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Embracing FearHow to Turn What Scares Us into Our Greatest Gift
By Thom Rutledge
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Thom Rutledge
All right reserved.
Don't Run, Don't Hide:
The Power of Fear
-- Oriah Mountain Dreamer
We all know fear. I'm not talking just about the big fears -- terror and panic -- but fear in all its variations. Fear is our constant companion, our day-to-day nemesis, and our ultimate challenge.
Fear fuels our negative and judgmental thoughts and our need to control things. Fear underlies guilt and shame and anger. Every difficult emotion we experience represents some kind of threat -- a threat to our self-esteem or to the stability of a relationship (personal or professional), even to our right to be alive. And threat translates to fear. Start with any difficult emotion you choose, get on the elevator, press B for basement, and there, below the guilt and shame and anger, below the negativity and the judgments, you will find it: fear.
Fear hides inside seemingly less severe emotions such as anxiety, worry, and nervousness, each of which has various levels and shadings. The objects of anxiety can range from giving a presentation at work to the presence of terrorism in our world. We can worry that our shoes don't match an outfit or worry about larger concerns like world hunger. We can be somewhat nervous about performing at a recital or seriously nervous about the results of an HIV test.
Although fear is a major influence in every one of our lives, it is not always negative. As we will discuss at length, fear is essentially a positive mechanism, an ingenious natural design to keep us safe. And there are plenty of opportunities for that healthy fear to work its magic, guiding us this way and that, alerting us to danger and aligning us with what is good and right in the world.
But our big human brains have created a spin-off design. The new design is a fear we can self-impose without need of external causes. "No, thank you," we say. "I don't need any real danger to activate my fear. I can do it perfectly well myself." Or we can take any legitimate fear and work with it until we are paralyzed, barely able to get a decent breath. What an excellent job we do wasting our valuable mental energy like this.
On January 6, 1941, at a time in history when considerable legitimate fear was in the air, Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave a speech to the U.S. Congress. World War II was brewing, but the United States had not yet joined the fight; the Japanese would not attack Pearl Harbor for another eleven months. President Roosevelt spoke with courage about protecting lives and a way of life:
In future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.
The first is freedom of speech and expression -- everywhere in the world.
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way -- everywhere in the world.
The third is freedom from want -- which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants -- everywhere in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear -- which, translated into world terms, means a worldwide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor -- anywhere in the world.
President Roosevelt also said that a world based on these four freedoms was "no vision of a distant millennium," but "a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation." In the sixty years since the "four freedoms" speech, we have experienced times of relative peace, mostly continuing conflict and political turbulence, and we have experienced dangers beyond what Mr. Roosevelt could have imagined. It would never have occurred to him, for instance, that there would be a time when a small knife or box cutter in the hands of a terrorist would be enough armament to transform a domestic airliner into a deadly guided missile.
Unfortunately we have not manifested the world of freedoms President Roosevelt envisioned, and as we stand in that distant millennium we long for such a world perhaps more than ever. The countless political explanations for this are beyond the scope of my expertise and of this book, but as a psychotherapist I do believe I have something to contribute here, something to say about how we might still rationally hope to live in a world free of fear.
When Franklin Roosevelt delineated the four freedoms, the fourth being the freedom from fear, he was specifically referring to our right to live without fear of external threat of war and destruction. My work as a psychotherapist has been largely about how to claim our right to live without fear of internal war and destruction. I have spent thousands of hours in conversation with people -- individually and in groups -- working to increase understanding and solve problems. I couldn't possibly recall all of the various strategies, techniques, and philosophies I have enlisted toward these ends, but I can report that no matter what the approach, in every single difficulty I have encountered -- mine or someone else's -- fear has been involved.
Sometimes fear is part of the problem. Sometimes fear is the problem. And when we are really paying attention, fear is usually part of the solution. Fear is an essential part of our nature, installed in our DNA, no doubt for very good reason. Fear is an alarm system. It is there to get our attention, to push us in one direction or another, out of harm's way. Fear is not pathological; it is part of our intelligence, part of an ingenious guidance system to help ensure our survival -- as individuals, as communities, and as a species.
How we face and repond to...
Excerpted from Embracing Fear by Thom Rutledge Copyright © 2005 by Thom Rutledge. Excerpted by permission.
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