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Table of Contents
 
Praise
Title Page
Copyright Page
Dedication
Acknowledgements
Epigraph
Introduction
WHY THIS BOOK?
ABOUT THIS BOOK
 
PART I - Preparation
 
CHAPTER 1 - To Feel or Not to Feel
 
A PHOBIA OF SORTS
RECOGNIZING THE SIGNS
TO BE OR NOT TO BE
 
CHAPTER 2 - How the Heck Did IGet This Way?
 
WHAT WENT WRONG?
IN THE BEGINNING
I AM A ROCK, I AM AN ISLAND
IT’S ALL IN YOUR HEAD
THE ROAD MORE TRAVELED
KAREN’S BRAIN
HOW’S THE WEATHER INSIDE?
UNWRITTEN RULES
MY HOUSE
UPGRADING THE WIRING
AND A ROCK FEELS NO PAIN; AND AN ISLAND NEVER CRIES
 
PART 2 - Taking Action
CHAPTER 3 - STEP ONE Becoming Aware of Your Feelings
 
WHEN IGNORANCE IS NOT BLISS
EMOTIONAL MINDFULNESS
IT JUST DOES THAT SOMETIMES
LEFT OR RIGHT, WHICH WAY SHOULD I GO?
CHOICES, CHOICES, CHOICES
BACK TO BASICS
LET’S TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT
TUNING IN TO YOUR FEELINGS
 
CHAPTER 4 - STEP ONE, CONTINUED Becoming Aware of Your Defenses
 
WHAT’S GOING ON?
LINES OF DEFENSE
THE SHAPE OF THINGS
EVERY TIME WE SAY GOOD-BYE
GETTING TO KNOW YOU
DEFENSES IN ACTION
FEELINGS CAN BE DEFENSIVE TOO
NOW WHAT?
 
CHAPTER 5 - STEP TWO Taming the Fear
 
DAY OF RECKONING
BEYOND YOUR DEFENSES
BACK TO THE BRAIN
PAUSE FOR STATION IDENTIFICATION
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
KEEP IT SIMPLE
WHEN THINGS AREN’T CLEAR
MINDFUL TRACKING
TAKE A BREATHER
ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE
TAKE HEART
YOUR TURN
 
CHAPTER 6 - STEP THREE Feeling It Through
 
THE NATURE OF THINGS
LET THE RIVER RUN
IT IS WHAT IT IS
ACCEPTING WHAT IS
GETTING IN TOUCH
PAYING ATTENTION
ONE STEP AT A TIME
SLOWING DOWN
GIVING WAY
A WORD (OR TWO) ABOUT ANGER
RIDING OUT THE WAVE
SEEING IT THROUGH
TAKE TIME TO REFLECT
TAKING CARE
 
CHAPTER 7 - STEP FOUR Opening Up
 
A FAMILIAR KIND OF FEAR
GETTING STARTED
HEEDING THE CALL
THE POWER OF WORDS
EXPRESSING YOURSELF
MINDFUL COMMUNICATION
NOT SO HARD AFTER ALL
SOMETHING BETTER
 
CHAPTER 8 - Putting It All Together
 
ALEX: THE GIFT OF GRIEF
LAUREN: BEFRIENDING FEAR
JULIE: MAKING ROOM FOR JOY
BRIAN: UNCOVERING THE ROAD TO REPAIR
KATE: GROWING INTO HAPPINESS
MARK: WAKING UP TO ANGER
FRANK: FINDING THE COURAGE TO LOVE
IN OUR OWN WAY
 
CONCLUSION - Making a Choice
APPENDIX: SEEKING PROFESSIONAL HELP

More Praise for Living Like You Mean It
“Where shall we run if we run from ourselves? This book asks us to look anew at our models of health and happiness and to realize that personal liberation is not possible if we are not at liberty to feel what we feel. Through stories and examples, Ron Frederick walks us through that issue in a way that is simple, clear, and focused and that has a chance to fundamentally change human lives.”
—Steven C. Hayes, foundation professor, Department of Psychology, University of Nevada, and author, Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life
 
