Read Thom Rutledge’s Book "Embracing Fear" (81/366)

“To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom”
Bertrand Russell

I’ve always been kind of a worrier. I wouldn’t say I’m obsessive about it, but I’m certainly not as laid-back as Nick is. For example, in making an important decision, I always like to do a ton of research, collect all the information I can possibly get, weigh as many possible outcomes of a situation as I can, and then make an informed choice … but many times, it seems like all that work just causes me more anxiety. I guess I get wrapped up in “analysis paralysis” and then when it comes time to make the decision, sometimes I feel that, while I’ve done all this research, and that I am making a good decision, I also partly just make one to get out from under the avalanche of information I’ve piled on myself – and then I can’t help but second-guess my choice.

I also worry about my family and friends and their well-being, about the future and what it holds; all the unknowns in life. I guess everyone does at times, but I do feel that there have been occasions when my worrying, or that fear of the unknown, or fear of failing, has caused me to hold back, to not push myself as hard as I knew I could, and I very well could have missed out on great opportunities because of that.

I think part of this habit of worry and fear of the unknown comes from being the youngest child, and being the only girl; although my parents raised me and my brothers pretty equally, I was for the most part more protected than the boys. I still remember one occasion when my parents wouldn’t let me go see a special screening of Walt Disney’s “Bambi” at the neighborhood theater with the kids from the family next door, even though I was older than their youngest boy, and he was allowed to go.

A few years ago, I saw the book “Embracing Fear” by Thom Rutledge at a Borders bargain table, and thought it looked interesting. It had been sitting on my shelf ever since, and I had never gotten around to reading it until today. Well, there’s no time like the present, huh? I cracked it open this morning.

One major note: I really appreciate how Rutledge’s style is not the stereotypical namby-pamby, “love your soul, think happiness and light and it will manifest itself with no effort on your part, wrap yourself in a magical blanket of protectiveness” self-help drivel or psychobabble. He’s been through a tough life, he knows that you have to work at happiness, and though he’s been a mental health professional for decades, he doesn’t claim to know all the answers – he notes that learns just as much from his clients as they do from him plenty of times – and that attitude toward life and knowledge is one that I share. That being said, if you’re at all interested in reading this book, you can rest assured that while the points I outline below may seem silly to the skeptical, they are effective (Rutledge talks about that in the book, too – some things may seem corny at first, but if they work, they work – and goal is progress).

Some neat key points in the book:

“Personifying” Your Fear ~ There’s a normal, healthy type of fear that keeps you (hopefully) from jumping off the roof of your house “pro-wrestling style”, and then there’s irrational fear – the kind that keeps you from going for that promotion at work because you think you won’t get it, or even worse, that keeps you from even applying for a job because you feel you’re not good enough. Rutledge says that giving these two very different types of fear personas – the healthy one being your “Ally”, and the irrational one being more of a “Bully”, helps you to define them more clearly, to separate them, and to see them for what they are, instead of wrapping all fear together into a confusing mass, or wall that hinders you from making good choices for yourself.

Saying “No” To Fear ~ Fear will always be a factor in life; there’s no denying that, and it’s silly to think otherwise. People with absolutely no fear are known not as fearless to most … rather, they’re probably thought of as foolish – or at the very least, kidding themselves. Saying “no” to fear means that you feel the fear, understand and accept it, and respond to it rationally. Instead of, “I can’t ask for a raise – I won’t get it. I’m worthless. What’s wrong with me? I’m a loser,” processing the fear you might experience will result in something closer to, “If I ask for that raise, I may not get it. I’ll feel disappointed. I may feel embarrassed. But if I don’t get it, I can ask what I can do better. I’m going to ask for the raise.”

The “Ladder Technique” ~ Rutledge uses a technique with his clients to help in breaking down fears, and getting to the bottom of them. Like the example above, if the person gets denied a raise, the fear is that they’ll feel disappointed and embarrassed. Sometimes just identifying what specific fears are involved helps when trying to process what might be holding you back, and sometimes they lead to deeper fears, which is where the ladder technique is really valuable. The same example from above might be more like, “If I ask for the raise, I may not get it. If I don’t get it, I’ll feel like I’m not valued at the company. If I feel I’m not valued at the company, I’ll feel I’m not valued at all. If I’m not valued at all, what am I doing with my life?” It may sound silly, and that ladder might seem a bit extreme, but I think we’ve all had similar, irrational thoughts like that, and a lot of people push all that aside and either try not to think about it, or some unfortunate few wallow in it – and yet, really don’t go through the process of evaluating it. The ladder example here may mean that the person’s main concern is not really the promotion, or the job even, but his or her direction or purpose in life. The ladder technique helps to point to the bigger issue – the initial issue is just the tip of the iceberg – there may be a fear acting as a vague vice constricting us or dark cloud hovering over us – and finding the base of it all can truly be enlightening, and empowering.

Pushing Through The Wall ~ A very powerful exercise Rutledge uses with clients (here in a much more brief explanation than in the book) is to have them imagine a brick wall in front of them – to make it as real as possible in their minds – to see the texture of the bricks, to “touch” the wall, to imagine what’s on the other side … then to think about how the wall is big, but the bricks are small, and that the mortar is of their own making. They then imagine what would happen if they destroyed that wall – would they step through? How would they proceed? Finally, they’re led to put their hands on the wall … and then to push through it and see what’s on the other side … to revel in that, and to see that there is a horizon … and there are also other walls. The neat thing about this exercise is that in a nutshell, the mortar is fear, and the bricks are life. And there isn’t just one “Wall of Fear” that Rutledge is leading you to believe you have to push through, and then your world will be fear-free and perfect. There will always be walls, and you have to learn to push through them. And the best way to do that, is to understand your fears, to be able to embrace them, and accept them, to feel the fear, and to not let it stop you from going forward.

I really enjoyed this book, and I’m glad I finally read it. It’s nice to see examples of a lot of things I’ve thought about, in black and white, to know that I’m not the only one who feels these things, and also that there are plenty of great ways to be able to Face, Explore, Accept, and Respond to the many exciting challenges in life. I really feel the concepts I’ve read about in this book have helped me to understand my relationship with fear, and that I’m much better equipped to handle challenging (read: scary) situations now. With practice of the techniques in this book, and an attitude of embracing fear, accepting it, and moving through it, I’ll learn to not worry so much. I’d definitely recommend this read – even if you don’t feel you have “issues” with fear, there’s something in it for everyone.

Related Links:
“Embracing Fear” (Amazon, Used)


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