Probably the most powerful use of Frankl’s excellent question is in daily practice. What meaning of my
life will I make today? Use the question generously; it will certainly help you stay awake.

Fear’s intent, though often misguided, is always protective. When you stand facing the fear, ask,
“What are trying to protect me from? What is the danger you perceive?”
And when you ask a question of fear, become very still, sit quietly, and listen for the answer.

After listening to the objections of June’s fear of engagement and marriage, if I had told her that she didn’t have anything to worry about, that I was certain that she would be able to “handle it,” what effect would that have had? To let her know that I do genuinely believe in her, and specifically in the progress she has made in therapy, will very likely make a difference, but telling her I can predict the outcome of her decision will only serve to reduce my credibility. I would be claiming to be capable of doing something that we both know I cannot. As her supporter, when my credibility is lessened, even the power of my belief in her is diminished.

The most powerful stance any one of us can take when we stand at the threshold of something new and previously unexplored is best characterized as follows: gather the confidence
you have in yourself, along with the confidence (“I believe in you” reassurance) expressed by others, and plant your feet firmly in the doorway of what is yet to come. Invite your fear to speak. Do not hide from it; call it out. Look directly at the fear, listen to what it is saying, what it is threatening you with, and then take a deep breath and say,
“I’m willing to risk it.”
“If you do this, you will be sorry,” the Bully loves to say.
“I’m willing to risk it.”
“You are sure to make a fool of yourself.”
“Maybe. I’m willing to risk it.”
“You can’t do it. You have failed before, and you will
certainly fail again.”
“I have failed in the past and lived to tell the story. I am willing to risk it.”
“This is it, your last chance. If you blow it this time, it’s all over for you.” The Bully is pulling out the big guns, the famous “last chance” threats.
And still you respond, “I doubt it, but even if that is so, I—am—willing—to—risk—it.” See yourself speaking clearly and distinctly and, as you step across the threshold, push the fear aside with a powerful arm.

Watching this scene unfold never gets old, whether it is happening within a client’s consciousness or we are literally acting it out in group therapy. “I am willing to risk it” is powerfully effective because it makes maximum use of the confidence we have in ourselves and that others have in us, plus it is a completely credible position. There are no guarantees, and we know it. Can I fail? Yes. Might I fail? Maybe. Will I hide or retreat? No. I am willing to risk it.

Self-sabotage is simply a response to fear. Its intent, more often than not, is protective.

Many of us respond to fear with avoidance. ***We take refuge in our potential.*** As long as there is something we are going to do (e.g., lose weight, stop drinking, write a book, change careers) in the future, we can safely perceive ourselves as potentially physically fit, sober, prolific, or successful in that new career. When we choose to take action toward a goal, the dream of our potential is in danger. By being proactive, taking the necessary risks, we have to face the
comparison of our dreams to reality. We might fall short of our goals. We might fail. The prospect of such an outcome makes our potential seem like such a cozy place.

The perception of our potential is a very popular hideout. It is a place in our minds where procrastination reigns, where we keep ourselves sedated with pleasant images of all that we are bound to become and all that we will accomplish—later.

...we all need to find that common meeting ground. It’s called humility. One of the Nutshells defines it succinctly: “Humility is the awareness that I am neither better nor worse than anyone else.”

Humility is the goal here, and it is not a minor goal. Humility is not just a pleasant character trait or a nice compliment. It is the necessary, realistic starting place for any of us who are serious about facing and conquering our fears.

I also want to be clear about my belief that without full acceptance of personal responsibility, deserving or not, we will not get to where we want to go.

Address these negative messages directly. Gather what you have learned so far and imagine yourself sitting face to face with the Bully. Speak the conversation out loud; give yourself permission to switch from one chair to the other to keep the personalities separate in your thinking. Or write a dialogue between yourself and the Bully.

And when you begin this direct dialogue—welcome to the final letter of our acronym map—you will now be in a solid position to choose your responses to fear.

Chapter 6

Our acronym map tells us that we don’t get rid of recurring fears; we move toward them, experience them, and move past them.

Like recurring fear themes, obstacle themes in our lives are clues, put there to get our attention, intrigue us, and ultimately to guide us toward the Bully. As long as Walter remained occupied with all the various brands of therapy, self-help, and personal-improvement techniques, there would be no space in his consciousness for him to have to experience what he and I discovered was his greatest fear: that he might be a man without a purpose.

We are all influenced by themes of personal desire, but not everyone identifies them. Unfortunately, we often don’t find our way beyond the perpetual recurrence of obstacles and fears. Too often we live our lives by default rather than decision. We accept beliefs and value systems that are handed to us, allowing life’s circumstances to determine the directions we will take without realizing that what we do with our lives is up to us. The idea that personal desires are not only important but central to living fully and responsibly often seems ridiculous, idealistic, naive, or selfish. My father lived like this—a good man who never believed he could be in charge of his own life.