“Written like he means it—and clearly he does—Ron Frederick’s book is a gift, written by a master clinician and an amazing person. His heart and soul, his humor and sparkling intelligence, his pathos and practicality, are all there from the great title to the very last word. Down to earth and with a twinkle in his eyes, Ron Frederick is the guide and companion you have been looking for. As he passionately makes clear: you can shed your resignation and vitality and joy can be yours again. And as you journey to reconnect with yourself and those you love—you will not be alone. Step by step, you feel him with you, steady and wise. What a great book! I will recommend it to my patients and friends alike. And, what’s more, I can’t wait to read it again.”
—Diana Fosha, Ph.D., director, the AEDP Institute, and author, The Transforming Power of Affect
 
“Dr. Frederick’s wise and powerful book is an inspiration. It is also a practical guide to help us feel more deeply, face our fears more confidently, and live each moment more fully.”
—Dr. Larina Kase, author, The Confident Leader and the New York Times best seller The Confident Speaker
 
“Dr. Frederick’s first book demonstrates his gift of communicating in an accessible, human, meaningful manner about one of life’s most important mysteries—the true value and purpose of our emotions. He shows us how to navigate the guidance system they provide on the road to happiness, fulfillment, and depth in our lives. Hopefully, this will be the first of many books from this gifted writer.”
—Joseph Bailey, licensed psychologist and best-selling author of Fearproof Your Life and Slowing Down to the Speed of Life
 
“It is a delight to read a book on emotions that integrates so much of the cutting-edge research in brain, body, mind, and attachment. Ron Fredrick has managed to take difficult concepts and translate them into language that is understandable. This is a book for those who seek to reconnect with their own emotions, and with the emotions of people they care about. I highly recommend Living Like You Mean It.
—Marion Solomon, Ph.D., director, Clinical Training, Lifespan Learning Institute, and author, Lean on Me

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To my family,
By birth and by choice

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
WHEN I STARTED DOWN THE PATH OF WRITING this book five years ago, I had no idea what the journey would entail. I couldn’t have gone the distance alone. It is with deep gratitude that I thank the following people who, in their own special way, have helped me make this book a reality:
Dan Ambrosio, my literary agent at Vigliano Associates, for his belief in this project from the beginning; for his energy, enthusiasm, and support; and for shepherding me through this process with aplomb. I couldn’t have asked for a better advocate.
Sheryl Fullerton, my editor at Jossey-Bass, for her deep appreciation and understanding of my message (and helping me convey it in far fewer words); her excellent suggestions; her steady, guiding hand; and her professional integrity. It’s been a joy to work with her.
The wonderful team at Jossey-Bass, for their humanity, hard work, and commitment to excellence.
Katherine Crowley, of K Squared Enterprises, for knowing I had this book in me before I did, for being there for me at just the right moments, and for introducing me to Dan Ambrosio.
Mark Chimsky, Mark Levy, and Mary Carroll Moore, who, early on, lent their literary expertise to the proposal, and helped give it wings.
Larina Kase, of Performance & Success Coaching, for her wonderful guidance, enthusiasm, and generosity.
The many family members, friends, and colleagues who generously read the manuscript at various stages in its development, discussed its content, and provided me with invaluable feedback and encouragement. In particular, Tim Beyer, Kim Frederick, Jackie Frederick-Berner (who also came up with the title, Living Like You Mean It), Diana Fosha, SueAnne Piliero, Sara Beyer (who also created the diagrams in Chapter Four), Donna Fraser, Noah Glassman, Ben Lipton, Natasha Prenn, Danny Yeung, Belinda Boscardin, Stacey Kirchner, Jenny Moore, and Christopher Szarke.
The many teachers and talented therapists who have inspired me, shaped my thinking, and fostered my clinical development. Especially, Diana Fosha, Leigh McCullough, Isabel Sklar, Jill Strunk, Gil Tunnell, Michael Laikin, Terry Sheldon, Maria Derevenco, John Budin, members of the International Experiential Dynamic Therapy Association, and my colleagues at the Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy Institute.
My students, for challenging me to put my thinking and approach into words, inspiring me with their talent and desire to learn, and helping me grow both as a teacher and clinician.
My clients, for allowing me into their hearts and lives, honoring me with their deepest feelings, and inspiring me with their courage. It’s a privilege to be a part of their journeys.
The staff at Park House, for their caring hearts and delightful sense of humor.
Susan Schaefer, trusted guide, for being there when the road got tough and helping me be able to be present for the good stuff.
Diana Fosha, therapist extraordinaire, for teaching me, from the “bottom-up,” about the transforming power of emotion and, in the doing, helped change the course of my life. This book wouldn’t exist had it not been for the work we did together. Her continued support, generosity, and friendship are a gift.
My friends, for their frequent check-ins, words of encouragement, and rescuing me from my laptop.
My family, for their love and support, for their steadfast belief in me, and for making me laugh like no one else.
Finally, Tim Beyer, a better partner I couldn’t have imagined if I tried. I thank him, quite simply, for everything.
To protect confidentiality, the people described in this book are composites of many different clients with whom I have worked. Names and essential identifying characteristics are fictitious, and any resemblance to a single person is coincidental.

