Love and Fear

I’m going to be spending a week at this beautiful spot next week – away from the incessant, assaultive  demands of electronics and media.  I know I’ll laugh at myself the first time my friend, David, and I have a discussion about something and I’ll wonder, “Who was it that said that?” and I’ll reach f025or my phone to Google the answer and then realize that this is exactly why I was there in the first place – not to be near a cell phone tower.  I know what books I’ll bring with me and I’m planning the menus for the five nights.  Maybe the best thing about camping is how everything tastes great – franks and beans…you name it.  One thing that I will welcome next week is a respite from the aura of fear that has descended like a thick, gray blanket on our public consciousness.

Public fear is much like the private fear I see in my office on a daily basis.  I am convinced that the driving force that unsettles so many marriages and intimate relationships is quite simply – fear.  It may be the fear of something concrete and nameable.  However, usually what I observe is more something that lies deeper within us.  When that attachment bond – upon which our inner security seems to depend – is shaken – is cast into serious doubt – we shift into a desperate, often ragged, attempt to regain that safety.  This comes in many forms.  I have seen these efforts expressed as rage, as utter abandonment hijacks one person’s well-being.  I have seen it, as well, in the silent withdrawal of the partner who, like Boticelli’s St. Sebastian, feels riddled with the arrows of criticism and unhappiness aimed at them by their partner.  One thing is certain.  The intensity of the fear is directly proportional to the level of anger, judgment or withdrawal.  When we are fearful, we react.  Our only goal at that moment is safety.  Abraham Maslow, in his famous Hierarchy of Needs, identified “safety” as a primary need, after basic physiological sustenance.  If we are starving, the only thing we need – that which dominates and overwhelms our consciousness – is food.  That need being satisfied, we are able to summon the psychological resources to seek out higher needs, which ends with living the highest expression of ourself in this life.  However, second in Maslow’s pyramid is “safety” and, just as with food and shelter, if this need is threatened, we will mobilize all we have available to us to satisfy that need.  Only when the anxiety – the fear – is abated, can we turn to higher, better, ends.  On the personal level, this includes listening and empathizing with the worries and fears of our partner.  On a broader level, it is building a more inclusive and tolerant society.

Years ago I heard a colleague share what seemed at the time to be an overly simplistic personal equation. That was my mistake.  He said, “We are motivated either by love or fear.  Fear distances us from love, but love, when embraced, will vanquish fear.”  This love isn’t simply sexual love or being “in love.” It is an opening of our heart to another person.  It is the certainty that whatever another person may need, fundamentally, we have inside of us to provide.  We have the power – the capacity – to ease another’s pain – and their fear.  When I see that realization gleam in the eye of an individual in relationship distress, that distress always lessens.  I witness love conquering fear.  I’m going to mull on that further in the mountains next week, away from the noxious fog of fear that is being pumped into our society during this terribly overheated election year.

On Vulnerability, Safety and Cats

catFirst, let me be clear, I am a dog person.  I am allergic to cats and never understood them.  I tip my cap to the feline fans.  Why do I mention this?  Read on and you will understand.

So much can be gained through the safety engendered by personal disclosure.  It is undeniable that when we get to know another person, we are less likely to succumb to stereotypes and projections of what is going on inside of them.  In his excellent book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni notes that the first step towards establishing a cohesive team is the establishment of trust.  He tells us that the barrier to this trust is the need to appear invulnerable.  The solution: Display some vulnerability.  How to do this?

Well, in the work-world an abundance of vulnerability is unwise and unnecessary.  Yet, even such seemingly bland disclosures as where one grew up and their number of siblings can be a low-risk and valuable instrument of bonding.  I recently was privileged to run a retreat for a local collaborative group and that simple “share” opened the door to later, much more significant personal disclosures about the relationships within the group.  In Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, the real breakthroughs of connection come when enough safety has been created as a platform, allowing the individuals to open up long withheld (often even from themselves) yearnings and vulnerabilities.  These, of course will go quite a bit deeper than those aforesaid workplace disclosures.

Some months ago the New York Times ran a story about a study by psychologist Arthur Aron, which held that “sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure” deepened relationships.  In order to demonstrate the power of this hypothesis, Aron crated 36 questions which he said were guaranteed to jump-start the deepening of intimacy in any relationship.  They are in three clusters, each diving a bit deeper than the one before.  Cluster 1 Questions include: Would you like to be famous?  In what way? and Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say?  Why?  Cluster 2 Questions include: What is your most treasured memory?  and  How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?  Cluster 3 Questions include: Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share ______” and What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?   Here is the article and those 36 questions.

Now AS FOR CATS.  Clearly, this does not work only for human relationships as you can clearly see in this YouTube video.