Tuesday, January 4, 2011

My Review - David Richo's Daring to Trust: Opening Ourselves to Real Love and Intimacy

[A slightly different version of this review is cross-posted at IOC. The first half is the same, but the second half here includes a long passage related specifically to men.]

David Richo is a psychotherapist and well-known author. His many popular books combine Buddhism, poetry, and Jungian psychology to create tools for personal and spiritual transformation. I have enjoyed several of his books in the past, including the the three listed below.
His newest book is Daring to Trust: Opening Ourselves to Real Love and Intimacy (Shambhala Publications, 224 pgs.; $21.95. Released in Dec. 2010). [Amazon]

Daring to Trust

Here is a brief bio of David Richo from his page at Amazon.com:

David Richo, PhD, is a therapist and author who leads popular workshops on personal and spiritual growth. He received his BA in psychology from Saint John's Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts, in 1962, his MA in counseling psychology from Fairfield University in 1969, and his PhD in clinical psychology from Sierra University in 1984. Since 1976, Richo has been a licensed marriage, family, and child counselor in California. In addition to practicing psychotherapy, Richo teaches courses at Santa Barbara City College and the University of California Berkeley at Berkeley, and has taught at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, Pacifica Graduate Institute, and Santa Barbara Graduate Institute. He is a clinical supervisor for the Community Counseling Center in Santa Barbara, California.

I was a fan of Richo's When the Past Is Present, so when the opportunity arose to review this new book, I accepted. However, I was sent an unformatted galley for the Kindle, so any material I quote will not have page numbers, and the Kindle locations will be approximate because of the lack of layout in the galley.

On to the review . . . .

So, think back on all of your failed relationships. Can you identify a common factor in all of them that caused them to fail? If you, like me, can identify a lack of trust (which manifests in many ways, including emotional distancing, not being vulnerable, or even more obvious issues such as cheating), then this is the book that may help change that pattern.

Richo argues that trust (and its failure) is at the root of most relationship problems. Many authors would have written a book that simply looks at the issue of trust and offers various platitudes or strategies to reframe our issues with trust - perhaps with some silly argument that men and women are from different planets. Fortunately for us, Richo did not write that book.

Rather, in the vein of his earlier book, When the Past Is Present, Richo asks us to look at our own lives and make honest assessments of our ability to attach with others:

We can address, process, resolve, and integrate the pain and dysfunction of our past. To address means to reflect upon, appraise, and challenge our beliefs about an experience. We then process our experience—that is, feel the feelings that arise and notice how they connect to our past. Then we can move toward resolving our issue. This means no longer being held up in our move toward relating with others. We then integrate our work into our lifestyle. We do this when we take the necessary but risky steps toward trusting others without being stopped or driven by fears that restrained us in the past. - Highlight Loc. 400-404

Doing our own work, real shadow work (remember that Richo employs Jungian theory in his books), is a crucial part of the process. It's also a way that we can identify and begin to heal some of our attachment failures from childhood.

Our trust capacity is proportional to the trustworthiness we have found in all our fellow travelers on life’s voyage, especially in Mom and Dad. Thus, we are not alone in building our flotation skills on life’s tempestuous sea. Trustworthy people in our lives from childhood to the present moment live on in our psyches as accompanying and stabilizing presences. They become part of our inner resources, the psychological and spiritual structures in ourselves that give us power to face threats and deal with our needs. - Highlight Loc. 67-70

Richo employs attachment theory frequently, although not in such a way that non-psychologist readers will struggle with the terminology or the meaning. Essentially, out attachment patterns (secure of several forms of insecure) that we acquire in childhood have a powerful influence on our adult relationships.

Richo explains three of the insecure forms of attachment (avoidant, ambivalent, and disorganized) in the following passage (I'm presenting this as bullet points for clarity):

  • Anxious-avoidant children seek constant assurance, approval, and attention from their caregivers, and then as adults, they may demand this from partners. They may cling to others and come across as excessively dependent. They are more pessimistic about themselves and others and cannot easily trust themselves. They also find it hard to trust others because they believe they are unworthy of meriting enduring love from them.
  • Anxious-ambivalent children are compulsively independent. As adults, they may continue that style. They see themselves as self-reliant and give the impression of not needing close bonds with others. They often conceal their authentic feelings. If someone rejects them, they simply absent themselves, making the resolution of issues in the relationship impossible. If their partner clings, they become distant or aggressive, being quite alert to what feels like engulfment.
  • In addition, there is the category of the disorganized person. This person can focus neither on self nor on other because the original experience of engaging and responding was threatening and bizarre. In childhood, he felt fright with no remedy possible, a style not sustainable for long. As a result, a disorganized person becomes fragmented easily. He can fall apart in stressful situations since he lacks the resilience and equanimity that come from security. - Highlight Loc. 451-60

He comes back to attachment theory in various ways throughout the book, which I appreciated quite a bit. When we can begin to see that most people we know and with whom we may enter into relationship are doing the best they can with the emotional patterns learned as infants and toddlers (including ourselves), it fosters in us a compassion for others, and an unwillingness to so easily blame empathic failures on intent - we see the wounding behind the action, and we understand that it is rarely intentional.