The best and most beautiful things in the world
cannot be seen or even touched.
They must be felt with the heart.
—Helen Keller

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INTRODUCTION
Considering THAT YOU’VE PICKED UP THIS BOOK and are reading it right now, it’s probably safe to say that, in some way, you’re feeling dissatisfied with your life. However, when you look at the facts, they don’t quite add up to a life that’s lacking. Your days are busy and full. You have friends, work colleagues, family, maybe even a partner or spouse. Yet something just doesn’t seem right. Something’s missing.
Many of us feel this way. We long to be more alive and present in our lives, more in touch with ourselves, and closer to those we love. Yet no matter what we do, we can’t seem to get there. We wonder why we’re unhappy. Why our relationships aren’t more satisfying. Why life isn’t more gratifying. We wonder, Is this as good as it gets?
Some argue that our busy lives are to blame. We have stressful jobs, work long hours, and endure grueling commutes. We face increased time pressures, household responsibilities, and family demands. We’re too pressed to slow down and live more mindfully. We don’t have the time it takes to get together with friends and family and really invest in our relationships. Our energy is too sapped to allow us to step into our lives in a more meaningful way.
These things may all appear true, but I’m convinced there’s more going on than just being busy.
From my experiences with the many people I’ve seen in my psychotherapy and coaching practice, with the people I encounter in my life both professionally and personally, and in my own life, I’ve come to believe that a big piece of what is making us feel disconnected has to do with fear.
What are we afraid of? The answer may surprise you. We’re afraid of our own feelings.
Our feelings are what make us feel alive and vital, energize us to meet and deal with life’s challenges, and point us in the best direction to get what we really want. Our feelings are what bridge the gap between ourselves and others, enliven our relationships, and help us feel close. And it’s a feelings phobia—our fear of and discomfort with our feelings and our inability to share them with others—that keeps us detached from the wisdom and power inside us, and at a distance from others.
This kind of fear is actually quite common. In fact, most of us are afraid of our feelings. We’re afraid to feel the full extent of our emotions and afraid of being emotionally alive and present with others. We’re afraid of being vulnerable, of drawing attention to ourselves, of looking like a fool. We’re afraid of being overwhelmed, of losing control, of getting out of hand. We’re afraid of being seen for who we really are.
So what do we do? We avoid our feelings and do everything we can to steer clear of them, to keep them hidden. We distract ourselves, push our feelings aside, stuff them back in, and hope they’ll go away.
For Better or Worse
When we suppress our feelings, they don’t just go away. They fester inside, drain us of vital energy, and eventually resurface as
Anxiety
Fear
Hyperactivity
Irritability
Procrastination
Insomnia
Stomach and intestinal problems
Teeth grinding
Relationship problems
Poor self-esteem
Worry
Restlessness
Depression
Lack of motivation
Chronic fatigue
Hypertension
Headaches
Angry outbursts
Sexual difficulties
Emptiness
But they don’t. They keep trying to get our attention, to be heard, to be responded to—that’s their nature. They reemerge as the sense that something is off, odd, or not right; as worry, irritability, restlessness, anxiety, or depression.
Do we listen to them then? No. We work harder at avoiding them. We throw ourselves into our work, or we shop, drink, eat, use drugs, have sex, or exercise fanatically. We talk on our cell phones, send messages on our BlackBerries, surf the Net, play video games, zone out in front of the television. Anything to keep us occupied, distracted. Anything to numb the fear we feel when we get close to our true feelings.
Instead of living like we really mean it, we move ahead on autopilot, only half alive, vaguely aware of what’s going on inside us. We’re clueless about how much we’re getting in our own way, and we wonder why we’re unhappy. Why isn’t life more gratifying? Why aren’t our relationships satisfying? Why do we feel so alone?
Nothing in this picture is going to change until we find the courage to face and share our feelings.

