It’s a scary world out there; especially when it comes to love, marriage, dating and relationships in general. Jonathan Alpert is a renowned renegade therapist who has a great deal to say about being fearless in love. I interviewed Jonathan about his new book “BE FEARLESS“ for Yahoo Shine and now I bring you an extended conversation with the man who says he can help you to change your life in 28 days.
Fearless Living! Love or Fear?
Abiola: Greetings, Jonathan! I use “be fearless” as a tag line on my web TV show, “Abiola’s Kiss and Tell TV “so I was pretty excited to see it as the title of your great motivational book! I love that you say people are afraid to be themselves. Is fear a natural response? What do you mean when you say “be fearless?”
Jonathan: It’s good to know that others like “BE FEARLESS” as much as I do! I chose it as a title because it is much like my style of therapy: direct, positive, and a call-to-action.
Fear is indeed a natural response and an important one that is rooted deep in our history, dating back thousands of years. Back then, what humans didn’t know, couldn’t predict, and didn’t understand could actually get them killed. For example, walking into a grassy prairie one moment could make you prey for a wild animal the next moment. So, over time humans developed a built in fear of the unknown. This response was quite helpful for them to be able to respond and react quickly to danger. Thus the “fight or flight” response was wired into our system.
How to Change Your Life
Abiola: You say that people can find happiness, success and love without years of therapy. You also say that anti-anxiety meds are a useless crutch. That’s extremely brazen and controversial for a therapist. Do you really think that people can make a turnaround in only 28 days?
Jonathan: Yes, people can make a turnaround in 28 days. I’ve seen it with my patients time and time again. Way too often people get mired in therapy and stay stuck because they are fearful of change and their therapist reinforces this fear by spending countless sessions, months, and even years exploring it. What people need is a clear smart strategy and the motivation to make changes. What works is therapy that looks forward, not backwards, and teaches the patient how to deal with issues and move on.
As I frequently tell my clients: one small change can have a big impact. As far as medication, doctors are way too quick to prescribe them and patients are way too quick to ask for them. I could tell someone exactly what to say to their doctor so they can walk out of the office with a prescription in hand in just five minutes. Doctors are prescribing antidepressants and antianxiety medication for the equivalent of a psychological sniffle. It’s like taking morphine for a paper cut.
This phenomenon is in part fueled by our pill-popping culture that is constantly looking for quick fixes. Difficulty concentrating? Pop a pill.
Want to lose weight? Pop a pill.
Want to feel better? Pop a pill. Heck pop three pills.
Bottom line: pills will not provide you with tools to deal with stress nor will they give you insight into your issues.
Social Anxiety and Fear
Abiola: It’s hard to believe that you were awkward and shy growing up. Tell us more. How were you able to conquer your social issues? How can other adults deal with the crippling nature social anxieties?
Jonathan: If being six inches taller than my classmates in grammar school, wearing Forest Gump leg braces for a short while as a toddler, taking speech classes because I spoke funny, and being painfully shy doesn’t make me awkward I’m not sure what will! On top of all that, I couldn’t talk to girls, and was a bit of a loner. Things have changed a slight bit today.
Over time I was able to care less about what other people thought of me and more about what I thought of myself. Social anxiety in large part is about the unknown. We don’t know what to expect in social situations so our minds tend to make up scenarios in an effort to create predictability. Seems like a healthy way to deal, right? Not quite. Problem with this approach is the narrative our mind creates tends to be false, way off from reality, and quite negative. This only drives the anxiety and fear. Re-writing that narrative will go a long way in overcoming such anxieties.
Abiola: Okay let’s talk about being fearless in relationships. What’s the fearless approach to dating that you would recommend for singles? What are the key differences in relationships between men and women?
Jonathan: Single folks can be fearless in dating by knowing what they want, having a strategy to find it, not doing things just because they think society says they need to. For example, lots of people have a certain expectation that they have to be married with kids by a certain age – just because society dictates it. Establish your own norms and expectations based on what you want, not on what society dictates. As for how to meet people there are lots of ways.
