No Courage Without Fear

I once heard someone say admiringly of another: "He was very  courageous; he didn't know the meaning of fear." While I appreciate this sentiment I've come to the conclusion that this is not really a very good definition of true courage, for it seems to me that an action can only be brave in the presence of fear. People are most courageous when they are willing to face their greatest fears. Notice that the key phrase is "willing to", not "wanting to"! As has often been noted, the willingness to engage in behavior you don't want to do is the pathway to the greatest personal growth.

In my Atlanta counseling and psychotherapy practice I work with people who are struggling with aspects of their sexual behavior that they want to change because it conflicts with their values, their commitments and/or their self-control.  People in these difficult situations often feel a lot of intense emotions about thei dilemmas, including fear of what it may take to truly change as well as fear of returning to a way of life they want to avoid.  These are healthy, motivating fears when handled correctly.

Many unhealthy behaviors occur when people actually should be fearful but aren't due to some impairment of perception or judgment. A person driving during a thunderstorm should 'fear' the poor visibility and slick roads enough to slow down; a diabetic should 'fear' the consequences of a dozen Krispy Kremes enough to not eat them; an addict should surely feel fear entering a stranger's house for drugs or sex (although paradoxically the inherent risk of an action can intensify the thrill of doing it). Unprincipled behavior that ignores potentially devastating consequences is not courageous -- it's reckless. Refusing to acknowledge and respect evidence of danger can be the last thing a person does.....ever!

True courage, however, is keenly aware of danger -- danger of taking action, and of not taking action. The driver who slows down on the wet road may be more prudent than courageous, but when that addict tentatively walks into his or her first 12-step meeting, or when one of my clients takes a deep breath and tells me something he or she swore never to tell anyone, courage is flexing its muscle.

From a certain perspective fear holds a gift that can only be put into trembling hands. It's an opportunity to act according to ideals rather than expediancy, to face rather than flee, to grow rather than hide.

Do you have a principle worth standing for? Be afraid. And do it anyway.


Bill Herring, LCSW, CSAT proivdes counseling and psychotherapy in Atlanta. He is a recognized expert in the area of helping individuals and couples heal from chronic infidelities and sexual deceptions, including those caused by sex or porn addiction.