WHY THIS BOOK?

How do I understand this predicament so well? Been there, done that!
For so long, I was fairly out of touch with what I truly felt deep down inside, on a gut level. I had become so afraid of my emotions, of listening to and trusting my true feelings, that I couldn’t hear the voice of my deepest self buried somewhere inside me—the voice that knew what I wanted, knew what I longed for, knew what felt right to me and what felt wrong.
I can say this to you now with the wisdom of hindsight, but at the time, I had no idea what was going on. I had no awareness of how anxious I was under the surface, no sense of how significantly fear was affecting every part of my life. My constant running—from home, to work, to school, to the gym, and home again—was fueled by a deep-seated, underlying fear of my emotions. It was this fear that kept me from my real feelings and prevented me from connecting more deeply with others.
What I was aware of was how alone I felt. Despite my busy life, a partner, friends, family, people I thought I was close to, something was amiss. I’d spend time with people, and afterward I’d walk away feeling empty, longing for connection, but not knowing what got in the way. Was it something I was doing? Was it something I said? Do they just not like me or find me interesting? I couldn’t put my finger on it or figure out why I ended up feeling so alone.
So I kept up a pace, going round and round like a hamster on a wheel, doubting my sense that the relationship I was in just wasn’t right, and running from the feelings I barely knew were there—my deep-seated fears about trusting my heart and moving forward in my life in a more authentic way. I did anything I could to keep from stopping and listening to my inner self, from really being present, because if I were to be still, I would have to face my fears and take the risk of honoring my feelings and claiming my life, and that just felt too scary.
I might have gone on like this forever had I not gotten the help I needed to recognize what, in fact, I really was afraid of—my true feelings—and to learn how to overcome my fears, embrace my emotional self, and really connect with others. I shudder to think where I might be now had I not heeded this wake-up call and begun to open up to my emotions.
In my work, I see so many people who are like I used to be, perhaps like yourself. Most of them have tried to change, have tried for years to do things differently. Some of them have even been in therapy before. But no matter how hard they tried, they weren’t able to achieve any lasting success. Invariably, they ended up repeating the same patterns over and over again. Patterns that kept them cut off from their emotional selves and at a distance from others. Patterns that got them nowhere.
Sound familiar?
The reason for this repetitiveness is clear: no real change in how we feel or how we behave is going to take place until we deal with our feelings. If we really want things to change, if we really want to feel alive and connected to the people in our lives, we’re going to have to learn to connect with and manage our feelings—the sadness we feel at our losses, the anger we feel when we’re wronged, the joy we feel when we triumph, the love we feel when we care deeply, and everything in between.
Now, I know there are plenty of well-meaning people out there who will tell you otherwise. There are numerous books on the market about how to “rise above” your feelings, block them with your thoughts, or transform them through saying affirmations. Unfortunately, these strategies are insufficient and bring only short-term relief. And now we know why.
For years, cognitive science, or the science of the mind, dominated our understanding of the human psyche. Everywhere we turned, the overarching message we received from self-help books, talk shows, advice columns, and even some therapists was something along the lines of just think positive.
Let’s be realistic. If it were that simple, we’d all be better by now, and I’d be running a bed-and-breakfast somewhere on Cape Cod!
Fortunately, in the last few years, there has been a virtual explosion of studies on emotion that are revolutionizing our understanding of how the brain works, develops, and changes. We now know that emotions can play a more powerful role than thoughts in bringing about well-being and lasting change. The reason for this is simple. Our feelings can arise much faster and be more intense than our thoughts. At times, no matter what we do to suppress them or how hard we try to control them, they’ll have the edge. (I’ll say more about why this is so in the next chapter.) In addition, recent discoveries in the field of neuroplasticity—the study of how the brain is able to change its structures and functions—reveal that emotional experience actually has the power to rewire our brain!