Walter encountered one particular obstacle in his pursuit of purpose that is important to mention because it represents a common misconception that frequently slows progress. That obstacle is the assumption that our purposes in life are assigned to us, rather than chosen by us. I cringe a little each time I hear someone say, “I want to know what my purpose is,” or in response to a specific situation, “I wonder what I am supposed to learn from this.” These statements limit us severely by implying that there is some kind of “answer in the back of the book,” the one correct answer to the question. The more productive questions to ask are, “What do I want my purpose to be?” and “What are some things I can learn from this situation?”

If the person remains in therapy after the smoke clears—personal desire themes are likely to surface. A very important question appears: “What had I intended for my life?”

Ask yourself this question: “What had you intended for your life?”

When we fail to ask ourselves this question, we may simply live our lives out by default, nudged this way and that by life’s circumstances, forgetting that we ever had a plan for our lives at all. Or we may devote our lives to what I have come to think of as mistaken personal desire.

Maybe the themes we identify as recurring in spite of our previous efforts and progress are simply indicative of the course of education we have chosen for our lives. Maybe not. But regardless of how or why the themes came to be, to proceed as if they are our chosen lessons is an effective approach to life.

When we encounter our life themes, we must remember what we have learned. If faced with a recurring fear, we can immediately put our acronym map to work. When considering obstacle themes or themes of personal desire, we must first find out where the Bully is hiding. We do this by asking questions. We might try climbing down the ladder. After we find the fear, we must see it for what is, walk toward it, and then past it. We change our relationship with the fear and take charge of our lives.

Make a list of a few recurring themes in your life. See if you can think of an example from each category. Maybe there is one life theme you have significantly resolved, such as a dysfunctional relationship pattern or, like Jenni, a career direction. Maybe there is a life theme you have just recognized as you read this chapter. Or maybe one particular life theme has been haunting you for as long as you can remember.

What we decide to be aware of, attend to, and work on are personal choices, choices that are a significant part of who we are as individuals. How I approach a situation in my life may or may not be similar to your approach. How I approach a situation today is likely to be very different from how I would have approached a similar situation ten years ago. It’s only reasonable to assume that my approach in five years will be different as well. Healthy personalities are fluid, not stagnant, and when we respect that—in ourselves and in each other—we realize that psychotherapy and self-help material will benefit us most when it is tailored to fit our individual personalities and needs. Carl Jung said that he developed a new therapy for each of his patients.

Chapter 7

FEAR TAKES MANY FORMS: dread, worry, panic, anxiety, self-consciousness, superstition, negativity. And it shows itself in many ways: avoidance, procrastination, judgment, control, agitation, perfectionism.

How much more relaxed would I be, how much more my true self, how much more productive and efficient and effective, how much more loving and generous and focused would I be…if this fear didn’t live in my chest?

These “knowns” are points of information that can make a tremendous difference when it comes to facing and conquering our fears. They are simple truths about ourselves that, once acknowledged, offer us a way of creating a plan, keeping us unstuck, on track, and moving in our chosen directions. These simple truths help us to see the Bully as separate from ourselves and tell us that it is our decision to face him. They tell us to expect resistance and then encourage us to do whatever it takes to overcome our fears. These simple truths are what I have come to think of as “offensively simple,” ideas we tend not to question much, ones we are likely to pass over as “obvious.” All too often we fail to give them the attention they deserve. It seems inherent in our human condition that we overlook the simple in the search for something more complex. I think that this is a version of the “medicine has to taste bad to be good” mentality. It is the Serenity Prayer applied backward again: our efforts going to things we can’t change, ignoring the simple things we can. Well, medicine does not have to taste bad, and most of the time simple is more powerful than complex.

If we force ourselves to have only one feeling about something, we experience mental anguish, stress, and discomfort. Once an emotion is created, it stays with us in the present moment until it is allowed to be expressed. We waste lots of energy and time trying to change feelings that exist within us. In addition to turmoil within an individual, the myth of singularity puts an unnecessary strain between people. When each person in a relationship is convinced that there is only one way to look at something, conflicts become very difficult to resolve. The myth of singularity leads to distance, separation, and even divorce. From a broader perspective, throughout history countless wars have been fought over the myth of singularity, each side of the battlefield convinced that its way is the right way. For the most personal and the most global reasons, this must be changed.

We remain in charge of our lives even when we are not in control. To be in charge simply means that we accept that we alone are responsible for making the decisions about what to do or not do with the circumstances (the cards) dealt us. I may say that I have no choice but to pay my bills every month, but of course that is not so. Although I do not control the mortgage company, the electric company, the water department, and so on, it is up to me how I will respond to the bills they send.

I was fortunate early in my career to hear the psychologist and author Richard Bandler say, “There is no such thing as resistant clients; there are only inflexible therapists.”

In other words, be the Decision Maker, and expect—even embrace—your own resistance. Another Nutshell posted in my office reads: “I reserve the right to disagree with myself.” I exercise that right frequently, and I encourage you to do the same.

As you change your relationship with fear and as you meet your committee, expect to hear the voice of resistance. It will tell you that the NO FEAR motto is stupid, climbing down the ladder is ridiculous, and our acronym map will never work. Acknowledge the voice of resistance and realize that it is just one committee member’s point of view.

Each of us must choose for ourselves not only what we are willing to do, but also when we are willing to do it. Lori will choose when to take necessary steps toward her wall. And so will you.

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