Meeting people through activities you enjoy doing is a good way because you know you have at least that one thing in common. For instance, if you enjoy cooking, then take a cooking class, or if you love to dance, take a dance class. There are also more targeted ways such as online dating. This provides people with a marketplace of sorts of single people to potentially meet.
A big complaint I hear though from clients is that people don’t always look as they say they do. Speed dating is an approach that ensures that someone looks as they say they do and it provides an incredibly efficient way to meet a lot of people without having to spend a lot of time and money doing so.
Fear and Breakups
Abiola: Many relationships overstay their welcome because people are afraid to move on. But then it’s understandable because dealing with a breakup is extremely difficult. What are your recommendations in this area, Jonathan?
Jonathan: Way too many people stay in bad relationships because of fear and this keeps them stuck. They’re afraid to be alone and afraid to continue dating the person – but the fear of the unknown outweighs the fear of staying. Think about it.
Let’s say you’ve been dating someone for a few years – he’s a good guy but he just doesn’t have what you think you’re looking for ultimately, or let’s say he isn’t such a good guy even –there’s still some predictability and familiarity with the situation and that in a way provides comfort – while going out there as a single person and dating again can seem daunting.
A lot of people think, “Well, sure, he’s a jerk but who wants to be single and deal with all the other jerks out there?” “I’d rather be with the jerk at home.” What people should do is get out of their comfort zone and think long term.
Make a list of reasons to stay and reasons to go. Most likely the reasons to leave will outweigh the reasons to stay. Sure, in the short term it might be difficult to leave but remember, short term stress is better than long-term misery.
Abiola: A common complaint that I hear from women is that many men seem to have a fear of commitment when it comes to love. People fear commitment in other areas of their lives as well, many times because they don’t want to make a mistake. What advice do you offer regarding relationships and commitment phobia?
Jonathan: Don’t expend your energy trying to convince a guy that he should commit. If he is ready to commit, then he will. At the time though, don’t stay with someone who isn’t in the same place as you.
What you can do though is have a discussion with your man about his fears. I often see male clients whose fears are somewhat irrational, i.e. “I won’t be able to hang out with my buddies once I get married”. Sometimes all it takes is a little heart to heart and clarifying the meaning of commitment / marriage.
Single Men Over 40
Abiola: Along those lines, a big question in NYC and big city dating — is a guy who is almost 40 or over 40 and has never been in a significant relationship someone to avoid? Or was he just enjoying life? How can women tell who’s a commitment phobe sooner?
Jonathan: Or maybe this 40-year-old man simply hasn’t found someone that he felt he wanted to commit to or had the desire to commit in general? It’s not uncommon for a person to focus more on career than on marriage, especially in big cities.
That said, there are plenty of men who do want a committed relationship and women shouldn’t settle for anything less if that is what they desire.
Way too often, especially early in a relationship, people act how they think the other person wants to perceive them rather than how they really are. This can only be maintained for a limited time, a few months at most, and then the truth comes out. My advice: be yourself from the start. State what you want, even if it isn’t a committed relationship. Best to get that out so the other person knows exactly where you stand.
Dating Outside of Your Race, Religion or Ethnic Group
Abiola: Most people are afraid of trying something new when it comes to dating outside of their typical love types. In the past couple of years there was a major media discussion about a perceived lack of comparable African American men for successful single black women.
Many black women have told me that they’re interested in dating interracially but afraid. I have also heard the same thing from other groups on dating out of their religions, ethnicities, cultures, town etc. People are fearful of a number of things including compatibility issues, family disapproval and more. What do you advise here?