Doesn’t it make sense for us to learn how to work with our feelings rather than work against them?
We also now know that as Daniel Goleman says in his best-selling book Social Intelligence, in a very basic way we are “wired to connect.”1 From the time we’re born, it is our innate tendency to connect emotionally with others. And for good reason. The sense of security and safety that comes from emotional closeness is fundamental to our well-being. It provides us with what renowned psychiatrist John Bowlby described as a “secure base,”2 a solid foundation from which we can grow and can explore the world. Relationships not only make us feel good but also enhance our ability to deal with stress and weather life’s travails. They provide innumerable health benefits as well, enhancing immune, cardiovascular, and brain functioning. In fact, people with close, supportive relationships actually live longer!
But there is a qualifier here. What matters most is not how many relationships you have but the quality of your relationships—that is, how emotionally close they are. In short, the closer we are, the more we benefit. And true closeness is possible only when we feel emotionally healthy, open, secure, and aware of our feelings and how they affect us. It thus behooves us to nurture our capacity to feel and connect in a healthy way by becoming more comfortable with our feelings and learning how to share them. If we don’t, we’re destined to feel disconnected and alone.
As you consider that perhaps you’re not as comfortable with your feelings as you thought, the prospect of opening up more deeply to yourself and others may seem scary. I can certainly appreciate your concern. It can be scary. Many things are scary before you try them, but they can become things you later benefit from and enjoy doing, once you see that they aren’t really that threatening. The same thing can happen with your feelings. The more you give them a try, the more you work at connecting to them, the easier the process gets, and the more adept you become at handling them.
So are you going to let fear keep you in the back row of your life, watching it play out before you on a distant movie screen, never really feeling a part of it, never really feeling close to your loved ones? Or would you rather feel more present and engaged in your life? Would you like your life to be more fulfilling?
If you’re willing, I’m here to help. You’ll have to be willing to give it a real shot and take some risks, to roll up your sleeves and get a little dirty, because it does take some work.
And although I can’t promise you that it won’t be painful or get messy at times, I can tell you this: learning to be with and share your feelings will transform your life in ways you never imagined possible. I know this personally, and I see it every day with my clients.
Here’s what I’ve seen when people open up to their feelings:
• Their overall anxiety level is reduced, which brings great relief.
• They no longer feel stuck. Rather, they notice a sense of flow, of movement, of positive energy running through them. It’s an energy that enlivens them, makes them feel stronger and more empowered. An energy that moves them to open up, to break through old barriers, and to experience themselves anew.
• They’re in touch with and able to express their personal truth, a truth they no longer doubt. And by speaking up and giving voice to their feelings, they deepen and improve their relationships. They no longer feel alone.
• Their lives become richer and more gratifying, and they feel a profound sense of meaning, purpose, and belonging.
Ultimately, they come to realize their true potential to feel fully alive, vital, and deeply connected to their experience of themselves, others, and the world.
What greater reward could there be?
It is so gratifying to be part of such an amazing experience, to help someone discover and embrace the wonderful fully feeling person he or she was born to be. Not a day goes by that I’m not deeply moved as yet another person begins to break through the barriers that have kept him or her constricted and to connect with a deeper, fuller self-experience.
The more people I’ve been able to help, and the more I witness the dramatic changes that can take place when we develop the ability to be with and share our feelings, the more I have felt compelled to spread the word to others. I guess you might say that it’s become a mission: to help people overcome their fears, awaken to the emotional richness inside them, and feel more intimately connected to the people in their lives. I am writing this book in the hopes of reaching you as well.

