Cover image for Moving from fear to courage : transcendent moments of change in the lives of women
Moving from fear to courage : transcendent moments of change in the lives of women
Fischer, Cheryl Powell, 1952-
Publication Information:
Berkeley, Calif. : Wildcat Canyon Press ; [Emeryville, CA] : Distributed to the trade by Publishers Group West, [2001]

Physical Description:
xii, 210 pages ; 19 cm
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HQ1206 .F48 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Why do so many women stay in abusive relationships? Why do some fail to their potential? Why do so many avoid taking risks? These are good questions, but it might be more illuminating to ask why some women are able to escape their abusers, or take huge risks and become conspicuously successful? The authors asked these questions and found an interesting answer. Each of the women they spoke with had experienced a moment of transcendence - a moment in which their fear was overcome by one brief flash of insight they would eventually recognize as courage. The text examines the common and often unconscious fears women face in abusive situations and explains how readers can protect themselves in situations where real fears are justified. It encourages readers to face fears that prevent achievement of potential, offering specific ways for wome to help themmselves, find solutions to problems, and make positive life choices.

Author Notes

Sheryl Fischer has worked in several child abuse organizations and counselled at-risk families. She lives in Marina Del Rey, California.



Chapter One What kind of fear does love evoke in women? What does love feel like? Does it feel like fear? While some women have described love as a wonderful, giddy, head-over-heels sensation, others have felt crushed and broken by love. In fact, love can involve one of our most profound fears: the knife-like pain of a lover's rejection. Even the thought of rejection can scrape our hearts raw and leave our emotions bare and bloodied. At times, love can even make us feel like dying, and some say we would do well to fear love. But is that true?     What happens when we fear love? Long ago love was, if not feared, certainly treated with caution, and marriage was sometimes perceived as a means to an end. In an article for , consultants Sheri and Bob Stritof wrote of the history of marriage: "Traditional cultures arranged marriages for couples. The people involved didn't have much to say about the decision. Most couples didn't marry because they were in love. Some marriages were by proxy, some involved a dowry (bride's family giving money or presents to the groom or his family), some required a bride price (the groom or his family giving money or a present to the bride's family), [and] few had any courtship or dating." It seems marriage could be a very serious business, with little room for such an unpredictable, even dangerous force as love.     How do we perceive love now? Do we remain cautious in our relationships? Yes, at times--but for different reasons. Through the years we have gained the freedom to seek a mate for love, not financial consideration. Because we're no longer constrained by the prospect of an arranged marriage, we can make our own decisions when it comes to whom our mate will be.     But how do we choose?     When we make a decision concerning love do we give in to our emotions, our wildest passions? Or do we analyze our future partner's every move? Are we too demanding? Do we have unrealistic expectations? Do we yearn for someone to take care of us? These are some of the questions we face as women. They can be frightening, but we face them because love is at stake. Love, that most wondrous of human traits and aspirations. Love.     The following women have transcended some of their deepest fears regarding love. They have lost it, fought for it, protected it, and walked out on it, but in each case, they found the courage to overcome perhaps the most daunting fear of all--the fear of loving themselves first. * * * The Ultimate Rejection Risk I did it on my boyfriend's, Theo's, birthday. We were in a restaurant surrounded by twenty of our dearest friends, but it was a struggle to keep myself grounded and to avoid being engulfed by flashbacks from the past. "Come on, I can do this" was the mantra I repeated over and over in my head. "I wasn't supposed to live, but I did. I can do this." I took a deep breath and patted my pocket; everything was in place. But still, inside, I was so nervous.     