Build Your Bridge

by Adrian W. Hall, MFT, ATR

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I’ve talked in lots of different posts about David Richo’s program for handling fear: admit it, feel it and act as if it weren’t there.  That’s what there is to do with fear.  And, by this time, you know that fear is simply part of being human.  Let’s go ahead and accept that, we can go so much further if we can go with the givens of human nature.  So, today, I want to tell you a little bit more about why David Richo’s program for handling fear works. 

The whole idea is to override the neurotic fear (of closeness, abandonment, rejection, success, failure, others’ perceptions) that inevitability shows up in our lives.  Let’s look at little closer about why it is important to admit the fear.  First of all, we know that the kind of fear David Richo is talking about is the kind of fear that is hard to detect.  Given that, the author suggests we need to be generous and admit that it is probably a little bit more present than we estimate.  Wasting our energy on minimizing or rationalizing is exactly that: a waste.  If you are committed to moving forward and growing in your life (why else would you read something like this?), you don’t want to be wasting energy staying stuck.  David Richo actually recommends admitting it out loud to someone when you are afraid.  You might be resistant to this if you tend to be more private and reserved, so let me share this with you:  “Each admission whittles away at the ego and deflates its pretense of being in control” (p. 148).  See Evolution of the Ego for why it is important for the ego to know it is not in control.  The ego is the one that has all the limiting, neurotic fears.  While we need the ego, we want to have it do its healthy, functioning work, not hold us back from love.

Ok, let’s check out the second step: feel it.  Look, I am a therapist.  I spend a lot of time outside my office working on this kind of stuff because I love it so much and believe it is so valuable.  AND, this is the hardest step for me.  All of the sudden, fear is present and I am trying to avoid the discomfort and find relief.  What actually needs to happen is to stop avoiding it.  But it is like the avoiding starts happening before I even know the fear is there sometimes.  So, sometimes I have to just notice that I am engaging in avoidant behaviors (I have some favorites, you probably do too!) and that is how I realize I am afraid.  From there, I can back up and employ the program. 

What’s in it for you to feel it?  Consider this:  “Feelings are always flowing in through us and we do not see them—as waves are flowing now but we are not watching them.  When something happens, we are dragged to the beach and notice the waves!” (p. 149).  That means the energy of feelings is something that is always occurring.  To be cut off from that is to be cut off from power that is naturally inside you, it would mean that you would not be aware of or able to utilize a large percentage of your power.  It’s like you have a million dollars in the bank and you can’t access it and are not doing anything with it except having it sit there earning .00001%.  The other reason why it benefits you to be able to feel it is that the better you get at this, the less you need your vices (avoidant behaviors/addictions) and the less you are dependent on your partner for your well-being.  The less you are pulling on them.  When I see couples, the more they are able to land on what they are contributing to the “problem” in the relationship and work on themselves rather than blaming their partner, the more successful they are (meaning the stronger their relationship, the more fulfilled they are, the more love they feel).  So feel it.  Let the sadness be there.  Don’t fix it.  Let the fear be there, go on with your day anyway.  If you have a spare moment, don’t distract yourself.  Just experience the discomfort.  I promise it will pass by.  It is as impermanent as a rainbow.  Clearly there, but just light and will disappear in a moment.  I like how David Richo says this:  “Fear is the porcupine you see on the trail as you hike; interesting to you but not stopping you and not to be eliminated since it belongs to the ecology of the psychic path” (p. 150).

Finally, the third step: act as if the fear weren’t there.  Consider that acting despite your fear sends a message to your body that you are safe and it generates fearlessness.  For example, when someone is having a panic attack, slow and deep breathing works to physiologically send a message to the body that they are safe because they would not be able to breathe like that if there were actual danger.  Every time you do that, David Richo says you build a bridge of fearlessness.  As was discussed earlier in the book, fear gets encoded physiologically.  David Richo says:  “Every time you act as if you were not afraid, you instruct your cells to let go of fear.  Every time you rationalize it away and do not act, the fear is instructed to leave everything as it is” (p. 149).  So why not build that bridge of fearlessness?  The thing is that we can.  The capacity is fully there.

*This post is written in response to a section in David Richo's book "When Love Meets Fear: Becoming Defense-Less and Resource-Full".