Named must your fear be, before banish it you can

Yep, that’s Yoda. Okay, not the most recognised of psychological muses in the world, but there is a wisdom here. I never really got into Star Wars. It was just not my thing, which meant I did not pay that much attention – which made it all too confusing. It took me a while to work out if the Empire were good guys or bad guys! I think Luke was on the other side. And then the prequel arrived and we learnt that our favourite bad guy started out as a good guy. But I always had a soft spot for Yoda the Jedi knight trainer.Courage in action

George Lucas wrote Yoda’s oft quoted words of wisdom (there are websites just of his quotes) and has proven he was well qualified to do so. He has become a force to be reckoned with (small pun intended) as few writers and filmmakers have equalled his success which includes the creation of the Indiana Jones franchise as well as the Star Wars empire.

For me, psychotherapy is simply accelerated personal growth. Fixing the problem that brings people into therapy is just the beginning for me. My main job is fixing the dynamics that allowed the problem to flourish. Many problems grow in the void of meaninglessness. Like choking out weeds by watering and fertilising a lawn, pursuing one’s meaning and purpose in life will choke out many problems in life that will otherwise happily grow in their place. To do this I tap into the power of helping my patient become the person they were meant to be.

There is no force I can harness greater than the power of allowing one’s “potential person” to come out and reign. This is the beginning of authoring one’s life. My greatest nemesis in this work with people is fear. People fear all sort of things – from change, to failure, to success. Or their fears may be more specific like, “If I do that he will reject me,” or “If I speak up I might lose my job.” In weight management, so often they are fears like, as one of my patients explained, “If I can lose weight, people will expect more from me.”

Finding the courage to overcome our fears is, of course, the challenge. While there are many ways in therapy that I work to mobilise someone’s courage, naming their fear very specifically is the first step. Once a person knows precisely what they fear, surprisingly frequently, this is enough. It is as if people say to themselves, ‘Now I know you, I’m not going to let you hold me back from what is my right.’ This is the most healthy part of our Ego as it says, ‘You can’t beat me. I deserve more.’

Whenever something is holding you back, start by naming it. For the clinicians who read my blog, when you are stuck in your work with someone, go looking for the fear behind it. Once you find it, elaborate and tease out the fear in all its glory. Once this is done, then I will leave my patient with a thought like this: ‘Remind yourself that this is the fear that stops you from doing what you need to do. Give yourself time to find the courage to confront it – it will come.’

It is as if the courage of personal growth inevitably grows over time, once it has a target. I think it is fed by the feeling of letting ourselves down – but only for as long as this awareness lives in our consciousness.  This is the key for me – holding our fears in our consciousness – resisting the powerful drive to forget them. By not naming our fear, it remains undefined and thereby elusive and the ‘courage-growth’ process cannot even begin.

Maybe Yoda would have put it this way: Grow over time, inevitably your courage will, once focussed it is.

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