* * * * *

The following passage from Chapter 3 relates specifically to men and to addiction as a means of avoiding intimacy and surrender (sound familiar?). This is long, and I may be annoying the publisher by posting it, but there is more quality material in the book - so go but it.
It is said that we men have problems surrendering to someone because it feels as if we are giving up our freedom, something we may cling to as our most prized possession. This is why we so often feel a fear of closeness and commitment, actually a fear of trusting how we will feel in the midst of those experiences. We imagine we will be suffocated, trapped, engulfed if closeness happens; we will be unable to maintain our personal identity, something we associate with being separate. We may certainly seek some form of connection but with no strings attached.

It may take a partner a long time to convince us that it is safe to love her unreservedly. She will have to be willing to allow a long series of open-ended experiences, ones in which the door is continually visible and open in case we need to make a fast getaway. It may be hard for us to find someone with that kind of patience, and would we respect someone willing to be that self-sacrificing with no promise of return?

A woman might offer this response to the male fear of commitment: “I am glad to notice that I no longer need to caretake men. If they want help with their difficulties in surrendering to a relationship, I suggest professional therapy. Men who want a relationship with me but see it as giving up their freedom should keep it.”

Ironically, we men who fear losing our freedom often have no difficulty surrendering to an addiction (the word addiction is based on the Latin for “surrender”). Our addiction certainly is a form of “giving up our freedom,” but that does not stop us. Our “fear of commitment” vanishes when it comes to giving ourselves over to what has come to seem so necessary for us— for example, alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling. This reveals to us men that we do not as much fear surrender as fear trusting who we will become in full-on intimacy with someone real. This is an identity anxiety; we can’t be separate anymore. How can we men move toward allowing seasons of change as the caterpillar does?

The alcoholic male knows from solid experience how to avoid being found out. He knows that a drink will relieve him of any anxiety when he is experiencing intense feeling or at the edge of being recognized for precisely what he is. He knows that his emptiness will be immediately and effectively compensated for by the ingestion of a drug, and he will then feel adequate, even triumphant. His fear of being caught in something bigger than himself, something that will crash through his autonomy, is quelled.

Thus, regarding relationship, we may have a fear of surrender that holds us back. Yet we can wholeheartedly surrender in other areas, no matter what the hazards. The more reflective we become about ourselves, the more suspicious we will be of ourselves. The twelve-step programs offer the “gentle patience” that helps to free us from our addictions. But, of course, that will take surrender of ego, surrender of addiction, and surrender to the program that leads to the risk of trusting a power beyond ourselves.

Addiction is a displacement of our need for affirmation or affiliation onto alcohol or sex or any other object of addiction. Since we live in such a competitive world, people are not usually looking for ways to make us feel good about ourselves. In fact, some may want to kick us in the shins so we won’t succeed. The continuing scandals involving addicted sports and political idols show us that even the highly successful seek an affirmation that no amount of success in those areas seems to fulfill. The person, place, or thing we become addicted to is like our old teddy bear, a transitional object when the life-sustaining comforts of Mom are not accessible. We were learning to substitute way back then, and now keep doing it, except this time not always to our advantage, though our addictions may seem fuzzy-feeling nonetheless.

The twelve-step programs have at their heart the counsel to surrender, to tell our story without cushioning it, to trust that acknowledging powerlessness is the path to true power, to the strength to manage one’s life. This happens especially since the program offers affirmation and affiliation, life-sustaining comforts that are always accessible. What a useful and supportive path to trusting others and finally to trusting ourselves. Is this what we have feared all along?

We need not be addicts to have this growth-enhancing experience. We can find it in a healthy relationship with someone who loves us and also offers affirmation, affiliation, and life sustaining comforts. In addition, we can find it without an intimate relationship. It resides in meaningful friendships and in associations with others who share our passions. All these enterprises with others help us toward adulthood because their affirmative comforts teach us to self-soothe. Then we can even be alone happily too. That completes the human cycle from our needs to others’ resources to self-fulfillment. ~ Highlight Loc. 806-40
This book is highly recommended - he is not blaming men here, he is explaining how our attachment patterns from childhood shape our relational patterns. Until we understand this, and begin to heal it, we will continue having the same dysfunctional relationships, over and over.

1 comment:

Aernout Zevenbergen said...

Fantastic review! Thanks. I'm a great fan of Richo, ever since I bumped into his "Shadow work".
His mixture of psychology with a modest hint of Buddhism on the background has helped me create a few fundamental breakthroughs in my own life. My favorite piece of him is "The Void", chapter 3 from "When love meets fear".
It blew me wide open.
Which is always great when some fresh air is needed :-)