Unlock your potential by ditching your fear

July 29, 2020 by · Leave a Comment
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The American ideal is anchored in the belief in self-determination. “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” they say. That’s not completely realistic. You are not as self-determined as you would like to believe. You are propelled forward, driven by your fear that operates like the Great Oz from behind the curtain.

This is not my original idea. Your favorite author has already stated my basic premise. Fear is the foundation for all motivation. Check that out. Whether you read psychology from Freud, Jung, Maslow or Adler, you’ll find it. Try reading philosophers like Tillich, Kant, and Sartre. Fear as a driving force is illustrated in great literature by such writers as Orwell, Dickens, and Shakespeare.  If you read poetry, you’ll find the dark movement of emotion behind the idyllic verses that conjure up images of serene lily pads. 

There is no doubt that healthy-mindedness is inadequate as a philosophical doctrine, because the evil facts which it refuses positively to account for are a genuine portion of reality; and they may after all be the best key to life’s significance, and possibly the only openers of our eyes to the deepest levels of truth.

William James

Forty years as a psychologist working with patients convinced me of this fact.  Many of the people I worked with were survivors of various types of trauma. Person after person taught me that only by confronting the fear do you heal. During my 13 years at the VA, I found veteran after veteran who summoned the courage to lay bare their experiences. Let’s use just one case as an illustration from a Vietnam veteran, though his story is not unique. 

He was still having symptoms 50 years later. He was depressed, but in his words, “Screw the useless pills!” They only complicated his life with mind-numbing side-effects. His anxiety was muted by the monitored, electronic perimeter he installed around his property. Still, the nightmares came unpredictably once or twice a week. Sometimes they gave him a month’s respite, lulling him into a false sense of security. Perimeter guarded; immediate area quiet; weapons in reach. Then, the next nightmare would explode. 

Psychotherapy worked over the years to provide some relief if only temporarily. He entered, stopped, and re-entered counseling multiple times. He tried individual, group and marital therapy. In between counseling episodes, he suffered. I was his up-teenth therapist. 

After many sessions seemed to produce little benefit, I thought he would retreat again to his compound. Maybe he had worn himself out enough while I allowed myself to believe we were establishing rapport. Then, in the middle of one routine session, he told me the story he had been hiding. “The Vietcong would send 6- and 7- year old children running toward the compound carrying grenades. You knew the pin had been pulled.”  He looked up at me, gritting his teeth. “What would you have done?” His tears flowed.

His question was not rhetorical. He challenged me, man-to-man, to honestly face the horror that tore him apart every day. I knew to stay away from the prototypic interventions his previous therapists had probably tried. The stark denial that he used to counter the accusations thrown at him as he disembarked at SFO would work no better in 2012 than in 1969. No excuse could stand up to the reality that he had shot a child 50 yards away and watched him disintegrate as the hand grenade exploded. He couldn’t accept the argument that the government should carry the responsibility for his actions. Or the ploy that if he hadn’t acted, more soldiers would have died. He killed an innocent kid. 

The therapy consisted in him being open with himself and having another person in the room. I could only absorb his question, sit with him in his grief and pain, and show in my silence that I did not blame him. His task was to stop condemning himself. 

He quit therapy after a few more sessions when he told me that he was better. He had struggled with confronting his true self, being open to his experience, and realizing the presence of evil in the world. He had dragged his story out from the shadows and created a shared narrative with another human being. Doing so released him from his fear. 

His final words to me as he shook my hand good-bye came from scripture: “Know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 

WAKE UP

June 25, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
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Don’t disregard the evidence. Many people do. Alcoholics tell themselves that they are normal drinkers. The spouses make excuses for them. Ignoring facts only complicates your troubles. Well-meaning friends and even professionals avoid uncomfortable conversations. A physician told one woman that she was the healthiest fat person he’d ever seen. She was proud of that pronouncement and disregarded that she weighed 350 pounds.

The denial of your experience prevents you from being fully aware. When you are open to yourself, your environment and others, magic comes alive once again. Your memory is more connected to what is truly important for you. Concentration is improved and feels effortless. You’ll understand yourself and others in a new light.

The cost for this benefit is honesty. Look in the mirror and describe who you see. Can you do that without being a harsh judge? Self evaluation doesn’t overlook problem areas, but brings them to light to allow change to happen. See if you can be kind to yourself this next month, and less judgmental.

Time flows like a river and sweeps you along

February 21, 2016 by · Leave a Comment
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You might struggle to install the latest time management software to enable you to do more in less time. Did you take that speed reading course on the Internet? Your effort to squeeze the most out of life, whether that is in terms of business accomplishments or personal relationships, requires that you make choices. You will do best to be mindfully present in the moment.

Time flows on its own whether you are in a boat, swimming freestyle, or standing on the shore. You have probably experienced each of these at some time. Time mangers climb into the boat. They can observe, collect data, analyze it and grab the rudder. The swimmers know the cold of the water, the feel of the stony bottom, and the force pushing around boulders that inhabit the middle of life. Those standing on the shore watch as life passes by.

Each position brings certain advantages, and along with it, risks. Your first task is to be honest with yourself as to where you are. Next, you have to ask yourself what makes you afraid to change? Your basic fear will influence your behavior throughout your life. Human nature desires the stability of solid ground, but time demands that you keep up with it. In doing so, you grow; in standing on shore, you are left behind.

Time to get in the water! Your choice: boat, raft, inner tube, or skinny dip.

 

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