Jonathan: I often hear from clients the same concern. Questions such as, “Will my family approve?” Or, “What will my friends think?” are common and speak to two things: 1. Our society still not being fully accepting of interracial dating (or maybe just being too nosey when it comes to other peoples’ love lives). 2. The person not being entirely secure with who she/he is. Simply put, people need to be fearless in their dating and care less about what others think and more about what is best for them. After all, it’s you who will be dating the person, not the people on the street who might snicker or make a disrespectful comment.
As for dealing with family I have found that ultimately parents / family want their child to be happy. So, if you you’re dating someone of a different culture and a bit anxious about telling the folks, then start by talking about all his fine qualities and what you like about him. “Mom and Dad, I met a great guy who I really like.” “He treats me well, is smart, successful, caring, etc…” The focus should be on what you like about him, not on his skin color or ethnicity. If parents hear how much you like him and what a great guy he is then it will be all the more difficult for them not to like him or to impose their preference onto you.
Celebrity Relationship Dramas
Abiola: We see popular celebs going from major relationship to major relationship. Some like Jennifer Lopez, for example, appear to be serial monogamists. Why might this be a bad idea? How do you recommend that people break this pattern?
Jonathan: Celebrities aren’t immune from the challenges that face less famous people. The only difference theirs is made public and thus is fodder for the masses to consume. We wrongly hold celebrities to a higher standard, or if not higher than a different one. That said, given their public image, there are some measures they probably should take to ensure privacy, such as keeping their dirty laundry private and not going on TV to bash their significant other or ex.
Abiola: You’re not a big fan of today’s therapy practices. You say that they’re keeping people miserable. Would that include couples therapy?
Jonathan: A third of my practice is with couples and I hear stories of their past therapist that aren’t too different from what I hear about other therapists: falling asleep, calling the patient the wrong name, sitting and doing nothing more than asking: “And how does that make you feel?”, simply offer nothing more than vague utterances of reassurance. Couples need insight into the unhealthy dynamic that is in place as well as actual advice on how to improve.
Therapists often have a difficult time telling clients what to do. They feel it goes against what they were trained to do (provide insight, not advice). I found though that in couples therapy the very thing clients need is advice and instruction on how to improve. From my perspective, I have to satisfy two customers, not just one. Keeps me sharp!
Learning to Trust
Abiola: How do you advise clients work on trust issues?
Jonathan: Ah, trust issues. Tough one. Don’t break it in the first place! Seriously though, it takes a lot of time, hard work, and patience. Sometimes it is violated to the point where it can’t be restored. Other times it can and it requires people to rewrite their narrative and to put on a new lens and see the situation in a different way, assuming that other person had made changes.
Fear and “The Secret”
Abiola: In “Be Fearless” you write that “you can’t think your way out of fear.” What does this mean? How do you feel that the popular empowerment movement “The Secret” has let people down? Is the law of attraction “bunk” to you? Or does it all come back to action?
Jonathan: In Be Fearless I say that you can’t wish for change, you have to make change happen and you do this with a smart, powerful strategy such as my five step program that includes the following steps:
- Define your dream life
- Break your fear pattern
- Rewrite your inner narrative
- Eliminate your fear response
- Live your dream.
There’s a big difference between my program and wishing for change such as what “The Secret” and other law of attraction books promote. People are far more sophisticated for such a simplistic approach as found in The Secret. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for positive thinking and you’ll find it throughout my book. But that and a wish won’t get you too far.
I tell a story in “Be Fearless” about when I was a kid. I used to bury my head in my pillows, squeeze my eyes shut, and imagine I was Superman rescuing the Lois Lanes in my life at the time. It felt great to be able to fly and rescue the damsel’s in distress. It was great until I opened my eyes.
At that point I was still the same wimpy Jonathan. As an adult, I often wish I had big biceps. I’m a lanky guy and big biceps simply aren’t part of the Alpert men’s make-up. Wishing for bigger biceps won’t get mine any bigger. Fact is though, if I actually committed to the goal of achieving bigger biceps, hired a trainer, had a smart strategy then I would most likely get them, or at least a bit more definition.
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