Butterflies filled my stomach when I looked around at everyone. Maybe I shouldn't have invited so many people, even if they were such good friends. And then I'd start to worry; how could I overcome my greatest fear, rejection, in public? Maybe it was expecting too much. The waitress had just taken the last order and walked away. My stomach turned over. Should I do it now? And then the flashbacks and voices from the past returned. I countered them inside: "I wasn't supposed to walk, but I did. That was then; this is now. I can do this." Just when I thought I had gathered all my courage and was going to do it, another feeling would overwhelm me. Then I'd say to myself again: "I wasn't supposed to run, but I did. I can do this."     I was eight years old when my life went up in flames. Matches and a gasoline can. The last time I walked or ran without third degree burns covering 90 percent of my body was that night in my bedroom, that night I was trapped by the fire, and I jumped up and down on my bed and screamed for my life. But no one could help me.     I'm an adult now, and it hasn't been easy. The surgeries, the insecurities, the battles, the wounds, the scars. The fear of rejection. Like a room full of flames, feelings from the past would engulf me until I could ground myself in the present: "I've walked through hell, but I've kept on walking. I wasn't supposed to write with two fingers amputated from my right hand, but I did. I can do this. This is now, not then."     I reached into my pocket and pulled out the ring. Then I called out my boyfriend's name. "Theodore Washington." He turned his head and stared at me. It must have been the tone in my voice because everyone at the table got quiet. All eyes were staring at me. In that moment I remembered a friend in high school who, in reference to the scars that cover my skin used to say, "When they stare at you, stare at 'em back! You're a beautiful black girl." With that I took a deep breath--and I did it.     "Theodore Washington ... will you marry me?"     And he said yes! * * *     Tricia was afraid her boyfriend would reject her proposal of marriage. Ever since she suffered such extensive burns as a child, Tricia has had a fear of not being liked because of the way she looked. As Tricia told us, "I was about eleven years old when I finally got out of the hospital and went back to school. I would always make sure to cover myself at school. Even in the summer I'd be covered from head to toe. I didn't want anyone staring at me. I didn't think anyone would like me." Even though most of us haven't had to contend with such an extreme obstacle as Tricia's injuries, we can identify with her self-consciousness. Whether it was our acne, our weight, or our braces, the fear of being rejected because of our physical appearance can be overwhelming.     When Tricia transcended the fear of rejection and found the courage to propose marriage to her boyfriend, she had no idea that not only would they marry, but they would also have three beautiful children. As Tricia told us, "I really loved Theo, and I wanted to get married. I didn't want our relationship to slip away. But Theo can be very shy, so I decided to try. No matter how many people were stating at me, I just knew I had to try." * * *     What can we do when we're faced with the fear of rejection in a relationship? Tom G. Stevens, Ph.D., says, "If your self-image is too closely tied to what others think of you or how well you relate to others, then fear of rejection can be a threat to your whole self-image. That in itself can create a lot of anxiety." The Internet magazine, Self-Help Psychology, tells us, "The fear of rejection often lies more in the anticipation than in the actuality. We are more afraid of feelings we imagine we will have than the feelings we actually have ... Sure, we will feel disappointed, but [rejection] is not devastating unless we allow it to be so. Most of us are quite able to recover from someone saying no. We feel the disappointment or hurt, [and] it passes ... So, [in] recognizing that we are able to cope with disappointments far better than we think, we can learn to accept rejections and move on." * * * Feeling Safe Enough I remember it vividly. It was a quiet Sunday night. I was with my boyfriend of one year, and our favorite show had just ended. He was getting ready to take me home and I was in his bedroom, collecting my things, when he just came up behind me and grabbed me and started kissing me. He kept kissing and kissing and kissing me, gently backing me up, until my calves were flat against the side of his bed. There was nowhere else to go but down. His arms were clamped around my waist, our chests were pressed tightly together, he had himself braced up over the bed by one knee. He held me securely in his arms and began to