ABOUT THIS BOOK

Living Like You Mean It is designed to help you overcome your fears and be able to use the wisdom and power of your emotions to get the life you really want. I’m going to share with you what I learned and developed over the years, and what I teach my clients every day: a proven four-step approach to overcoming fear and connecting more deeply with yourself and others.
This book is divided into two sections. The first section, “Preparation,” lays the foundation for the action steps that follow. We begin by getting very specific about the matter at hand: a fear of our feelings, or what I call feelings phobia. I’ll outline the most common signs of this fear so that you can begin to recognize it in yourself. Next we’ll take a look at how we come to be afraid of our feelings and of connecting more deeply with others. We’ll also explore the emotional environment in which you grew up and the unwritten rules that may be governing your life now.
What then follows in the second section, “Taking Action,” is my four-step approach to overcoming feelings phobia.

Step One: Becoming Aware

Making a change starts with cultivating what I call emotional mindfulness—your present-moment awareness of your feelings (which is covered in Chapter Three) as well as the things you do to avoid them (covered in Chapter Four). You need to turn your attention inward and begin to tune in to your emotional experience. You also need to recognize what it is you’re doing that’s getting in your way of being more in touch with yourself and others. We all have common patterns of behavior or “defenses” that we both knowingly and unknowingly use to avoid our feelings. For instance, when sadness starts to rise up inside, we may do things to try to keep it down, such as change the subject, look away, or make light of the matter. Although there are moments when it’s reasonable to respond in this way—for example, when we are at work or a social function, we might wait until we get home to let our feelings out—such strategies are problematic when we’re not aware of what we’re doing. Most often, our defenses become so ingrained that they kick in unconsciously and thus leave us powerless to do things differently. After all, we can’t change an unhelpful behavior when we don’t even know we’re doing it!

Step Two: Taming the Fear

Once you begin to recognize your defenses, you are likely to grow more aware of the underlying discomfort they’ve been masking.
You might notice your body tensing up, your chest getting tight, or that it’s hard to sit still. These and a variety of other somatic experiences (in other words, anything that is felt in your body) are physical manifestations of fear—the fight-or-flight response that’s activated when we’re feeling threatened. They are also helpful signs that you are getting closer to your feelings.
At the crux of this whole change process is finding a more effective way to deal with your feelings phobia, one that puts you in the driver’s seat instead of being unwittingly controlled by fear. I’m going to teach you specific strategies that can help you reduce your discomfort to a much more manageable level so that you no longer need to suppress, dismiss, or try to ignore your feelings. With practice, you’ll feel less anxious and be more able to stay present and make room for your emotions.

Step Three: Feeling It Through

Once you begin to notice your feelings and tame your fear, the next step involves letting yourself begin to experience what’s inside you. When you fully feel them, feelings have an energetic flow to them. They start small, rise up in a crest, break, and then dissipate—similar to a wave in the ocean. For instance, you might first notice the presence of anger as a niggling sense of frustration. If you tune in to this sensation and give it some space, it then begins to expand. Your body gets warmer, your arms begin to tingle, and you feel an impulse to respond physically. If you stay with this internal experience and don’t try to block it or push it away, if you can find a way to ride it out and tolerate it inside you, the feeling of anger peaks and then soon subsides.
Having fully internally ridden out the arc of your feelings, you arrive at a place of energy and clarity where you can reap the many benefits that come from being fully in touch with yourself. You can then freely choose whether or not to take action and, if you do choose to act, how you’d like to proceed and where you want to go. I’m going to teach you healthy ways to experience your feelings and how to manage them effectively so that they don’t overwhelm you. You’ll develop the skills you need to navigate these new waters and become adept at sailing your emotional ship.

