By Steven T. Padgitt, Ph.D.

The planet is ruled by it. It dominates each individual's waking state and permeates sleep-time through our dreams. I am not speaking of the "F" word within the context, of sexual obscenity, though my "F" word may feel vulgar to those plagued by its intense and chronic impact. Furthermore, we are not the only beings dominated by it. Finally, it appears that nearly all animals on our planet contend with it. Yes, it is FEAR.. This basic and instinctual experience guides and often rules our lives. Typically, the more we feel it the more we are dominated by undesirable behavior and consciousness.

Fear and related behavior may or may not appear fearful to the casual observer. For example, repetitive aggression that might be called macho is often a neat and not so tidy cover for fear. It is frequently linked to traumatic childhood experience. Fear may also be covered up by an apparent lack of caring. For example, an individual who attains a certain level of emotional closeness and then decides s/he doesn't want to be involved any more may be responding to unconscious fear of rejection or abandonment.

There are many other ways in which unwarranted fear can show itself as well. We are all impacted by it frequently and consistently both within and external to intimate relationships with others. For example, and external to the context of intimate relationships, think of the last time you were driving in rush hour traffic and were forced to stop quickly. Did you feel the rush of fear/adrenaline fill your body? Fear strikes again.

Although it has the potential to keep us alert and safe from danger, more frequently than not fear holds us captive and restricts us from effective and free personal functioning. The more it impacts our daily lives, however covert or unconsciously, the more emotionally imprisoned we are.

Releasing ourselves from the dilemma of unwarranted fear demands that first we recognize its existence, whether we are aware of its presence through conscious experience, or more indirectly by observing our own behavior. In turn, this may require that we examine and learn to see how certain behavior is maladaptive or self defeating. For example, a man found that each time he engaged himself in an intimate relationship, he would unwittingly find ways to create emotional distance and force the woman to go elsewhere in search of loving intimacy. This was not something he was even conscious of doing until he examined the patterns of his relationships with women, through the course of psychotherapy. Once he became aware of the pattern and was able to see it in action he gained control of this self defeating style.

In a global way it can be said that psychotherapy is about the "F" word. Self defeating behaviors, thoughts and feelings are, often if not always, ultimately driven by fear. The life experiences that have created the fearful responses are explored in therapy and the resulting understandings lead to an enhanced ability to make personal change rather than adhering to the natural tendency to resist it.