bend me backward. I have really long hair and my head was tilted fully back. I remember the way my hair felt when it brushed the mattress, sort of suspended there, before he laid me down flat on the bed. In that moment, I became overwhelmed by passion, passion like I had never experienced before. The sound of his breath in my ear, the feel of his lips on mine, the warmth of his hands as they moved up and down my body. We tore at each other's clothes. I was mentally, physically, and emotionally with him right then, right there, completely focused on the passion of the moment. I felt my body rise in rhythm with his, our hearts beating faster and faster; I was escalating to the point of no return. This was the ultimate, climactic moment--the moment when I always self-sabotaged and pulled back, preventing myself from going over the edge. But that night, the safety I felt allowed the intensity of my feelings to completely wipe out any other thoughts from my head. I surrendered my self-control and let it happen. Finally, I had an orgasm. * * *     Kathryn was afraid to let go of her self-control in a sexual situation. Being raised in an environment where sexual promiscuity was the norm led Kathryn to attach a lot of guilt and shame to the act of sex. "I grew up hearing my mother having orgasms on a regular basis, and I was always afraid of it. It sounded very violent in my child's mind." Because of Kathryn's negative feelings toward sex, she was unable to integrate it with a close relationship. As she told us, "There was never a relationship behind my sexual encounters. They were just one-night stands. There was never trust; there was never knowledge; there was never intimacy."     When Kathryn transcended her fear of losing control in a sexual situation, not only were the benefits immediate, they were also long-term. At last Kathryn was able to talk with her boyfriend about all the shame and guilt she'd attached to sex, and she found he understood. As she told us, "I think the reason I'm able to orgasm with this man is that he loves me, he's patient with me, and he doesn't judge me. He's made our relationship very safe." Kathryn went on to tell us that, while she's able to have an intimate relationship with her boyfriend, she feels a greater sense of intimacy within herself too. "I feel more secure as a human being. I feel loved. I feel lucky. I feel sexy. Having an orgasm has enabled me to accept my body. I even sleep better. I feel very safe." * * *     What can we do if we are afraid of sexual intimacy? Although the inability to achieve orgasm doesn't necessarily imply a disorder, Irvin D. Yalom, M.D., of Stanford University, along with Randolph S. Charlton, editors of Treating Sexual Disorders , tell us: "Intimacy inherently feels risky because we go out on the edge of individual expression [such as with orgasm] without knowing how the other person will respond." Yalom and Charlton go on to say that an inherent step to the successful treatment of female orgasmic disorder is, "[The patient] must feel safe and understood [in order to] feel and communicate her sexual desires." Yalom and Charlton also suggest women's sexuality support groups as an effective therapy for female orgasmic disorder. "Women's sexuality groups are recommended for (1) women who have never had an orgasm ... (2) women with situational arousal and inhibited orgasm, (3) women with uncomplicated vaginismus [a sexual pain disorder], and (4) some women with sexual anxieties either with or without a relationship." * * * Dancing My Defenses Away I didn't want to go to the dance in the first place. My girlfriend literally had to drag me by the arm. So when this really cute guy started walking across the floor and asked me to dance, I completely shocked myself by saying yes. My mouth just opened up, and out came a word I hadn't said to a man in twelve years. I'd been saying no for so long, and then that night, I said yes to a complete stranger.     So there we were, side by side, walking out to the middle of the dance floor. I looked down every step of the way. My footsteps felt so heavy, burdened with years of resentment, fettered by the betrayal of my ex. Even my shoulders felt heavy, because in my head, men were the enemy, never to be trusted again. It had been so long since I'd been out at all--and even longer since I'd danced.     We reached the middle of the floor, he turned around and smiled at me, and I hesitantly started moving my hips. "This isn't so bad," I thought as I moved my feet back and forth. My arms were swinging, my feet were sliding, the music grew progressively louder. Faster, louder--louder, faster--and then, wham! I just let it rip! The shackles of betrayal and mistrust I carried out to the floor just flew off with every step. I whirled and I twirled as my defenses fell away and my movements became more and more free. The stranger before me was smiling and laughing. He was a man, just a man--not the enemy! I threw my head back and I laughed!     