Step Four: Opening Up

The next step brings with it the choice of whether to open up and express what you’re feeling inside to others—to put your feelings into words and communicate them—or to keep your feelings to yourself. At times, being in touch with our emotions is enough; we know where we are and what we want to do, and that’s all that matters. But more often than not, feelings are meant not just to be experienced but also to be shared. In fact, by getting in touch with your feelings, you’ll discover that they also move you to want to open up and reveal them. However, many of us aren’t exactly sure how to do this, how to express what we’re feeling and how to do it in a way that will maximize our being heard and yield the best results. I’m going to teach you healthy ways to express and share your feelings, how to discriminate between what is wise to express and what is not, and how to use your feelings to get closer and connect more deeply with others. As is true of all these steps, the more you practice revealing your feelings, the easier it will get.
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This book is full of stories of transformation. Stories of people like yourself. People who felt stuck, alone, and despairing, but who, in finding the courage to face their fears, in taking the risk to open up to their feelings and share them with others, changed in ways they never imagined possible.
The same can happen for you.
That’s precisely what I want you to take away from this book: to know that with the right tools and practice, your life and your relationships can be better.
The capacity for change is there inside you, just waiting to come out. I want to help you harness the amazing wisdom and power of your emotions. You’ve already taken the first step. You’re here with me now. Let’s go on this journey together. You’ll see: you hold the power within you to transform your life.

005
PART I
Preparation

006
CHAPTER 1
To Feel or Not to Feel
Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.
—ANAÏS Nin
 
LISA SLIPPED OUT OF WORK A FEW MINUTES EARLY to get to the airport in time to pick up her boyfriend, Greg. She stopped by the store to get a couple of last-minute things for the special meal she had prepared to welcome him back from his business trip. “That sounds great,” Greg said to her as he settled into the front seat a few minutes later. “I should have enough time to eat with you and meet up with the guys later for drinks.” Lisa’s jaw started to tighten as she thought, I haven’t seen him for how long, and he’s planning to see his friends the first night he gets back? Jeez! She started to stew inside, but hid it behind a cool smile. “So how was your trip?” she asked.
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Alex hit the scan button on the car stereo to find something to listen to. It landed on a station playing Christmas carols. “Oh, I love this one, honey, let’s listen,” his wife said as the familiar melody of “Silent Night” filled the car. Alex felt something catch inside him. It was almost a year to the day that his parents were killed in a car accident on the same road he was now traveling. His mind flooded with holiday memories of his youth, happy times he had spent with his parents. He could feel the tears coming to his eyes and turned his head away from his wife, not wanting her to see. He thought to himself, Come on, guy, get a hold of yourself. You need to be strong. He gripped the wheel and struggled to push the feelings down.
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Kate had been planning this vacation with her friends for months. Finally, a break after working overtime for far too long. The group got up early and set out on one of the hikes they’d been so looking forward to. As the friends reached the first lookout point, they paused for a moment to take in the view from the mountain. The rising sun cast a gentle orange glow on the arid desert landscape, and the air smelled fresh. What a perfect day, Kate thought to herself as she took a deep breath. Suddenly a wave of anxiety came over her, seemingly from nowhere. She turned away, fidgety, unable to be still, and took off up the hill, leaving her bewildered friends behind.
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As different as they may seem, these three people are all very much alike. They’re afraid of their feelings.
Lisa’s afraid of her anger. She holds the anger she feels toward her boyfriend inside. She tries to dismiss it. But as hard as she tries, it eats at her. She ends up feeling resentful, and her anger doesn’t go away.
Alex is afraid of his sadness. He’s afraid of being vulnerable, of letting his grief over the death of his parents show. He’s afraid that if he does, he’ll lose all control and become an emotional mess, and his wife will think he’s weak.
And Kate is afraid of her happiness. Something about relaxing, enjoying herself, and just being in the moment with her friends makes her anxious, makes her nervous. How sad—to look forward to a vacation for so long and then not be able to really enjoy it.
How sad for all of them, really.
If Lisa felt more comfortable with her anger, if she were able to allow herself to be in touch with it and feel the power of it, maybe she’d have the courage to speak up to her boyfriend, to tell Greg how she feels.
If Alex weren’t afraid of his sadness, maybe he’d feel some relief in letting himself grieve more openly for his parents. Maybe he’d share his feelings with his wife, feel closer to her, and not be so alone with his pain. He might even discover—odd as it may seem before the fact—how good it feels to share his pain with another.
And if Kate felt comfortable feeling pleasure with her friends, maybe she’d . . . but wait a minute. Shouldn’t it be easy to have feelings that are enjoyable? Yes, it should be, but for many of us it isn’t. The vast majority of us experience some degree of discomfort with our feelings, sometimes even the pleasant ones. We start to get close to our emotions, and waves of anxiety stop them dead in their tracks. Or we become fidgety and, rather than feeling what we’re feeling, embark on a laundry-folding or house-cleaning marathon instead. We change the subject; distract ourselves with work, television, food; withdraw into silence. We’re masters at doing whatever it takes to stay in control.
Simply put, we’re feelings phobic. We’re afraid of our feelings.

