Fxxk Everything And Run
False Evidence Appearing Real
Finding Excuses And Reasons
There are numerous acronyms for fear; some more useful than others. They can help us gain a little insight into the feeling we all know, and yet often find hard to describe or even understand where it is coming from. In this article, I focus on how we, as psychosynthesis therapists, interact with our clients’ fear. For instance, do we try and sweep it away or can we let it be present in our work? To what extent is fear part of our client’s survival mechanism or a clue to their potential? What is our own relationship to fear, and how does this affect us as therapists?
Hard-wired into our primate brains is a fight-or-flight response, part of our ancestral survival instinct. The amygdala is at the centre of the brain, and is always on the lookout for danger. Interestingly, a study conducted on rats in which the amygdala was switched off, found that the rats completely lost their fear in the face of predators. So you can see what a vital role fear plays in keeping us alive in the face of danger.
Fear’s function of alerting us to danger can of course become a serious problem, especially in today’s world of constant anxiety-provoking news and information. There are so many things that will set fear into motion, which can result in us becoming addicted to this state of high alert. The continuous injections of cortisol, activated by the amygdala keep us running for cover or getting into scrapes, or at the very least becoming stressed-out and anxious.
So how, as therapist’s can we work with our clients’ fear? In psychosynthesis we may ask, who is fearful within me? Is it all of me? Can I feel and experience the fear and yet recognise that it is not all of me? This art of identifying with a strong emotion, in order to dis-identify with it, can play a major role in our work with clients. The realisation that we can allow something to be present without having to be overpowered by it, can sometimes be profound.
In my experience, fearful clients tend to have a strong critical voice which steps in to take care of the Vulnerable Child aspect of themselves. When we become aware of this Critic in the client, we must be very careful to honour this aspect of the client’s defence system - it has been trying to keep the client protected from fear. However, the Critic’s methods are outdated and don’t work in the long term because all the Vulnerable Child needs now is to be met and seen in its full vulnerability. Nonetheless, to get close to the Child we must first honour its protector.
Much of the initial work with clients focusses on creating the therapeutic alliance, which will be necessary as we approach their wounding. If the alliance has been created with care, the relationship will tolerate the stronger feelings of fear and shame as they inevitably arise, and the client will allow us to visit these feelings. In these moments, we are witnessing and experiencing our client in a place they have guarded vehemently for years. This is arguably one of the greatest gifts we offer as therapists.
Rupture and Repair
Inevitably we are going to fail the client at some point during the process. This was something I used to find unbearable to think about; “What me? Such a nice, empathic therapist, fail my client?”. In fact, I found very skilful ways of avoiding this ‘rupture’ because ultimately, I was fearful of it. These days I’m more open minded to the power of rupture and believe it contains the re-enactment of the client’s wound. If the wound can be safely re-enacted with the therapist, I believe there can be great healing potential for the client.
For example, I was challenged by a client about a comment I had made in a previous session regarding the neglectful circumstances surrounding my client’s birth. He waited until the session was almost over to tell me (with a lot of persuasion) that he was feeling angry with me, since he had interpreted my comment to mean there was no hope for him. My immediate reaction was one of intense shame and fear, and a desire to defend myself. I wanted to explain my previous comment to him and keep myself in the ‘good therapist/parent’ role. But I remembered the importance of rupture, and began to allow his anger to play out, being as honest as I could about how his anger was making me feel. In the next session, we examined how familiar both the anger and the feelings of fear I described to him were, that he was often angry with that more vulnerable part of himself. In the acceptance of my own fear and willingness to express it, the Vulnerable Child was finally seen and the repair from the rupture had begun.
Fear is something we all seek to avoid, and most of us have developed many subtle and not-so-subtle ways of masking our fear, supressing our fear, or expressing our fear in destructive ways. Ultimately, healing only occurs when we can allow both ourselves and others (or at least, our therapist) to get a good look at our fear from all angles, thus beginning the process of understanding, expressing and eventually owning the parts of ourselves we would rather not acknowledge.
Greg Donaldson is currently undertaking his Masters in Psychosynthesis Psychotherapy and researching the phenomena of ‘Resistance in the Therapy Room’. If you are a qualified psychosynthesis therapist and would be interested in taking part in the study please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org