The music was so loud that we couldn't talk, but we danced together like that all night. The minute I opened myself up to life again, life came! He asked for my number when the lights came on, and he called the next day. Six months later he asked me to marry him, and we have been dancing ever since! * * *     Kaye was afraid to trust a man. Because of her first husband's infidelity, as well as his nearly ceaseless verbal abuse, Kaye resisted the possibility of a serious relationship for twelve years. As she told us, "I lost all my trust in men. I didn't want to go through that kind of pain again. That kind of betrayal can hurt so much. It makes you scared to even imagine it happening, much less letting it happen in reality."     When Kaye transcended her fear of trusting men, she found the courage to connect with a man who turned out not only to be her future husband, but also her soul mate. Kaye told us, "Martin and I have such a good time together. We rarely argue, and when we do, we can talk about it. I could never do that with my ex. Martin is supportive, caring, warm, and affectionate. He even makes me coffee in the morning, and rubs the kinks out of my neck. We appreciate each other so much." * * *     When we're faced with the fear of being betrayed by a loved one, what can we do? In writing for , psychologist Robert Firestone had some very realistic advice for building a strong, lasting relationship. He said, "[First remember] people have a certain core emptiness that can never be filled by finding another. If we are looking for a person to fill our needs, we're certainly not going to find them. No one can fill a deep emptiness in us. We can never extract from our partners what was missing in our early lives." However, Firestone goes on to say, "There are a number of key characteristics that people should look out for in a potential mate: (1) nondefensiveness, i.e., openness to feedback without reacting with aggression or avoidance; (2) honesty and integrity; (3) respect for the other person's boundaries, priorities and goals; (4) a person who is physically affectionate and comfortable with the sexual role; (5) a person who is empathic and understanding." * * * Love's Self-Fulfilling Prophecy I had never felt so much anxiety around anything in my life! I became absolutely postal phobic. In the beginning, I would just peek out the window and watch for the mail carrier to come up the driveway. Then as time passed, I actually sat in the house, on the weekends, and waited for the mail truck. I began to listen for, and recognize, the sound of its engine when it turned the corner, all the way down the street. I was so afraid of what might be delivered on any given day that I actually started planning my days around the delivery of the mail. Its schedule became my schedule. I would spend my time pacing and waiting, waiting and pacing. At that point, all I knew was that it would be a disaster if my husband saw the mail first.     But what more could I do?     The day that I looked my fear in the face, I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown. I'd been waiting for the mail to arrive, and I'd been remembering our wedding. It was awful. I was walking down the aisle on my father's arm, thinking, "I'm twenty-two now. I'll give this man five years, and then I'll be twenty-seven. I'll still have time to find someone I really want to be with, and have children with, before I turn thirty." Can you imagine thinking such thoughts on your wedding day? Well, guess what? It was a self-fulfilling prophecy because almost exactly five years after our marriage, I filled out and mailed the paperwork for a simple, no-attorneys-involved divorce.     After five years, our marriage was over. But then, while we were apart, something happened. I mean, during the separation, we worked really hard on ourselves. We both got sober. We let go of the past and began to rebuild trust. We'd both been so afraid to feel ... to feel emotional intimacy. We used to drink it away, but not anymore. While we were apart, we both changed.     