A PHOBIA OF SORTS

In psychological terms, a phobia is an exaggerated, inexplicable fear of a particular object or class of objects—spiders, heights, close quarters, and so on. But as Harvard Medical School psychologist Leigh McCullough, PhD, proposed, we can also be afraid of our feelings or emotions, what she called “affect phobia.”1 Someone who is afraid of his or her feelings behaves like Lisa, Alex, and Kate in the stories that opened this chapter.
How would you describe what happens to you when you get close to your feelings? Do you start to feel nervous or uneasy? Or would you describe it as feeling anxious or apprehensive? How about uncomfortable? All these different adjectives have to do with fear. Something is making us want to step back or retreat, and that’s how we naturally react to a threat, to something scary. We don’t want to have anything to do with it.
With feelings phobia, we want to run from our feelings.
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My own struggles with feelings phobia couldn’t have been more apparent than on my graduation day from my doctoral program. I had fantasized about this moment for what seemed like an eternity. And there I was, finally about to cross the finish line, about to receive my medal—nothing to do but stop and drink in the sweetness.
As I stood in line waiting for the festivities to begin, I tried to think about all that I had accomplished in the past few years. All the hard work, all the hurdles I had jumped over. I wanted to stop and let myself really savor the moment, to bask in the glory of it all. Hard as I tried, though, I couldn’t. I felt agitated and edgy.
I pressed my feet against the floor, forced myself to stand still, and tried to make some space.
A tiny flutter of pride began to come to the surface. Here we go, I thought. Just as I was about to make contact with it, a wave of anxiety washed it away.
Damn! What happened? I wondered in dismay. Let me give it another shot.
I took a breath and tried to summon up some good feelings, tried to will them into being. Another deep breath, and a slight murmur of happiness sputtered forward. But before I could grab on to it, it was gone, reined in by a strange sense of guilt. As though I didn’t deserve to be happy. As though, if I really let myself feel good, something terrible would happen.
This doesn’t make sense, I thought. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for. I should be thrilled!
Suddenly a blast of trumpets sounded. My heart quickened as the line in front of me started to move. I walked down the long stretch of the aisle; the cavernous room was filled to capacity with proud parents, relatives, and friends, the air buzzing with anticipation. I scanned the audience for a familiar face, trying to find my family, trying to rise to the occasion. I spotted my two sisters standing in the distance. Their eyes met mine and opened wide with recognition. We smiled and waved with excitement. I could see that they were wiping tears away from their eyes.
Just as I reached my seat, I was suddenly overwhelmed. I started to cry. It was if the floor beneath me were cracking and a giant wave threatened to break through and overtake me. I sat down and braced myself against this torrent of feelings. I pulled myself together and tried to remain very still so that no one would notice the shaking inside me.
What was that about? I wondered. And why the tears? Was I moved by the love I saw in my sisters’ eyes? By my accomplishments? In part. But these were also tears of pain, tears I didn’t understand, tears I couldn’t make sense of. So I pushed them away, banishing them to some far-off place.
Later, after managing to get through the ceremony unnoticed, I pasted on a smile and went to find my family. But when I came upon them standing in a group amid the crowd, my mother could see that something was wrong.
“What? What is it, honey?” She asked nervously.