The fear that shows up in love relationships is really hard to detect. It is not what one would normally recognize as fear. It is disguised as lots of different (seemingly real and justified) feelings and behaviors that make fear the very last thing we would consider to be interfering with love. If we don’t know that fear is causing the trouble, it is very challenging to make any real progress toward loving and being loved the way we want, the way that will serve to enrich our lives, inspire growth and create the platform to do and be all we want in this life. In this section of David Richo’s book, a number of ways fear manifests are discussed, so I am going to go through them with my own observations to give you an idea of how to detect whether any fear is showing up in your love.
David Richo says: “Fear can make it impossible to feel all our feelings. The person we describe as shut down, cold, distant, may really be afraid” (p. 116). That makes a whole of sense as to why it is difficult to recognize the fear. A person may experience or seem as if they feel nothing. David Richo talks about this manifestation of fear as the fear of self-disclosure. He describes it as a fear of letting others know how you really feel and who you really are. It looks like not sharing your true responses, thoughts, needs. It might look like staying focused on other people in your relationships, only sharing certain parts of yourself when it is your turn to participate in the relationship. There may be benign reasons as to why you are this way, but ultimately, what is happening is that the parts of you that are so loveable, your vulnerability and realness, are hidden. As long as that is hidden, it will be challenging to experience true connection.
Another way that David Richo talks about fear showing up in love is through sexual connection. He talks about fear potentially being present in the use of sex to bypass true intimacy or showing up where any affection turns into a sexual exchange. It creates another place to focus besides being emotionally intimate. He also talks about how it a lack of sexual interest in a partner may be, in fact, an expression of the fear of self-disclosure. While initial romance can suspend the fear, as the relationship begins to demand more authenticity, it may be too threatening to continue and this fear may show up in not feeling like you desire your partner. Again, fear is tricky, right? I know that people describe the lack of interest as so real and seemingly unrelated to the emotion of fear.
Another fear that shows up in love relationships is the fear of other people’s feelings. David Richo says this feels like walking on eggshells around someone else. We have all felt this at some point or another. But what if you are living like that constantly? David Richo says that there are three possibilities for why we might be afraid of someone else’s feelings: 1. Because they are afraid 2. You are being triggered by this person 3. You are meeting the dark or shadow side of the person you love, or they may be reflecting your shadow (parts of yourself that are hidden from you). Wouldn’t you agree that this kind of fear probably interferes experiencing loving feelings for your partner? This fear likely requires work from both sides to resolve, but, certainly, even one person working on this will be helpful.
So, David Richo has given us some places to check to see if fear is showing up. Take a moment to be a witness of your own relationship or past relationships. Are there themes around what behaviors coincide with relationships ending or relationships being disrupted? Can you look to see if, instead of it being the other person’s fault or blaming circumstances, maybe you experienced some fear? It is not an indication of weakness, just an affirmation, that, yes, you are human. Big deal! Can you be humble with it, be curious and not drive it away with denial, shame or rejection? Can you accept your whole experience? If you can, even just for a couple of minutes at a time, you have an awesome chance at loving fully…
I’ll leave you with David Richo’s recommendations about how to let love in: admit the fear, feel it fully, move forward as if this fear were not interfering (that means stay present with the discomfort, when you want to make that excuse to leave or rush to sex…stay and hold the embrace for a moment longer or hold your partners’ gaze and take a breath). That way you teach your body and your mind that you fully accept the response it has and that, simultaneously, you are safe. David Richo says: “The daily moment and the daily inch impacts exponentially as time goes by because you are teaching your body one cell at a time: ‘You don’t have to be so afraid anymore’.” (p. 135).
*This post is written in response to a section in David Richo's book "When Love Meets Fear: Becoming Defense-Less and Resource-Full".