An Interview with Thom Rutledge
A MESSAGE FROM THE AUTHOR OF EMBRACING FEAR
Having written about addiction recovery, self-forgiveness, self-respect and personal responsibility, I was grateful for the opportunity to dive deeper beneath it all and write about what I think of as the big common denominator for us all: fear. In my 30 years as a psychotherapist and 60+ years on the planet, I have come to believe that who we are as individuals, as communities, as nations, and as a species is predominantly determined by how we deal with fear.
Fear is universal. Natural, healthy fear is the best friend we will ever have, and neurotic fear is the arch-villain of our existence. Beneath every troubling thought and emotion we have ever had and will ever have, in the deepest part of any psychological wound, there you will find it: fear.
My hope, as with all of my books, is that Embracing Fear will be both beneficial and enjoyable to read. As a psychotherapist I always encourage my clients to see the humor and have some fun as they travel the often-difficult roads less traveled. As I tell the stories of some of those clients and of my own personal growth travels, I hope that same attitude is conveyed.
Most of us will have little choice in how we die, but we all choose how we will live. And the choices we make about how to face, or not face, our fears are the most important choices of all. I hope that Embracing Fear can contribute something useful to your travels and to your choices. Let me know what you think.
- Thom Rutledge
Martha Hall Bowman was the publisher of Life in the Midwest Magazine at the time of her interview with Thom Rutledge.
Martha is certified as a music therapist. Martha and Thom are currently collaborating on a guided visualization audio program. For more information about or to purchase Martha's album, Connect the Hearts: http://www.amazon.com/Martha-Hall/e/B000APQ478
Martha Hall (MH): Why “embrace” fear? It seems more logical to “avoid” fear or to “confront” fear.
Thom Rutledge (TR): The choice of the word “embrace” is very deliberate. If you imagine “avoidance” at one end of a continuum and “confrontation” at the other end, you won’t even find “embracing” on the same continuum. This book is about thinking outside the box of our usual conceptions about dealing with fear. Embracing fear is about accepting that fear is a very real part of being human, and about making a decision to benefit from it rather than letting it drive us into a life of dread and avoidance.
MH: The whole concept seems backwards. What do you mean by “benefit from fear?”
TR: First, fear is not necessarily a bad or negative thing. It is important that we learn to distinguish between healthy, productive fear and unhealthy, negative --- or neurotic --- fear.
MH: What is the difference?
TR: I don’t know ----- Just kidding. There are several important differences, but the neurotic fear (in the book I characterize neurotic fear as a school yard Bully, always trying to intimidate us) we are extremely inefficient with our energy. Living in that kind of fear is exhausting, while responding to healthy fear is energizing. Healthy fear acts as a motivator, or as fuel, to move us from one place to another. In other words, healthy fear (and this is true of all healthy emotions) helps us to change something. And like fuel, once its job is done, it is no longer there; it burns itself off. Neurotic fear, on the other hand, is extremely uncomfortable, but does not motivate us to make positive changes. With neurotic fear, we tend to remain stuck and paralyzed --- even in the midst of frantic activity. When we are being controlled by the neurotic fear (in the book I characterize neurotic fear as a school yard Bully, always trying to intimidate us) we are extremely inefficient with our energy. Living in that kind of fear is exhausting, while responding to healthy fear is energizing.
MH: So it is to our advantage to heed the advice and guidance of healthy fear. Is there any benefit to unhealthy fear?
TR: Absolutely, but the approach to that is different. I teach people how to identify the voice of neurotic fear --- The Bully --- and then how to reduce its credibility. The essence of my work is about translating all of this into a relationship metaphor. Bottom line: since it is not reasonable to think we can get rid of fear, we need to turn our attention to changing our relationship with it.
MH: In your book you offer quite a few specific techniques for readers. One of my favorites was your suggestion that we make a list of role models.
TR: Yes, and like lots of the techniques in this work, this idea is very simple, but has the potential to be very powerful. Too often we know far more about what we don’t want in life than we know about what we do want. Identifying role models helps us to formulate an image of where we want to go, specifically how we want to change, rather than just wanting to be “anywhere but here.”
MH: Who are some of your role models for dealing with fear?
TR: I have lots of role models. I’m kind of a “role model opportunist.” I like the idea of learning by observing others. My wife is a role model for me especially when it comes to being assertive. Having come from a very fear-based, don’t-rock-the-boat family, I have really needed to see what it looks like to stand up for yourself while remaining reasonable and respectful.
In the book I tell the story of my work with a client during the last year of her life --- Kirby. Kirby became and remains a role model for me about what it means to really be alive, and a role model for how to die when my time comes. I hope I can demonstrate the kind of intelligence and emotional honesty she showed me when that time does come.
MH: Do role models need to be people we know personally?
TR: Not at all. I think it is a good idea to look for role models in our personal lives, because they are all around us, but people in the public eye can make excellent role models. Christopher Reeve is an excellent example. And more recently, Michael J. Fox. I have been reading his new book, Lucky Man, and he certainly has a lot to teach about courage in the face of frightful circumstances.
MH: What do you hope readers will take from your book?
TR: My wife says that I always seem more pleased when someone tells me they enjoyed one of my books, than when someone says they learned from it. I think the two go hand in hand and I really hope that readers will be simultaneously entertained and inspired by Embracing Fear. What any one of us takes away from a book, or a therapy session, or any conversation for that matter, is entirely subjective. The work of personal growth is all collaborative in nature as far as I am concerned, and that includes reading inspirational and self-help books. Ask me that question later when I have had time to hear from some readers about what they are getting from the book.