Book Review - "The Fear Cure" by Lissa Rankin, MD
How often are you immobilized by fear?
Cultivating courage as medicine
The jacket of The Fear Cure, by Lissa Rankin, MD, caught my eye as I was perusing the book shelf in the local library waiting for my daughter to pick up some new reading material. It shows a bird cage hanging in mid air with the door open, and no bird inside. The words on the jacket flap in the front cover spoke directly to me.
The message was clear. Fear can make us physically ill. Having dealt with a number of health issues over the years, I was intrigued enough to pick up the book and start reading. Citing harrowing experiences in her own life, Rankin was lead to conduct clinical experiments with the concept of fear being the basis of many of the physical ailments that we experience. Her research lead her to delve deeply into the peer review literature looking for connections between real people, their fears, and the physical illnesses that resulted from them.
Finding substantial evidence, Rankin began interviewing individuals for her research. What she found was astonishing. She eventually left a lucrative job as an OB-GYN doctor to treat people using a specific methodology for overcoming the fears that held them captive.
Time after time, she sites real life experiences of people who were able, with her assistance, to leave behind a life of ill health, extensive medications, and difficult psychological pain, for a life of freedom from illness by learning how to deal with fear.
Rankin specifically notes, however, that there are biological basis for many illnesses, and that not all are born of fear. Her methodology includes understanding where the fear is coming from and then using it as a guide to making life changes that bring about both physical and psychological healing.
Let fear illuminate what is in need of healing.
Fear illuminates weakness
Rankin writes that there are two types of fear, "true" and "false." True fear is the result of life-threatening situations. In one harrowing experience, she and a friend were held hostage at gunpoint. She cited the physiological changes that took place in her body during those few heart-wrenching moments. The same thing happens to our bodies when we have thoughts of being in danger, even when it is not physically present. The brain bypasses cognitive processes and gets stuck in the "fight or flight" response. We cannot adjust back to normal and the "bony finger" of fear points at our weaknesses, illuminating our vulnerability.
When this happens, we can either cower from our fear, or use it for additional insight. False fear originates from what Rankin calls "the Small Self," the part of us that is like a scared child hiding in the corner. If we use the part of ourselves she calls our "Inner Pilot Light," or our adult self, to comfort and strengthen the smaller self, we assuage the fear.
The prescription for courage
The final chapters of the book contain instructions for writing one's own "Prescription for Courage" using the information gained in the exercises throughout the book. Each chapter has specific activities that help us to understand and deal with our fears. Participating in them allows hands-on experience with the information contained in the chapter.
Rankin's objective is for us to "lean into" rather than be immobilized by our fear. Doing so enables us to learn from the experiences in our lives that would otherwise leave us unable to move forward. Examples are given of people who have triumphed in the face of insurmountable odds that are associated with fear.
Fear is not something to avoid, it is something to lean into.
There is one thing about The Fear Cure that rubbed me the wrong way. There are several examples in the book of people who were noted to be "Mormons."
I found this to be a bit disconcerting, as she does not readily point out the faith of those who may be of other denominations. I am a Mormon ("Mormon" is the nickname given to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints due to their belief in The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ).
Many people mistakenly belief that we are not Christian. Others even claim that we are a "cult." Rankin does not indicate why she singles these people out, nor does she imply anything by the label. Perhaps she points out their affinity because these particular examples have to do with the breakup of families.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have specific beliefs on the eternal nature of the soul and how the family is an integral part in its salvation. We believe that families can be sealed together eternally in our holy temples. The breakup of the family is seen as traumatic, and causes more grief and hardship than it may to those who are not of this particular faith.
Faith is key
When I went into mental health treatment for depression and anxiety, many of the distorted thinking patterns I had adopted were tied up with my faith and the beliefs I had as a result of being a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I was fortunate to have practitioners who did not advocate for me to abandon my faith, but rather helped me to understand and clarify it. I encourage all with mental health issues who may be of this or any other Christian denomination, to seek for professional helpers who will not destroy faith, but aid in using it more fully and completely. Doing so gives additional tools and insight into the daily battle with mental illness.
It has been my personal experience that my faith in God and my belief in and use of the atonement of Jesus Christ have been an anchor in the storms associated with my fear and my mental health issues. I have been able to find strength to choose life time after time because I know that there is something beyond this world. There is power available to us as we connect our minds and hearts with God that can be obtained in no other way.
When mental illness gets in the way of our relationship with God, we are in a critical state of affairs, and professional help is needed to regain our perspective. It is never too late, or too early, to get the help needed in these cases. Rankin reiterates this principle in her book. She indicates that only when we find and connect with our "Inner Pilot Light" or our God-given inner consciousness, are able to experience The Fear Cure.
This book helped me to understand my fear, where it is coming from, and what I can do to deal with it. I highly recommend reading it!
© 2015 Denise W Anderson