So on the day I faced my fear I was waiting for the mail, doing my pacing--the whole thing--when suddenly, it just hits me. I don't want my husband to see the divorce papers because ... I still love him! It was like I couldn't really admit it to myself until that moment--because that is my greatest fear: to love someone and to be loved by someone. So the fact is, I really didn't want a divorce! I finally had the man I wanted. And he was my husband all along. It really hit me! I love my husband. But I also knew that if he saw the divorce papers in the mail first, it could put a knife in the heart of our relationship.     What could I do?! Those papers were in the mail!     God must have heard me that day; something was protecting us. Because those final papers to the divorce decree, they never came through. Somehow they just never came. And so my husband never knew. * * *     Jewel was afraid both of giving and of receiving love. When Jewel's parents emigrated from the Dominican Republic to New York City, they had to work very hard to make ends meet, and consequently, they were rarely home during Jewel's formative years. When Jewel was five, her parents divorced, and her mother was even busier trying to support the family. As Jewel told us, "To this day, my mother does not hug very well; my mother does not kiss very well. Her demeanor is to push you away. Most of my family is like that. They just don't know how to express affection for each other. But I always had a yearning for affection, and the idea of never having that yearning fulfilled really scared me." Because Jewel feared emotional neglect, she turned to alcohol, which numbed those feelings.     In transcending her fear of giving and receiving love, Jewel's life is in full and fantastic bloom. Jewel and her husband both attended a twelve-step program where they discovered the fear behind their alcohol abuse and learned about family dysfunction. She told us, "I don't have to live in fear now. I was able to realize that I don't have to be my mother. I am in a place now where I can love my mom for who she is. I appreciate her for the things she did right and learn from what she did wrong. I am open with love and can receive love, and I've been happily married for sixteen years." Jewel and her husband also have a child, and Jewel has recently graduated from school to become an acupuncturist. * * *     There are many centers that teach the twelve-step program. They can be found from coast to coast in rural neighborhoods and large cities. Dial 411 and ask for Alcoholics Anonymous for a phone number to call in your area. AA volunteers will provide you with times, days, and locations of the nearest meetings in your area. Alternatives to the twelve-step approach, including addiction services, inpatient and outpatient treatment centers, and crisis hotlines, can be found in the Information Guide located in the front your phone book. (Continues...) Excerpted from Moving From Fear To Courage by Cheryl Fischer & Heather Waite. Copyright (c) 2001 by Cheryl Fischer and Heather Waite. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

Dedicationp. v
Acknowledgmentsp. vi
Prefacep. viii
Courage and Lovep. 1
What Scares Women Most about Relationships?
The Ultimate Rejection Riskp. 5
Feeling Safe Enoughp. 9
Dancing My Defenses Awayp. 12
Love's Self-Fulfilling Prophecyp. 15
Afraid to Choosep. 19
Self-Acceptancep. 23
The Price of Lovep. 27
Leaving the Bad Boys Behindp. 31
Choosing Lovep. 35
Courage and Successp. 39
Why Are Women Afraid of Their Own Potential?
I Will Be Seenp. 42
"Just a Girl"p. 47
Countdown to Successp. 51
Making Enemies, Losing Friendsp. 54
An Aid to Introspectionp. 58
Lifting Weights Lifted My Self-Esteemp. 62
Machismop. 66
A Female Sushi Chef?p. 69
The Ultimate Successp. 73
Courage and Healthp. 77
How Does Fear Affect a Woman's Biology?
Stroke of Luckp. 81
Food for Comfort and Defensep. 85
A Diabetic Overcomes Her Fear of Needlesp. 88
When I Let Go of Control, The Life Inside Me Began to Growp. 91
Feeling Young Againp. 95
The Supreme Donationp. 98
Refusing to Believep. 101
Feelings Were Not Encouragedp. 104
This Baby Will Live!p. 108
Supportive Soul Sistersp. 112
When You've Got Your Healthp. 115
Courage and Dangerp. 119
What Do Women Fear Most?
Obsessionp. 123
His Words Cut Like a Knifep. 128
I Stayed for the Childrenp. 132
Assault with a Chainsawp. 136
Escaping Rapep. 138
Panic in a Foreign Landp. 142
The Missing Peacep. 146
Taking the Blamep. 150
A Victim Fights Backp. 153
Slaying the Dragonp. 156
Courage and Creativityp. 161
Why Are Women So Afraid to Take a Creative Risk?
Staying True to My Artp. 165
The Voice of Forgivenessp. 169
A Creative Teacher Is a Treasurep. 173
Acting with Anticipationp. 177
The Fight to Writep. 181
My Dance to Awarenessp. 185
Fear of Falling Flat on My Facep. 189
Painting Is a Truth of My Existencep. 193
Giving Girls a Voicep. 196
The Art of Being Alivep. 201
Notesp. 204
About the Authorsp. 209
About the Pressp. 210